Home > Family, Love, Safety > Weave Them into Silver: conversations about safety

Weave Them into Silver: conversations about safety

Someone once told me he didn’t get the point of blogs. He couldn’t imagine sharing his life with random strangers.

“That’s great,” I told him. “That means you probably haven’t had the kind of experiences that would crush you, if you didn’t weave them into silver and share them with others still needing to find the silver in their own trauma. May your life forever be so peaceful!”

More recently, someone read something I wrote about trauma and couldn’t understand why I felt traumatized. She meant nothing cruel by it and, indeed, shared loving words together with her confused ones, so that I breathed deeply and told myself to be thankful she didn’t understand. I’d written a simple, factual narrative instead of bleeding my heart out into words. I’ve already done that bleeding. I don’t need to bleed out again in each or any post touching on that particular trauma set.

Me, at age of testimony

Me, then

I felt her inability to understand the trauma was also in part because I’d narrated factually instead of emotionally. Her response reminded me of being a child witness against the family friend predator who’d molested my sister. He’d once placed his hand on my own barely formed breast to test how I’d respond. (Rachael has written poignantly about surviving being a warrior here.)

Rachael’s attorney counseled, “No one is going to believe you. They’re especially not going to believe you if you’re angry. You need to cry. You need to show how much you hurt. That’s what jurors want to see.”

He was disappointed with me after my testimony. As he’d feared, I was too angry. He’d told me to cry! Why couldn’t I do that one little thing? People believe trauma in tears, not clenched jaws and fists, after all. It’s just the way it is.

(I believe you, whether you show your grief with cries of rage, cries of pain, or clenched fists.)

Two girlfriends recently told me about two different men abusers trying to control them.

My skin crawled as I listened. I’m sorry, one man could seem–to those who haven’t learned the language of violation–to be saying by his action. I’d just like to keep in touch! said the others’ acts. Why are you making it so difficult?

From the outside, to someone who’s either never had their safety completely violated or has distanced themselves from tragic events (that happened in another life, I don’t need to think about it anymore) to just keep stepping, it looks like these abusers’ actions are meant to sustain and transition. But to anyone who knows any form of violation intimately, they’re acts of control:

You can say “no” with your words and your silence, but I don’t have to listen. I didn’t have to listen then, and I don’t have to listen now. You cannot escape me.

To those not skilled in the language of violation, it’s easy to see not the ignoring-no but the single tactical tear and the words of apparent reconciliation offered.

But for those who understand violation, it’s impossible not to hear the threat woven throughout.

“Why don’t you let him say sorry?” I’ve heard many times before. “Why can’t you just accept his apology? He’s being so nice!” I’ve stopped trying to explain, because no one asking that question deserves my energy or my explanation. More importantly, having this conversation time and again has taught me few are both able and willing to understand.

They are trying to have a conversation about niceness. I am was having one about safety.

Long before she had a daughter, my sister talked candidly and openly with a high school friend about the abuse she endured. He said all the right words, and Rachael was comforted.

After she had her daughter, she started noticing him making hurtful jokes.  Some were innocuous enough when isolated from the pattern, but others were about sex and sexual assault. She asked him to stop, especially in light of what he knew about her past trauma. He didn’t. Her husband asked him to stop. He still didn’t.

I can’t remember all the things he said. I don’t care to, and I don’t need to. I will, on the other hand, never forget how he casually joked that he was going to have sex with her baby. But don’t worry! he said afterward, seeing her horror and recognizing he’d finally gone too far. “I’ll wait until she’s eighteen!”

My sister cut him out of her life. He emailed her over and over again trying to show his remorse maintain power, but his was the tone-deaf, feigned remorse of someone more interested in control than genuine connection. I shuddered as my sister read his letters to me during the period he bombarded her with them.

You can say “no” with your words and your silence, but I don’t have to listen. I didn’t have to listen then, and I don’t have to listen now. You cannot escape me.

My sister lost friends after cutting him out. “Why don’t you let him say sorry?” they asked. “Why can’t you accept his apology?”

They are trying to have a conversation about niceness. My sister is was having one about safety.

If you haven’t fought for your safety, or if you’ve separated yourself from violation and called it past to maintain a frail sense of safety today, “nice” can seem really appealing.

But if you live daily with the sensation of former violation, and simultaneously carry with it pride for how high you have learned to hold your chin today, you are keenly aware of all the not-nice behind some nice. You mostly no longer care about whether or not anyone else does or does not hear the not-nice behind the nice of someone who’s hurt you, though you hope he will not someday hurt them, too.

You know how to build safety, and you are committed to taking all steps necessary to keep yourself safe … even if that means cutting out people who fret greatly about your lack of niceness.

“Nice” itself is a nicety; keeping yourself–and your children, who cannot yet adequately protect themselves–safe, an imperative.

You cannot be safe in the vicinity of someone who “jokingly” reminds you daily of when you were not safe.

We are having a conversation about safety.

Don’t tell me what to feel or how to feel it.
I don’t just bleed out on command.
I bleed out when I know my blood
and my strength need to be seen,
together, by one who doesn’t yet
understand the power
she has grown
by surviving, by
standing tall, by
living as if there
is something yet
to live for, because,
oh, lord, there is, there is.

In this world of violation
are also hugs and handshakes and
dragonflies who’ll land on your fingers
and kids whose laughter sounds like the
very sweetest magic spell and breezes that
feel like kisses as the sun meanders
through dancing leaves to stroke
your upturned face.

dragonfly

Out beyond the Forests of Nice,
beyond those who don’t understand
how you have fought for your safety,
and how very long and hard that fight has been,
you will find the Field of Safety, the borders of which are
tended by all those who might not understand
how hard you have fought to be safe, but
whose love weaves a forcefield around
the Field and, more importantly,
you.

They don’t need you to bleed out for them
to understand how much the original bleeding hurt you.

They don’t need to converse about your safety,
because they are already part of it:
the silver you didn’t have to weave.

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  1. January 3, 2016 at 3:39 am

    I have no words for how amazing this blog post is. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • January 3, 2016 at 3:50 am

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I know some readers are discomfited by my less silvery posts, but … these are the ones I have to write, when circumstances converge so they must be written, so that others who are struggling know.

      The others are dessert to me. It’s important to write them, of course, because dessert is nice after you’ve been living on a diet of white rice!

  2. Deb
    January 3, 2016 at 5:50 am

    Powerful words Deb, thank you. The voice with which we express ourselves is as individual as the circumstances that cause us to put ourselves out there and share. We find our way because it works for us, or – when it stops working we find another way. It must always be about our healing, not about pleasing the ones we are trying to distance ourselves from. Let them write their own words, if they have the courage,which I doubt. For in revealing themselves I think they will find that many see a person quite the opposite of what presents to the world.

    • January 3, 2016 at 6:35 am

      It must always be about our healing, not about pleasing the ones we are trying to distance ourselves from.

      Amen a million times over. Fortunately, there are many who do understand for all those who do not.

      As to your conclusion, I agree wholeheartedly. It’s easy to those who are used to seeing someone as a kindly–if sometime inadvertently bullying–sort to keep working to maintain that, but beyond that? There are a whole lot of people who, not knowing the illusion someone’s worked to cultivate, would be left with the itchy feeling something’s not quite right … even if they can’t pinpoint exactly what.

      (Pinpointing is way more interesting to those not trying only, for now, to survive, for whom broader strokes do well for keeping-afloat.)

  3. January 3, 2016 at 6:58 am

    I got chills reading your words. We need to teach our kids that niceness after the fact does not take the place the hurt. As parents we are advocates for our kids. Keep shedding your slivers and we will keep shedding ours, it is in doing this that we grow and keep somewhat sane.

    • January 3, 2016 at 7:29 am

      Thank you. I so agree about that lesson for kids. It’s a beautiful thing to forgive, but forgiving does not mean either that the act(s) never occurred, or that the person being forgiven has suddenly transformed into a safe and protective person. It’s important for kids to know that people who make them feel unsafe need not be part of their lives. And, as I had affirmed reading de Becker’s Protecting the Gift, kids who see/feel that support from their parents even after an assault grow to flourish and thrive.

