Sunday, May 07, 2006

safety and the familiar

My partner is out of town and I've been staying up late catching up on work. I got caught up so I decided to do something different and go out. I realized walking down the street that I have become a creature of habit because of the PTSD. I have a safe set of things that I do and seldom step out of them, which is strange because I used to be quite adventurous.

I realized that as soon as I got out in an unfamiliar time with unfamiliar people (I went out by myself) in a setting I no longer frequent, I got anxious and unsettled. The old feeling of being worried that the next step will be right off the world into some crazy traumatic space came back, like I had a feeling that I wouldn't be welcome -- these spaces are for other people, not for me. I wasn't doing anything dangerous, just going to a club to listen to some music and take in the scene. I don't drink or anything, so no worries about things getting out of control either.

Even so, my breath grew short and I had the top of the elevator, hit the brakes when your not driving feeling pretty bad. I practiced a mini version of my grounding excercise and tried to get back into my body and settle down. I just focused on breathing. Once when I was in the same room as someoone awful from my past, a friend just whispered to me to breathe. I think I had a mini-epiphany. When I dissociate, the first thing to go is I stop taking in the normal amount of air. It is like going underwater.

Focusing on breathing helped a little and I began to feel a better. Being outside helped, and I walked in the wrong direction, thinking the club I wanted to go to was somewhere else (I guess I don't get out much) and I think just walking helped. I hadn't been out all day, and a lot of the time, I think if I didn't force myself, or my partner didn't, I'd just hide out at home and never go anywhere because it is safe.

So my adventure was fine. The music wasn't so great, but I did something out of my usual routine and not only got through it, but even enjoyed it a little and learned a bit about how sheltered I have made my life. That has been crucial to my getting better, the feeling of having a safe place, a home. When I was in treatment for the PTSD, we decided that safety was the first thing I needed, before I could work on anything else. It makes perfect sense. I think a lot of Americans feel entitled to it and take it for granted for the most part, but the world I lived in wasn't safe and I no longer trusted any situation when the PTSD got bad. Everything was dangerous. Going out a little while tonight made me realize how much I depend on the safety I have established in my life, the familiar, home. Maybe I can extend that space outward little by little and slowly move back into the rest of the world without such a sense of foreboding anymore if I am careful and go little by little.


  1. I cannot tell you how reassuring that sounds. I am not in a safe place yet, but the knowledge that I could be ever again is soothing. I have moments when I feel totally detached from my abusers and I can almost feel myself through the tingling and dullness. I wonder often is safety is a reality. I thought it was much of my life and know I imagine that it is a falsehood, the effect of wearing blinders like the ones that I wore to survive.

  2. The adjustment I made in my thinking on it is that it is not an all or nothing proposition. I cannot have absolute safety. Life is fatal dammit! But I can make some choices to make my life safer, and I can choose to step out of my comfort zone now and then too in order to keep growing. When things were bad, I learned to create a safer-feeling space slowly and with help. By keeping abusive people out of my life, it is safer in fact too, but the feeling of unsafety got pretty hard-wired over the years.