When I was young, I used to think if anyone asked me, I would say my most prevalent feeling was fear (no one did ask me). I was afraid of everything.
Mostly about making a fool out of myself, of being wrong or stupid. This didn’t lend itself easily to words. It was just a general feeling that all was not well in my world, in my body, in my self. A general sense of dread. That anything and everything I did was wrong, I would never be enough. I would never be ok.
Taking up less space was better. Stay small, quiet, dumb. Don’t share what’s going on inside. Don’t venture an opinion. Push it down, ignore it, repress it. Don’t expect much. Accept your lot. Don’t question it. Don’t ask questions.
Be as small as possible. Smile and bear it. Please your way into oblivion. It’s safer there, almost pleasant. Numb out, and float aimlessly. Let your soul wander. It’s too painful to be stuck here anyway. Leaving sounds heavenly. Some might call this dissociating. Live in a daydream, where anything and everything can happen. That world became more real to me than this one.
The walls are crucial for keeping me safe. But this isn’t the safety I dream of. Weak, small, limited, narrow, alone. All these things are associated with a sense of something resembling safety, but maybe they actually mean something else. The safety I really crave is freeing, it connects me to self. It is comforting and gives me a deep sense of belonging. This pseudo safety perhaps actually means fear. Other feelings are inescapable, even in my cocoon. Shame can reach me anywhere, even my dream world:
You are stupid and ridiculous for being so weak, helpless, pitiful.
You are a piece of shit for constantly running away, living in a dream world.
You are worthless, undeserving, detestable.
These voices don’t motivate me to change. To get up or get out. They make me sink deeper into oblivion. They distance me further from myself. Being sick was just one step deeper. When things were just too much. When the fear would penetrate my wall of numbness. When shame screamed incessantly in my head.
When I was sick there were no expectations from me. I couldn’t ridicule myself, judge or criticize. If I was sick, I didn’t have to be on hyper-alert, always scanning my surroundings for potential hazards. It was the closest thing to rest I could imagine. I had permission to stop for a while. I could wander in my imagination, roam, and sore. In some convoluted way, it was safer to be sick. Safely inside my cocoon.
To believe I can be well, I need to believe I am worthy of wellness. To believe that there is a loving presence in the universe that can hold me, as I am. Part of the universe and connected to that presence. I would need to believe that wellness was my birthright. My heritage.
Wellness feels like vitality, freedom, ability, connectedness, centeredness, clarity, strength, joy, contentedness. Wellness feels like an opportunity, like taking a chance, leaving my comfort zoon. Resilience, engaging in life.
So how do I bridge the gap? How to build a bridge to expand safety to a broader world? How to create safety that is not a cage? Can being well feel safe? It feels scary. It requires maturing, facing, dealing, feeling.
Tiny steps, gradually building a bridge of trust. One board at a time. Lots of love and acceptance along the way. Taking backsliding into account. It might not be swift, clean straight forward. Sometimes it might not even look like progress.
Am I happy limited and caged? No, but at least there is no shame and I know I’m safe in here. What would make me want to go out? Not being alone. A friend, a guide to join me.
Ok, then I will be willing to explore, slowly. Small steps.
Miriam Leibowitz is 50 years old and lives in Israel. Originally from California, she uses art and writing to help heal from childhood trauma.
This is a Sample Article from the Summer 2023 issue of Asylum (Vol30, No2). Subscribe to Asylum Magazine.