Tag Archives: safety

Leaving Home

When I came to Maine from Colorado, I left behind a small log house on four lots in a mountain town of about 1,000 people. I was fortunate enough to find good renters. I’d never been a landlady before, but the prospect of renting was less overwhelming than actually trying to sell the house while making the huge transition to Maine.

My childhood consisted of moving from here to there frequently, and the constant upheaval and insecurity was hard. I didn’t really make friends or invest in any particular place, because I never knew when we would have to pack up and go again. By the time I was a teenager, my family had settled down, but by then I was getting ready to go out into the world and make a place of my own, so there still wasn’t any security.

Then I got married and had children, and finding a home was largely driven by my husband’s wants and preferences and what our young family needed, not by my own desires. It became apparent over my years of marriage that the house that appealed to me and the house that appealed to my husband were rather different in terms of location, style and layout. We moved from place to place, and I made do wherever we were—a skill I had a lot of practice with. It was the family that mattered, I told myself, not the house.

When the boys were ready for school, though, it was important to me to settle down somewhere, as I didn’t want them to have the experience I did of always being the new kid in school. At that point we moved to the little town referred to above, where I stayed for more than 20 years. The house we bought when we moved there sheltered us, along with dogs and cats, but I never really liked it. Once again, it had been my husband’s choice.

Fifteen years passed and I found myself alone with a cat in a big house I’d never loved that hijacked me with ghosts and memories everywhere I turned.

I sold the house, discarded a lot of stuff and, after a couple years of searching, heard of a dilapidated old log house that had been rented that was about to go on the market. One of my friends was a neighbor, and one spring morning we went to walk around it.

It needed a lot of work, but I was charmed. My friend went up 3 cement steps in the back, found the back door open, and we walked in.

It was outdated, tiny, inconvenient and badly neglected. Everything, inside and outside, was frayed, ragged, used up, dusty and dirty.

Falling in love is a strange thing. What is the complex, mysterious response that a person, object or place calls from us? It’s got nothing to do with beauty or even suitability, that’s for sure, at least not for me.

I felt akin to the house. There it sat, and had been sitting for over 100 years, on a weedy and trash-filled patch of ground with large old trees around it, unloved, unseen and unappreciated. It was small and ugly and shabby. I myself had never noticed it in all my 15 years in that town.

Nobody loved or wanted it.

That’s what captured my heart.

Nobody loved it.

But what if somebody did? What if somebody wanted it, cleaned it up, gave it some care and attention?

So I bought it, remodeled one end, gave it new windows and a new front door. I had the wood floors stripped, sanded and sealed. I insulated, put in a little wood stove, patched and painted. I raked up bags and bags of trash and built garden beds out of cardboard, newspaper, huge loads of manure and fill dirt, moldy straw and hay and compost. I hung birdfeeders and wind chimes in the trees.

I didn’t know it then, but in loving that house and bringing it back to life, I was taking the first steps in loving myself, and eventually leaving that little town for a bigger, wider world.

I lived in the house for five years, and I was struck, over and over again, by how the house and land responded to every bit of attention I gave them. They never shrank away from me. I never failed or disappointed. The place blossomed. It bloomed. The garden grew. The trees were filled with birds. Sunlight poured in the new windows and turned the old floor to the color of honey. Indoor plants throve on the wide windowsills.

The house was like a mirror. It reflected back to me creativity, color, light, modest luxury, simplicity. As I lived my life in it I saw myself differently than I ever had before. I had made a beautiful place, peaceful and welcoming.

For the first time, I thought maybe I had something to offer the world. Maybe I was of some use after all.

In my head, it was all settled. After nearly 50 years of moving and being subject to someone else’s needs and choices, I had come home. For the first time in my life I allowed myself to put down deep, deep roots. I filled the house with my music, my books, my spiritual work, my art, my hopes, dreams, desires, fears and griefs. I joyfully lived without clutter, piles and collections of junk that weren’t mine. I burned candles and incense and had flowers by the kitchen sink and in the bathroom.

Never again would I have to move. I was safe. I laid in bed at night and felt the house around me like sheltering wings. I had at last realized the deepest and most painful desire of my life—a real home. I would live the rest of my days in safety, serenity and security. The house and I belonged to each other and took care of one another.

Last month I put the house up for sale, and last week it went under contract.

