Lately I have been thinking a lot about the idea of what it means to feel safe and protected. This is an area that I have always been curious about since I was a child. As a child I never wanted to be alone. I relied on having my parents in the house down the hall before I could close my eyes. And even then it was difficult to feel safe. Every noise or thunderstorm scared me.
This unnamed desire to feel safe lasted until the birth of my second child. After he was born I continued to have trouble feeling safe and started experiencing chest tightness and pain. Surely there was something physically wrong with me. My heart would beat so fast and loud and nothing would make it stop. Finally I saw my Internist who ran multiple tests on me.
I remember when she told me I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder. My response was “But my chest pain is so awful and scary.” She explained to me that I was suffering from panic attacks but that this was very treatable. I started on anxiety medication and for the first time in many years I felt safe. I also started processing and working on this in therapy. I learned how to be alone and be ok with it. My life changed for the better and I felt freer.
Fast forward to many years later when both of my children were struggling with their mental health. I quickly went back to a place of not feeling safe. So much chaos, fear, craziness, and then my son’s descent into substance use became too scary. The constant heart pounding and very physical reactions were back.
In December 2019, when my husband and I made the very difficult decision to send our then 15 year old to a therapeutic wilderness program, I started to breathe again. We couldn’t keep our son safe in our home which is heartbreaking as parents. However when we knew he was finally safe then I felt protected. I felt safe in the same home I had been living in and had to acknowledge that he could be safe living apart from me.
I recently chose a reading from our OPLM topic library on Feeling Protected by Melody Beattie which resulted in a very meaningful conversation. This excerpt really spoke to me and is so visually beautiful.
“Picture a sunscreen surrounding you. Place it around yourself – not too heavy and thick so no light can penetrate, and not so thin that you are exposed to danger.
See yourself protected by a sunscreen that is effective. Make certain that the screen is open to the good. For a while, your screen was too heavy. It held back what you wanted. Now change it to let the good come through…”
There is hope in shedding some of that armor that has surrounded me for so long. There is possibility in feeling safe when I allow myself some grace and compassion. There is acceptance through connection with other parents who understand. I am still learning that there are times my sunscreen gets too thin. I am a work in progress who is growing, learning, and changing each day that I focus on my own recovery.