Home is the place where it feels right to walk around without shoes.
I'll be going home in ten days. My mother's appointment with the orthopedic doctor went well this morning and, now, there really isn't anything essential I need to do here. I could make my mother's stay more comfortable at the rehab center and I could make sure that my dad doesn't do anything foolish - like his proposed idea to stand on a ladder on the stairs and nail a loose board onto a window. But, really, right now, what I need is to be home.
People with PTSD have difficulty feeling safe. That's because we've gone through times when we couldn't keep ourselves safe and terrible things happened. This feeling of not being safe is associated with a PTSD symptom known as hyperarousal. Hyperarousal is when you feel anxious, can't sleep, and are easily startled. Essentially, it means that it is very hard to settle and nearly impossible to feel safe.
Even though I have experienced hyperarounsal at home, I feel safe there because I know that if I truly can't function, I can retreat to the refuge of my bedroom. Having that "escape route" for hard times is reassuring. My husband and son aren't always happy when I take refuge in my bedroom, but they understand because I've explained how important having a safe place is as I continue to heal from trauma. Before I was diagnosed with PTSD, I used to have panic attacks at night. I would wake up and scream and jump out of bed. These panic attacks happened often enough to be frightening and unpleasant. Today, after almost two years of therapy and working with other healing techniques, including singing, walking, and yoga, I have a greater sense of safety both at home and away from home. I rarely have panic attacks and, most days, I lead a normal life. However, when I am experiencing difficult times, due to anniversaries of traumatic events or exposure to triggers, the ONLY place I feel safe is at home.
At my parents, I have a wonderful bedroom that I can retreat to. It is furnished with a bed, dresser, and cedar chest from my beloved grandmother's house. I love everything about this room. However, I can usually only retreat here at the end of the day. A few days ago, I was feeling overwhelmed, so I stayed home and hung out in the bedroom. Neither of my parents understood and explaining PTSD and the concept of refuge to my cognitively-challenged parents seemed impossible; so I didn't try. Since I've been here, I've been able to get up and go out into the world most days and help my parents with the things they need help with. But all that helping, even when I don't feel up to it, takes a toll and I've been feeling exhausted. And that's another reason why I can't wait to get home.
Early on the morning of March 8th, I will board a plane bound for Vancouver. Once I recover from jet lag, I plan to rest a lot and, then, sit at my laptop in our sunny dining room and write. I will be barefoot because I love going barefoot at home. I will probably have music playing and my cat will be nearby - probably begging for food. When I go out to check the mail, I will hear ravens and bald eagles calling from down by the ocean and crows and finches calling from nearby trees. If I'm lucky it won't be raining. Raining or not, daffodils and cherry trees will be blooming and the long, cool, wet Vancouver spring will be on the way. I expect to feel relaxed and, above all, SAFE.
I realize that not everyone with PTSD is so lucky. Many people, particularly women, may still live with abusive partners or alone and their homes may not feel - or be - safe. However, it is possible to create a sense of safety in other ways. Visiting a trusted therapist, keeping a journal, talking with a friend, or practicing yoga can all provide the safety and grounding that trauma survivors need. Lately, yoga has been getting a lot of attention as a wonderful healing method for helping people with PTSD. Some people also "build" a safe place in their mind that they can retreat to whenever they need to. Others meditate. (cat on box, photo: J. Ota, flickr)
How do you create a feeling of safety?
Where do you feel safe? If you don't feel safe in a "real" place, what are some other ways you help yourself to feel safe? Do you have an imaginary place you go to, to feel safe? Do you practice yoga or meditate? Are you ready for the "storm?"
Finally, enjoy the video below of Deanta performing the Dougie MacLean song, "Ready for the Storm." I had the great pleasure of hearing Dougie MacLean perform this song in person.