  4. January 3, 2016 at 7:15 am

    You bring back many painful memories, but that’s not a bad thing. When one works have to find SAFE, for themselves and their own children, it is theirs to own, to weave and to do with as they please. ❤

    • January 3, 2016 at 7:31 am

      YES. Beautifully put! ♥

      And, once you have children, seeing how implicitly they trust you to keep them safe … oh, it’s a blessing. Such a blessing, once worth being earned over and over again.

      • January 3, 2016 at 7:34 am

        That is so very true and something I have worked with the last three years with my youngest son for different reasons after my divorce. Safety comes in so many colors.

  5. January 3, 2016 at 7:26 am

    “They are trying to have a conversation about niceness. I am was having one about safety”

    and

    “You cannot be safe in the vicinity of someone who “jokingly” reminds you daily of when you were not safe.”

    Yes. This sums it up so very, very well. These are the words I was looking for to defend my right to not find certain types of jokes funny and my right to not accept hurtful words as a norm that I need to put up with.

    • January 3, 2016 at 7:34 am

      Ach. I am so sorry that you’ve had to have these kinds of conversations.

      I know my mom felt that she had to accept whatever friendship she could find. For me, having grown up with the siblings I did, I was lucky to know what friendship–true friendship–felt like, and to know that walking away from some apparent forms of friendship would still leave me with a supportive network of people willing and happy to support, tend, nurture, without urging me to be a little nicer.

      No, no, and no. Actually, writing this, I now want copies of The Gift of Fear that I can present to them, not just those I keep nearest and dearest. de Becker writes beautifully about matters related to these, and reading his words … oh, but it is healing.

  6. January 3, 2016 at 10:38 am

    You make such a good point about others seeing “jokes” and the like outside the pattern.

    Family and friends have told me I’m overreacting to things, but when that joke or aggression is taken within context—as a part of a whole—there is no overreaction.

    • January 4, 2016 at 7:26 am

      Absolutely heard, agreed, and understood.

      It amazes how often people think they see the whole based on the merest sliver of it.

  7. January 3, 2016 at 11:24 am

    This strikes you like a cold fist. You wrote this so honestly & beautifully.

  8. January 3, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    Trying to tell others how they ‘should’ feel and how they ‘should’ respond to events in their own lives is also a way of trying to control.
    No. No and no.
    What I feel, you feel, your sister feels in response to our own experience is valid. And our own.
    Hugs.

    • January 8, 2016 at 3:45 am

      Trying to tell others how they ‘should’ feel and how they ‘should’ respond to events in their own lives is also a way of trying to control.

      Yes! So Perfectly put. I think the first time I recognized it as a form of control was with grief, how people would say things like “move on” or “do you think s/he’d want you to still be this miserable?” to someone grieving: trying to control an end result instead of actually helping someone with where they’re out now. Recognizing it there helped me see why similar statements in non-grief scenarios had made me grimace as long as I could remember.

      People don’t feel differently because you command it. They might, however, find comfort and peace in the open space left by asking and listing instead of demanding and commanding, no matter how sweet-sounding are the words spoken to these ends.

  9. January 3, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    This is fantastic.

    • January 8, 2016 at 3:46 am

      Thank you! Several days later, I still feel a huge load off my shoulders for having sorted it out and sent it off. 🙂

  10. January 3, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    This is one of the most powerful pieces of writing I have read in a long time.

    • January 8, 2016 at 3:46 am

      Thank you for reading, and for saying so. ♥

      • January 9, 2016 at 6:55 am

        I can’t tell you how many times I started typing a reply to this and then erased it. There is much I could say on this but am not ready to. I have known the feeling of unsafe in a relationship. I wish my younger self could have read your words for strength and power. I guess that is what I was trying to say but having a hard time getting out. Hugs to you and thank you for your writing. I appreciate it greatly.

        • January 17, 2016 at 12:22 pm

          I was driving home from a difficult conversation yesterday when I realized I’d never replied to your comment. I’m not sure how to reply, how to express everything in my heart, so instead I’ll say thank you. And send tons of hugs.

  11. January 4, 2016 at 9:55 am

    This was a post that I was reading and telling myself “thank goodness it really doesn’t apply to me, how fortunate I’ve been” and while that is true, the more I read, the more I felt a bubbling, and I kept reading and that bubbling erupted on the surface and the words came back to me clear as day, “you need to toughen up, stop crying”, and while those words were for a totally different situation, I remember the loss I experienced when what should have been my secure place, all of the sudden wasn’t, and how it changed my life – and when I was dealing with a safety issue with Mr. T a few years later, how it hurt not having that safe place anymore. So, yes, I will never fully understand on the same level, but hope that I always convey respect for the other person. It’s not a parallel, and I don’t want to diminish your story in any way, but instead tell you thanks for sharing it, as I just connected some dots I wasn’t really aware of! 🙂

    • January 8, 2016 at 3:57 am

      It is a loss, no matter the circumstances around it! To realize a core part of your world is different than you realized is a profoundly discomfiting thing, especially when that involves your safety/peace of heart.

      Even if a particular situation might not seem that significant externally, like if you tried to describe it to someone with an extremely narrow definition of safety, big things can happen beneath little words and exchanges. I used to think I had to explain how what looked only like the tiniest tremor in conversation, like earthquakes, actually revealed enormous plate shifts beneath the level of what can be observed by the human eye. It’s freeing not to look at things that way anymore: to know I’m not responsible for someone else’s understanding, particularly when they don’t want to understand and do want to control.

      I’m grateful for your thoughtfulness, and sorry for the loss you describe here. Each loss like this is truly a loss, one which reconfigures your existence to scale depending on how woven into your life is the person speaking the words.

      ♥ ♥ ♥

  12. Nikki
    January 4, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    I’m in this space…somewhere between healing and desiring to share, so that others don’t feel alone, and I have not yet been able to articulate well what you have just stated so clearly. We all must find a safe place before healing can even begin. But for those of us who’ve been violated and traumatized, locating that form of safety can take decades. And usually we have to decide for ourselves. We have to make hard decisions on top of hard decisions because so many just don’t understand. And it doesn’t matter how much is explained, they just won’t. So…there is much to be written about this place and I have to mentally and emotionally prepare myself for the writing that will be for the survivors, the warriors, but those who don’t understand will find license to speak. Do we ever find safety, really?

    Thank you for sharing your story, so that others may know bravery, too. You are a safe place.

    • January 6, 2016 at 5:25 am

      I usually reply to comments in order, but … I wanted to say that this comment moved me deeply. Your last five words in particular filled my heart in ways I couldn’t begin to describe. Thank you for reading. Thank you for commenting. Thank you for your candor. I’m grateful, and sending you so, so much quiet support and love from afar.

      • Nikki
        January 6, 2016 at 5:43 pm

  13. January 7, 2016 at 3:22 am

    The ‘should’ of how to feel and react are constantly surrounding us, you said it perfectly with one statement; when nice is a nicety.

    No one, absolutely no one can tell us how we should feel or respond. I have raged, been not nice, been in fact an absolute terror to those who claim to ‘love’ me for their inability to understand there are some subjects off-limits. I am past weeping, most of the time. My fists ball up and my spine stiffens, my rage surfaces; my warrior emerges; most of the time.

    This Deb, this was beautifully written. It defines that space where we all need to be. Thank you.

    ❤ ❤ ❤

    • January 8, 2016 at 4:00 am

      I read and said a “hell yeah” to your comment when I initially read it, but it’s resonating again in a different way now. I had lunch with a girlfriend yesterday and we had some great talk that centered around your middle paragraph, without my actually thinking about this paragraph at the time. I wish I’d thought of it and shared it. I think it would’ve been a sigh of relief.

      ♥ ♥ ♥

      • January 8, 2016 at 4:13 am

        Deb, some of my family have learned to avoid some subjects with me. Others, well not so much. I have finally learned to simply say to them, ‘I love you, you are an ignorant knuckle-dragging, low information moron. I am not having this discussion with you because you fail to understand, when we discuss these things we are actually talking about my life, not philosophical issues.”

        Then I leave the room. Their feelings get hurt. Sometimes they try to argue. Other times they stop. I don’t care either way.

  14. February 21, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    What a visually striking piece of written art 🙂 great job! Lots of people seem not to understand blogging and it can be a bit discouraging. Keep on keeping on.

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