I don’t know how to express all the thoughts and feelings that led me from that place to this. To say I emotionally outgrew it feels true. To say my old life began to feel much too small is also true. Gradually, I understood that a house can’t really provide me with the safety I’m always looking for, after all. I thought I’d reached the highest peak of my own desire and possibility, but when I got there and looked around, I began to see that there were higher peaks still.

I began to feel that I’d created a home and called it a life.

I began to feel that I’d created a home and called it a life.

I was also aware that my love for the house exceeded my love for myself. Part of me was still waiting for someone to show up and do for me what I did for the house. Inside me, a sweet maiden stayed powerless and waiting for a prince on a white horse, but I wasn’t a maiden. I was a menopausal woman, expert in the art of pleasing people, with two adult children, two divorces and a history of abuse. It was too late for the prince thing, and I was bored by it anyway.  What was a downy-faced idiot prince going to do with a woman like me?

I recognized the more mature (ahem!) parts of me were simply lonely for healthy, meaningful connection with other people, and no house, no matter how beautiful, comfortable or beloved, was going to give me that.

Then there was the anguished voice from deep inside, imprisoned somewhere behind my rib cage, that kept saying “I can do more than this! I can be more than this!”

Anyway, I chose to leave Colorado, the house and my life there, though it was like tearing myself in half. Still, I’ve never regretted that choice, and I know now that I don’t want to go back to my old life and that little town—even if I could.

The house I’m in now hardly notices me. It needs nothing from me, and nothing I can do will fix all that needs fixing and update all that needs updating. This is frustrating, at times infuriating, and oddly peaceful. All the energy and love I used to give my home is now going into my writing and into shaping myself and a new kind of life. In a strange and convoluted way, leaving the home of my dreams has at last brought me into direct, intentional and mindful relationship with…me.

I wonder if perhaps I’m the home and safety I’ve always been searching for. How ironic.

I’ve been weeping on and off as I let go of my house. I want to do it, and it hurts. I wonder if I’ll ever have that again—such a perfect home. I wonder about the new owner, who is also a single woman. I hope she feels as sheltered and nurtured there as I did. I hope she’ll touch the trees and feed the birds and glory in the iris and roses and clematis.  I hope the owls will wake her in the deep winter nights, calling from the huge pine trees in front.  I hope she draws close to herself as she sits in the sun where I sat, sleeps under the ceiling that I had patched and painted myself, feeds the wood stove, washes dishes and relaxes in the bathtub.

I hope she and the house will love one another and be happy together.


Look for encouragement to be brave on Good Girl Rebellion page for this week’s antitoxin to “don’t draw attention to yourself.”

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

 

Election 2016: Safety vs. Fear

My partner sent me this quote this morning, and inspired this week’s blog.

“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives. Social support is not the same as merely being in the presence of others. The critical issue is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart. For our physiology to calm down, heal, and grow we need a visceral feeling of safety.”

— from p. 79 in “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk

As I draft this, it’s Election Day. It’s a work day for me, but I have a long break between a morning and evening shift, so I voted, ate lunch and worked on a big clean-up project my partner and I are undertaking in an outbuilding on our place. The clean-up involves dust, dirt, trash, food debris, rodent and bat droppings, broken glass, sticky empty bottles and cans and cigarette butts. It’s filthy work, but this afternoon, forty-five minutes before I go back to my pay-the-bills job, I feel happier and more peaceful than I have all summer.

I feel safe.

My earliest memories are of feeling unsafe. The people around me were unhappy and unwell. The air was heavy with tension and unexpressed feelings. I was afraid all the time, and I knew that was bad, because it irritated the adults, so I tried to hide it. The world was unpredictable, inconsistent and baffling. Ever since those days I’ve comforted myself in times of stress and fear with a fantasy of being held in loving, protecting arms and feeling safe.

I’ve been ashamed of that need. If I verbalize such a need, people will hasten to assure me that life isn’t safe, as though I haven’t figured that out, as though that wasn’t the point in the first place! An internal, jeering voice calls me a baby; a weak, pathetic thing, dependent and needy.

Yet safety is the most important thing to me in relationship, and healthy relationship is the most important thing to me in life. I want it more than I want money, more than I want a dream house, more than I want anything I could buy. At this point in my life, I’d much rather be alone than be in relationships that don’t feel safe.

I suppose safety is a term we each define differently, but I know what I mean by it. I mean knowing that my thoughts, needs and feelings count. I don’t want to be the most important person in the picture, but I want to be as important as everyone else.

