Growing up with very few safe spaces contributed greatly to my hypervigilance, my distrust of others, my obsessive need to be liked and accepted, and my extreme emotional reaction to anything that looked remotely like rejection.
Once i left home i had a few roommate situations, which i eventually learned were not for me. I preferred being alone, and when my first son was less than 6mos old, i moved in to my first apartment on my own. I didn’t live with anyone else until i met the man i married, years later. Having my own place, my own space, helped change me in many positive ways. I began to relax a little, internally. I wasn’t so tense physically, i wasn’t so busy mentally, and i wasn’t as close to meltdown emotionally.
I had a place to decompress after a day of peopling. I had somewhere to escape when i felt overwhelmed. I could figure out how to be a grownup and a mother privately, without other pairs of eyes always on me, and to my mind, constantly judging me. I had a safe space where no one hurt me, no one blamed me, no one wiped their unwanted emotions off onto me or made me carry their past baggage. It allowed me to be more who i genuinely am, albeit still unconsciously.
I rarely had people over. It was me and my kid, and i loved it.
Associations with friends and family would be done in their homes, or parks, playgrounds, restaurants, malls, wherever – as long as it wasn’t my place. The only people besides my son that i regularly wanted in my space were my siblings.
I took the occasional lover, but they weren’t permitted to come around until my kid was asleep, and they had to leave before breakfast.
This home base allowed me to grow as a person. I made closer friendships, and began allowing others more access to where i lived. I still couldn’t figure out how to be in an intimate sexual relationship, although i tried. I ended up hurting a few young men, and eventually found myself pregnant again.
The recovery home that had helped me years before, offered me a nice, cheap apartment in a great neighbourhood that also housed other women who’d been through the program, but could still benefit from the financial and emotional support they offered. They also hooked me up with free counselling, and access to other programs to help me continue to try to deal with my childhood trauma, and to figure out how to be a decent single mom to 2 wee boys.
In this 4-plex, i made the most intimate friendships i’d ever had. We visited each other daily, and everybody was always welcome in everyone else’s apartment. It was a busy little commune, and it was the happiest i’d ever been in my life. It taught me that there were good, kind, SAFE people in the world who wouldn’t hurt me – who just wanted to be my friend and love me. We did practically everything together, and we were first on the scene when any one of us were struggling or in need.
Without them and their friendship, i’m not sure how much longer it would have taken me to be able to trust anyone enough to have a serious romantic relationship, if ever.
We all eventually moved out of our safe little “halfway house” – they got a place together, and i got a place which was soon filled with the man i’m over 20yrs married to today. They both approved of him, and i trusted their judgment even more than mine then, because the guy before was a hard lesson in why one shouldn’t date bad boys.
They’re both gone now, and i wish i’d had this insight sooner and been able to share it with them. My gratitude is boundless, and my grief, ever-deep. As we drifted away from each other (the reasons were quite serious then, but now seem so unimportant), we all fell apart, tired and winnowed huskless. Trying so hard to figure out who we were, what we had to offer, and move past the constant pain, sorrow, and dysfunction that had resulted from our childhood traumas.
I ache so to be the only one still here.
I’m swollen with the need to speak with them, to say Thank you! and to touch them, to hold them close and feel the heat of their skin, to clutch their hands in mine and to cry and laugh and talk too loud with them.
None of us knew how to be a good friend. We were all closed in on ourselves, curled tightly around our wounded cores. Trying to find love, acceptance, understanding, belonging… Somewhere. Anywhere. We all knew how our families expected us to behave, and we knew how we should act when we were out and about, around other people. However, it took a great deal from each of us to do so, and we all needed long lengths of solitude to rest and recover from each encounter with the world outside our slapdash treehouses.
We’d hibernate in our dark, chilly caves, padding ourselves with the protection of food and eating, the escape offered by reading and movies. We were the only people who could fairly easily enter each others’ sanctuaries, with the least amount of effort to engage, the most genuine kind of engagement, and the lowest level of fallout after our encounters. We tried to talk to each other about things that mattered, we sifted through old boxes of memories together, and even peaked into the occasional old attic trunk, whose lock had been bashed off by our ham-handed counsellors*.
