Beautiful questions lead to beautiful answers.
From a young age, I have felt unsafe. My body remembers what trauma felt like, so it is difficult for me to relax and let down my guard. At the worst of my PTSD, before I was diagnosed and even knew what was happening, the nightmares left me screaming.
Years of therapy and mental health recovery have helped me to mend. I’ve found safe people to support my healing. Even so, the feelings of being unsafe remained.
I asked a good friend about this. How could I understand the protection of God when bad things happened? How was it possible to feel safe in a world that had caused so much harm?
“Hang on to that,” she said, “because beautiful questions lead to beautiful answers.”
I’m grateful Jenn made space for my questions. If she had tried to fill the empty space with thoughts of her own, I wouldn’t have had the freedom to wrestle with it again.
The hypervigilance from my trauma means I constantly look over my shoulder, waiting for the next trauma to occur. When I travel, I don’t sleep well in a strange and new environment. My mind can feel threatened by any number of triggers, lighting up the fear part of my brain into fight or flight.
To treat my PTSD, I did EMDR therapy. The tappers I held in each hand during our sessions sent out a gentle pulse to both sides of my brain, helping me stay grounded in the present. The worst of the pain came to the surface so that I could walk through it to the other side.
I wrote a song about that transformation, visualizing my child self entering a dark cave. I had to keep telling her to slow down, to let the memories come out one at a time so they wouldn’t be so overwhelming.
But even after walking free through the cave and out the other side, I still didn’t have an answer to my question.
How can I say I’m loved by God, covered by Divine protection, when terrible things happen?
Do we really hide under Her wings like a mother hen’s chicks? When I am hurt, how am I supposed to believe I am safe?
In January this year I began attending a recovery and retreat center in the Smoky Mountains.
Every morning, the therapists would gather us in small groups, asking us to rate our mental health symptoms.
Every morning, the worksheet had us list 5 affirmations, positive statements we believe about ourselves.
Every time I heard someone say, “I am safe,” the child in me hid.
When asked to define what safety meant to me, I replied,
“Complete trust and vulnerability.” I had the idea of safety in my head, but it couldn’t reach my body and my heart.
One day I went out to animal-assisted therapy. Bunnies, dogs, sheep and more had been rescued out of bad situations, constantly loved on by the farm’s human companions.
I walked up to Tucker, the oldest horse on the farm. He was a weary, wise presence, like a giant oak tree, or my Grandmother. I put my hand on his shoulder and sensed he was in pain. Old joints don’t move swiftly and I thought he might have arthritis too.
Somehow my compassion didn’t register. I’d been pushing hard that week, past the emotions and fear in my gut. I tried to lead him quickly the way the younger horses do.
Tucker didn’t want to walk with me and certainly didn’t want to walk that fast. I pulled on his lead, he pulled back. Frozen with him in the middle of the ring, I told the animal therapist it wasn’t working out. I let him be led away and stood there awkwardly.
“Did you get what you needed?” the therapist asked me. “Maybe he wants you to be still.”
I went back to Tucker’s side, laid my hand on his shoulder and apologized. Then I stood in silence. I felt the massive lull and roll of his energy enter my body. He forgave me and I wept, realizing just how much my internal pressure had been building up, waiting to be heard.
I had missed the grief and loss class that morning to come to the farm, but felt like I’d had my own just by being with him.
Back at the Lodge a week later, the yoga teacher invited us into mindful awareness, poses to strengthen muscles and release tension. She told us we could visualize our bodies like houses that we lived in, a place we feel protected and safe.
My soul leapt.
If I am housed by my body, if I can care for its needs, that is a place in which I am safe.
Within the space my body fills, I can listen to its signals and cultivate rest.
The world outside of me is outside of my control, but I am safe within me.
The Spirit of Life resides in me, giving me comforting wings.
Suffering is like the passage through that childhood cave. I am made more loving the longer I walk, and I am held close on the journey.
First thing this morning, we met for group therapy.
The affirmation I added, a smile on my face?
“I am safe.”