One of the things I need to feel safe is an orderly and predictable environment. That’s why raking up trash, sweeping, packing the car with bottles and cans and watching the man in the bottle shop count them is so satisfying. Creating order out of chaos stops my bleeding. Empty space, a clean dirt floor with the drag marks of the rake in it, allowing the dusty scent of old wood and fallen leaves to replace the smell of stale cigarettes and beer, are all calming. The energy of broken glass and animal-torn trash, the debris of self-destruction, is released. I can breathe again. There’s peace. I’m safe.

I’ve seen a lot of headlines about the national stress around this election. Political opinion and affiliation aside, I think most of us can agree we’ll be relieved to have it over. At this point it’s hard for me to even care who will win—I just want the hate and intolerance to end. It hurts me to see us tear ourselves apart, as friends and families, as communities, as a nation, as a globe.  It creates no safety for anyone. We’re all vulnerable to hate.

This afternoon, breaking down cardboard and recycling bottle caps, I knew that part of my feeling of relief is that this election is over today. Whatever happens now will happen, and we’ll all have to go forward. Likely what’s ahead won’t feel any safer than what’s behind, but at least it’s movement away from this.

I wish I could take the last year of presidential campaigning and empty out the dregs of malodorous advertising and sound bites, sort out the ridiculous from the frightening and bag each speech, event and word. I wish I could sweep our memories clean of it, pick up the shattered broken glass of integrity; rake up all the greasy, moldy, broken egg shell stinking scandals and e-mails and recordings.

I wish America felt safe to me.

I wish Democracy felt safe to me.

II The Morning After

As I sit down to finish this blog, American voters have chosen a new president, and I wept as I ate breakfast with my partner.

As the day has passed and I’ve gone for a swim, taken myself to lunch and gotten a haircut, I realize what lies beneath my anger, despair and incredulous disbelief.

It’s right back to the beginning of this blog. I’m afraid. I don’t feel safe. Overnight I seem to have become disenfranchised because I’m female, I’m not a Christian and I’m deeply concerned with human rights and freedoms and our planet.

I also realize I’m not alone. This election has been based in fear. In our fear, we’re truly united. Everyone fears something. We’re all looking for safe, strong arms to shelter in. Pick any campaign issue, and you’ll find fear. There’s fear of climate change, fear of economic collapse, fear of immigrants and shifting population demographics, fear of war, religious fear, fear of illness and disease. We all live in fear that someone or something will take our power away, and that fear makes us weak and vicious.

Fear breeds hatred. Racism, misogyny, censorship and terrorism are fear-based behaviors, Great and Powerful Oz distractions that hide cowardice. The world is changing, and we’re terrified. We look for someone or something to blame. We look for someone or something to save us. In our fear, we cling desperately to our ideologies and annihilate any who disagree with us or question our beliefs. In our fear, we seek a hero/heroine, a representative of what we feel is just and right, someone who will help us retain our power, someone who will assure us there are no monsters under the bed.

Here’s what I believe: Power over is always and inevitably doomed to fail, sooner or later. The only sustainable way forward is power with one another.

None of us are safe until all of us are. Safety at the expense of another’s terror and repression is an illusion.

I pray for peace and unity for us in the coming days, months and years, but if that is not to be I will fight.  Every Hitler and Pol Pot, every Sauron and Voldemort, create by their very existence heroic resistance that cannot be silenced.  I will not turn against my friends, neighbors, families and communities in fear and do the bully’s work for him.  I’ll work to undermine the bully himself, and I won’t stand alone.

Has anyone read the book I quoted at the beginning of this blog? Please comment about it if you have. I’m adding it to my reading list.

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

 

Boundaries 3: The Chaos of Transformation?

I’ve been thinking about this week’s blog for a couple of days now.  There’s a lot more to say about boundaries, and maybe someone else can shape the many complex pieces into separate, coherent blogs, but that person isn’t me.  I can sort out a few points, but the rest is just chaos, and that chaos contains all kinds of inflammable issues, such as parenting, corporal punishment, our justice system, religion, sexuality, morals, ethics, rape culture, racism, entitlement and patriarchy.

There’s no doubt in my mind that these are important discussions and ideas for all of us, but the purpose of this blog is not to have a shouting match or explore the different ways we can criticize, judge and belittle one another.

