When I think about the word SAFE I first think about baseball, with a player sliding into one of the bases and an umpire in a striped uniform spreading his arms wide and yelling, "SAFE". But the word SAFE has so many different meanings and connotations for everyone. A few weeks ago I was asked to think about a time in my past where I felt isolated and alone. I wasn't asked to think about a time where I didn't feel safe but the incident that came up for me was certainly linked to a lack of safety.
I went back to my late twenties when I was living in Maui with a man I knew I didn't love. I spent two years with him hoping that I could learn to love him but I eventually came to the painful realization that it just wouldn't work between us. I broke up with him and made plans to move back to the mainland. I had to move out of the condo we shared right on the ocean and I moved in with a girl for a few months to ease my transition. She had a bird that lived in the bathroom and attacked me almost every day in the shower. She also did laundry in my bedroom and would come in at all hours of the night to put her clothes in the dryer. I realize now, of course, that all of this was ridiculous but at twenty-something I didn't know how to stand up for myself. I worked in a restaurant at the time so I had many restaurant friends who would drink with me until all hours of the night and commiserate about how difficult my situation was, but I knew when I left the island I wouldn't keep in touch with any of them.
Then a specific incident came up for me. Halfway through my time in Maui my mother shipped my sewing machine to me so I could start fashion school at Maui Community College. I came home after a shift at the restaurant to find the box torn apart in the middle of the living room floor and I woke the boyfriend up to have a fit because he ruined my box. I knew, of course, that I would be shipping that sewing machine again and that I would need a box to do that. I am sure he didn't even consider the concept that I would ever need that box again. I was angry. He was tired. We fought. He threw me against a wall to shut me up. My blood went cold. I had never felt so isolated or alone in my life. I spent the entire night pacing the floor and trying to find a justification not to immediately leave him. I had principles. I had standards. Being thrown against a wall was a deal breaker for me. I felt like I was in danger. What would be next? I didn't sleep. In the morning I called my family and told them I had to leave. My sister offered to fly out to pack me up and get me out of there.
Here's the thing- it took me another year to actually leave. He never did actually hit me, and he didn't throw me against a wall again but I began to notice the subtle violence in the way he would talk to me. I agonized over the fact that I didn't immediately leave. I violated my personal code of ethics with myself. I felt like I made the decision to stay with him out of weakness and fear.
It is only in revisiting this incident much later, in thinking about what that isolation and that fear meant to me that I had a powerful realization. Throughout my entire body I felt the warmth and the confidence of safety. I fully know that I AM SAFE.
I have always been safe. I was safe in that moment and I am safe now. I am safe inside myself, I am safe in my heart, my soul, the essence of me is safe. Regardless of what happens on the outside, the fingers and the toes, the me within me is safe.
I grew up believing that the world is fraught with danger. Don't talk to strangers. Be careful. There is danger around every corner.
What if instead there is safety everywhere? What if I start living my life believing that I am inherently safe rather than constantly in danger? How can my life be different?
I'm ready to find out.