I have been reading Getting Past Your Past, by Francine Shapiro to gain a better understanding of EMDR before I actually start it next week. One of the crucial preparations in EMDR before doing the trauma work is to consider a safe place.
A safe place is somewhere I can visit in my head. It is somewhere where I know the layout, the look and feel of it, but also the smell, the temperature, the sensations of it. It is somewhere I know well enough that my mind can take me there and feel safe in the same way that I would feel safe if I was actually there. It serves as a place to hold you where the bad things that might come up in therapy cannot get to you. And as such it’s important to consider the right safe place that has no negative associations.
For my mother this would be her mother’s garden, in the middle of nowhere in the south of France. The heady smell of wheat being harvested, the noise of cicadas in the morning, the life that is predominantly run by women. This would have been hers. I considered my favourite tree from there that I could sit in with a book, the perfect reading space. But the tree got blighted and chopped down. Just being in the garden anywhere would count except that it’s now my sister’s garden and I have so many issues about how that was handled that it is all tainted. That has been my go to place for so many years. So where next?
I contemplated this whilst sitting in my comfortable reclining chair in the garden in the sunshine alongside a book and a cup of tea. It was quiet and peaceful and I suddenly realised that this is my safe space. This has been my haven ever since we moved here. My ex hardly even came out in it so no shouting took place here. My children pop out occasionally usually to find me; I’ve sat out here with friends and family but for the most part it is mine. In the years that I have been here I have planted according to what I want to see and it has become a messy green thriving slightly chaotic and loosely bounded garden that is mine. This is my safe place and I was sitting in it. No wonder it was hard to visualise it inside my head when all I had to do was open my eyes and be in it.
My counsellor said “what a privilege” when I told her this and she is right (she’ll appreciate reading that). It is a privilege to consider part of my home a safe space when so many of us do not feel safe at home. I didn’t for many years because of my parents, siblings, partners, or simply being run ragged by my children. I have a safe place and I do not have to leave my own home to get there. That is awesome and it is a privilege.
I also considered safe people in the same vein. Not as a requirement for EMDR, but because feeling safe is a privilege and when so many people don’t make me safe, for reasons that are mostly about me rather than them it’s important to consider safe people.
Now I struggle to say this out loud as it feels like bragging (and gushing) but my children are my safe people. I am not saying that I want to discuss my deepest darkest woes with them, but I can and sometimes I do. I can offer my views and thoughts. I can talk about what I learn in therapy, my vulnerabilities and my fears. I might sometimes get a juvenile response of “sucks to be you” but even that is said with a warmth and affection that keeps any sting at bay and replaces it with a warm sense of belonging.
I am still considering what an absolute privilege it is that I have a really positive relationship with all my children. We do not shout at each other, at least not in anger; I literally cannot remember the last time we had a “proper” fight. I am by no means suggesting that my children are perfect because that would be a ridiculous notion. They are often wrong and we do disagree. But I belong to them and they belong to me and when we are together there is a strong sense that we can take on the world and win. I can relax with them. I can be me. I can talk absolute horse shit. I am accepted, occasionally appreciated, mostly respected and at times laughed at. But there is always love if rarely explicitly expressed.
I need my friends, obviously, and am grateful for those really close friends with whom I can be open and honest, who can be my safe harbour in times of need as well as a source of escape and different conversations. But really, my confidence gets boosted by spending time with my children and considering how it is an absolute privilege to look forward to spending time together, to enjoy being in each other’s company. They are my people and I consider myself lucky to have them.