I suspect that most of us agree that boundaries are necessary, but after that point I see potential for endless violent disagreement about how and why we create and manage them.  I do believe it’s safe to say that our understanding of boundaries is heavily influenced by our experience of childhood, by our culture and family, and by technology and media.

I have no answers.  I notice that what I call my boundaries don’t work very well at times.  I notice the conflict between what works for me, what others expect and what I’ve been taught.  I notice a generation gap around boundaries.  My 20-something sons see the whole issue differently than I do.  I think some of this is due to differences in our relationships to technology, but I don’t know how much.

I also notice that a lot of my boundaries are around fear.  As a single woman, I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of being hooked into GPS and map information via technology.  It doesn’t feel safe to me.  Likewise, I’m uncomfortable discussing my spirituality, my parenting beliefs, my political beliefs, my dietary choices and the color of my underwear.  I’m not ashamed of who I am—I’m afraid of being victimized.  I don’t want to deal with mean people, hateful people or dangerous people.  I don’t want to attract the attention of a psychopath or a sociopath.  I don’t want to lose connections and relationships over something like religion.

Then there’s the part of me that simply isn’t interested in what I call oversharing.  I mind my own business—why can’t everyone else mind theirs?

On the other hand, surely we have a right to be who we really are.  But where is the line—the boundary, if you will—between that right and violating someone else’s boundary?

A highly topical example of this is the debate over Native American team names in the public school system.  Many Native Americans find this offensive and racist–and say so.  The other side hotly denies they’re racist and cites tradition and their intention to honor the Native American people.  It’s a ding-dong argument.  I’m hurt and offended and this feels racist versus I am not a racist, back and forth, on and on, with both sides becoming further divided with every iteration.  Broken connection, broken relationships, divided communities, hurt and rage are the result.

At bottom, it seems to me these are all boundary issues.  Our boundaries don’t appear to work well.  What do we do about that?

This very morning, I had an interesting discussion with one of my sons about this.  We were talking about privacy in regard to technology, and he suggested that soon we may have to accept the idea of 0% privacy because of our increasing reliance on and use of technology.  Everyone (at least in this country) will be equally exposed and we’ll have to figure out how to live with that exposure as a culture and move on, or we’ll simply self-destruct.  I’d never considered this point of view and I’m fascinated with it, as well as slightly appalled.

Perhaps the chaos around boundaries is present because, as my son suggests, we’re in transformation.  Transformation is inherently chaotic, after all.  Maybe my generation’s ideas and beliefs about boundaries aren’t working because they’re outdated.  Our world, our culture, our understanding of things, technology and science are dynamic, always changing, always correcting and expanding.  Perhaps the world we live in today requires different boundaries and we’re struggling to shape them.

At the risk of sounding like an old granny, however, I think healthy, effective boundaries must contain elements of respect, compassion, authenticity, dignity and kindness, not only for others but also for ourselves.  I think it’s important to remember that boundaries are about ourselves and what works and doesn’t work for us.  It’s not our job to choose boundaries for others.   We may have to defend our boundaries and others will certainly try to violate them, but that’s the only place our power is.

Interestingly, I’m reading a book right now that relates to this.  It’s called Being Wrong, by Kathryn Schulz.  It’s a great book—well written, funny, intelligent and thought-provoking.  I highly recommend it.  The reason I mention it is that so many of our rules, expectations and yes, boundaries, are based on our beliefs and we have a tendency to make our beliefs universal laws.  We all do this, one way or another.  But take one of your central beliefs, a hot one like politics or diet or religion, one you argue about on Facebook, block and unfriend people for disagreeing with.  Now just imagine, if you can, for one minute, only 60 seconds, that you’re wrong.

Pretty uncomfortable, right?  Now everything changes, including your rules, expectations, stories and, inevitably, your boundaries.

In other words, effective boundaries need to flex and change as we learn and grow.  Otherwise, all we create is a jail cell for ourselves.  We can’t change, we don’t admit new information and we keep ourselves small and rigid.

On the other hand, if we have inadequate boundaries our power is leaking all the time.  We fall prey to all kinds of dysfunctional relationships, our integrity is broken, we fail to take care of ourselves and our lives don’t work very well.

I’ve been talking with people about boundaries lately (in the real world) and reading about them online.  Here’s the best article I’ve found, along with a really helpful table to aid in discerning what healthy boundaries look and feel like.  If you know of helpful resources around this subject, please share!

http://lifeesteem.org/wellness/wellness_boundaries.html

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted