One of the deepest wounds of trauma concerns how it ruptures our sense of safety in the world. The foundation of a strong sense of self rests on this sense of basic trust and safety being there for us when we are young. Abandonments at this stage of development impact and leave imprints and in some cases of severe trauma or disconnection mean that stage and needs is never developed or fulfilled, making it more difficult to trust and feel safe later in life.
In my own life I do believe there was a foundation there for me to a degree in childhood and my wounds have not been as deep as some, but when my older sister who was like a surrogate Mum for me got married and moved overseas when I was only 3 it did have an impact. My own experience of not feeling safe and that the world can be a dangerous place comes more as a result of the accident I had at 17. In a way this accident occurred due to my Mum’s emotional absence. It occurred after a night I spent at a friend’s house on Friday due to the fact Mum would work every Friday night and was never home. My father and I didn’t really connect at all and those Fridays were very lonely for me, especially after my second sister got married when I was 14. I had asked my father if I could go to boarding school as I wanted to be with kids around my own age. I was lonely. Dad wouldn’t let me go. I then wanted a horse to have something to do and care about after school and on weekends. Again that was not allowed, neither of my parents wanted to spend the time to drive me to where the horse would have to live. I then wanted a dog. A long battle ensued and in time my parents relented and got me a lovely beagle Sasha, but while we were out one day Sasha broke free and was hit by a car. In time we had to give her away to a family who could be there for her more of the time and help her with the injuries she had.
It wasn’t very long after this I had the car accident and then my older sister who had returned from New Zealand with her husband and family had a stroke one day. She was in a coma for over a month. This was when I really started to drink a lot. Later she was taken away by her husband as he had been having an affair with a woman who both my sister and he had met while my sister ran her interior design business. In time he had my sister committed to an institution in New Zealand. He then sent her home with a one way ticket and absconded leaving his two oldest sons to fend for themselves at the ages of 12 and 14. My sister did not know he had decided to leave her for good and when my parents asked her where her return ticket was, she did not know. When they tried to contact my brother in law he had disappeared. My sister was inconsolable. She had left her four boys behind in New Zealand (not by her own choice). She was very broken emotionally and tried to take her own life in our family home in 1982 when I was 20 years old.
These critical experiences in my early and late teens obviously taught me that life was a very uncertain place, one in which trauma could hit at any time and effect changes that caused devastation. I chart the worsening of my addiction to these years and then to more years of trauma that followed with my father’s sudden illness and death and fractured relationships with untrustworthy partners in which I did not have any sense of boundaries or idea of what it was to practice self care.
Today I attended my chiropractic appointment and my therapist said to me. “You are really getting much stronger in your core. I can feel that you are really starting to develop more of a sense of safety.” It felt good to hear that but upon arrival at home I sat down on the couch and burst into tears as I became aware of how much I have lost in life through not having a fully developed sense of safety, and how hard relationships have been when this kind of baggage is unconscious, how difficult it has been to have had little connection to all the complex emotions surrounding these events.
Certainly it is not entirely too late for me. I am only 54 and I know how important it is to recognise and accept life on life’s terms and be grateful for what I do have, but at the same time it has been a very, very traumatic and at times extremely lonely journey and I know how important mourning all of these losses is to my recovery.
On a positive note too, I am handling the break from my therapist at the moment. Tuesday is our usual meeting time and today I am two weeks out from seeing Katina again. I have organised some good self care things this week. Tomorrow I will go to the yoga class I enjoyed and I have booked in for an oncology massage. My care for myself is growing and I do hope in time that the sense of safety and trust in life will return for me.
Hypervigilance is such a huge part of having suffered trauma. I was discussing this issue with a friend at the dog park today whose son in law suffers PTSD. We are constantly on the look out for what can go wrong and often we can project a sense of unsafety onto things outside of ourselves. Its a real balance to keep a good boundary of self protection but one that does not close us off from reparative experiences that can undo our old beliefs and scepticism due to disappointment. Can we feel safe enough again to trust? Will we let down our guard and open our hearts to new experiences? Hopefully in time, and when our mourning is less raw we can and will.