We tried to relate to one another. We tried hard to be friends to each other. And none of us were particularly good at it, but we’d laugh at ourselves and keep trying. The stories i could tell of our adventures. Late night rescues from addictive behaviours. Hospital visits. Life skills classes and religious retreats. Police. Lousy boyfriends. Falling in love. Christmases and birthdays and cooking and cleaning each other’s homes when we got too low to do it by ourselves.
In each other’s spaces, we learned there were people who could come in and not take away from us. Someone who would add to us, and not deplete our resources. They brought warmth to my chill and pulled back the curtains on my dim, grey spaces, letting light in. The sun of their smiles. The safety of their understanding and respect when they didn’t touch me. The depth of their love when they delicately asked if they could…
It was all unconscious, then. I was so dissociated. I lacked the diagnosis, the knowledge i needed to knit it all together, a key insight that would finally be a flashlight into the dark places inside me, the places where other people hid.
Little people, big people, young, old, broken bits and fully fleshed out persons.
Perhaps it was finally having real and true friends who’d been through things i’d been through and were trying to “get over” them as i was, that helped me put that last piece of the puzzle in the right place.
I know they gave me my first taste of what it was like to not be alone.
I wasn’t the only fucked up person.
I wasn’t the only person who didn’t act “normal”.
I wasn’t the only one to feel weird, different, odd, other, strange, outside.
And i can see now that we probably unconsciously supported each other in creating a safe space around ourselves, as individuals, a place where no one could approach unless we wanted them to come closer.
And i can see now how wounded and broken we all still were; we didn’t have the right tools yet, and hadn’t all the information we’d require. So we still let in the wrong people – ones who crossed the line and then broke the circle – who penetrated our barriers and broke down our defenses.
And i can see now, them being overcome. By the past, by people, and finally, by life.
It’s breaking me, but it’s girding me, too.
I was so closed off from how deep my feelings were for them, because it was scary, dangerous, to feel so much. I see now, both absolute shit reasons and self-preservation reasons for my pulling away.
I could wax poetic about why they aren’t here now, but i’ve learned too much to do something so selfish and grandiose.
I don’t know why they aren’t here anymore and i am, still.
I do know that i wish they were, with all my heart.
I also feel a deep regret that things went the way they did, but i know i did my best, and i don’t in any way blame myself for their absence.
I believe now that they were the best friends i’ve ever had, until i met my husband.
There wasn’t much light in our lives when we found each other. I’m so grateful that they grabbed on to me and pulled me close, and then let me run away, and come close again. Over and over. Accepting me for who i was, letting whatever i could give be enough, and never being angry over what i could not.
I know now that they taught me so much that i needed to know in order to be where i am right now, today. They were there, helping me lay my foundation for friendship. They helped me know how, when i knew enough and was ready, to build strong walls around me, and what kind of door to put in, and that a good security system was necessary and smart and right… They taught me, with their lives, that it’s okay to be careful, vigilant even, to whom i give entry and to whom i do not.
I have a safe space today, and they’re part of my blueprint.
Their friendship, their personal struggles, and their lives are forged into my armour and their memory stands at my battlements, as i fight for my safe space today. And i am fighting and will always fight, against any and all comers.
I’ll fight to protect this, my safe space, my motherfucking castle. Most don’t even get across my moat, but i’ve found over the years that sometimes, even those i’d once welcomed in must be put out. I’ve pulled up the drawbridge on many, and you bet i’ve tossed some over the wall and pushed them from the turrets.
I’m the queen of my castle.
*We’d met each other through a home for women in crisis, run by the religious. Understand that, while i’m most grateful for all those religious women did for me, and they did a LOT (fed me, clothed me, taught me how to cook and keep a house, and address my past), they did it according to their religious beliefs, which included bible-based therapy. Also know that i cannot and would not speak for my friends with regards to the guidance and advice we received from them. I’m referring to myself specifically and only when i say it was just mildly helpful, and in some cases, although i have no doubt they loved me and wanted so much to help me, was actually quite harmful.