Feeling Safe

It’s freezing this morning and I’m even more congested than yesterday, but I’m smiling! How could I not? It’s Sunday and I’m home with my husband and dog, surrounded by love. My family members are healthy and I feel safe. I’m not taking these things for granted and recognizing their value is calming and produces happiness.

After getting attacked, feeling safe was a basic need that was no longer being fulfilled, ever. Although most of the time I was objectively safe, I was so psychologically damaged that I constantly felt unsafe in my own skin and, because it was a home invasion, in my home, even when the location of the home changed. When physical violence is inflicted against you and you’re unable to defend your body, fearing a repeated assault and doubting your ability to protect your body is an inescapable fear. In my case, my previous self-concept of being strong and fit became a false mirage in my post-trauma brain.

It’s taken the past few years since the attack to repair my psyche and feel reasonably safe in situations where I am safe. In fact, I think it’s really only been in the past month or two that the default setting of feeling confident that I was unsafe has been supplanted by the much better feeling of neutrality. I don’t usually feel unsafe and although I don’t generally consciously acknowledge that I feel safe per se, I know that this is the direction I’m heading for when I do consider my internal and external environments, I do feel an absence of the crippling anxiety that used to scream “danger!”

It should be a right that all people feel safe. Unfortunately, it’s a luxury in many cases since people all over the world live in fear of their safety on a daily basis. Domestic violence, war, abuse, and contaminated drinking water are just a few of the horrible realities faced by humans around the world. For them, safety is elusive and an ideal they’d never take for granted. I hope it goes without saying that as horrendous and inhuman as the attack I survived was, it was nowhere near the magnitude of the atrocities some people endure or are at risk of experiencing. That said, I was traumatized and it completely shattered my ability to feel safe. The restoration of this assurance is not yet complete and the progress had been nearly undetectable until just weeks ago, but what a drastic difference this hard-won improvement makes in my baseline comfort and mood. My constant anxiety has partially dissolved to much more manageable levels. I’m less irritable, less sad, and can more easily feel contented. It’s like the threshold that must be exceeded to allow laughter and happiness to take hold of me has been lowered a few notches. I’m not “on guard” as much and my baseline mood for starting a day isn’t quite so deeply depressed and fearful. It’s much closer to neutral, which affords me the gift of actually clearing that metaphorical bar at neutral into the positive domain if feeling good, happy, and at peace. When you aren’t operating from such a significantly low place such that even great things that happen aren’t potent enough to spike you into positive feelings (instead, they just make you feel less terrible), it’s a much higher probability that good things WILL drive you into the appropriate positive zone and elicit happiness.

This situation can sort of be modeled with a bank account. Being so depressed and anxious all the time is akin to carrying a negative balance and being in debt. Up until a couple weeks ago, my default mood would be like using $1000. Since this debt is so large, even big deposits (fun times, gifts, meaningful interactions) of several hundred dollars would not remove my debt or cause a positive balance. I’d still be in the red. A positive balance is needed to have funds to spend (energy in a physical or emotional sense) on things you want and need. Moreover, constantly failing to climb out of the pit becomes defeating, a feeling that further expends money you lack, digging you deeper into debt. It’s a never-ending cycle that rapidly erodes hope.

It’s so much better to be starting with less “debt” every day. Feeling safe again has alleviated much of this burden and knocked a couple zeros off the end of my negative balance. It will be amazing to climb up to a baseline mood place that feels neutral or positive, an idea that was just a fantasy for years. Although I don’t yet know that it’s actually attainable for me, the fact that it’s even an imaginable possibility is incredible. Getting better feels so good.

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