Safety and Home

It would be nice if I could have my existential crises at reasonable hours of the day, but that’s not usually how that works for me.

Just a life update before I get started:

So, today was most likely my last day of class for this semester and I don’t know how to feel. Basically, financially, things are bad and my mental health has been suffering way too much due to that and parental issues. It doesn’t mean I’m giving up on grad school. Just…not something I can do right now. Good news is, I did just get a part-time job, so yay. Good things are happening despite that setback. This should give me more time to devote to writing projects (and the possible book I want to start working on), and I was also offered a paid internship at the church I’m attending. That place is awesome and I’ve found a safe place and safe people there. Which leads me to what I want to talk about today (tonight?).

This week’s post is an extended look at what it means to have a safe space. Or…specifically, what does it even mean to be safe? I really struggle with defining what safe is because I’m so used to feeling unsafe. And confusing it with safe because it’s the current norm. But, I’ve always related and equated feeling safe with love. And the concepts of home and family. Until I had to redefine what that looked like upon realizing I grew up in an environment that has never been entirely safe for me as a queer, disabled female. I’m slowly working on redefining what that looks like.

A few books that have been helping me through this are Daring Greatly by Brene Brown and All about Love by bell hooks. Mostly going to look at bell hooks, because she does great work on discussing what love is from a perspective of having been in abusive situations. She uses Erich Fromm’s definition of what love is as a starting point: “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own and another’s spiritual growth.” What strikes me about this definition is the mutuality of it. Not just loving someone else, but recognizing in order to love someone else, you must nurture your own growth as well as the other person. It takes a conscious effort and isn’t something that happens without choosing it.

It’s these two paragraphs that I’m still mulling over though:

“When we understand love as the will to nurture our own and another’s spiritual growth, it becomes clear that we cannot claim to love if we are hurtful and abusive. Love and abuse cannot coexist. Abuse and neglect are, by definition, the opposites of nurturance and care…

For most folks it is just too threatening to embrace a definition of love that would no longer enable us to see love as present in our families. Too many of us need to cling to a notion of love that either makes abuse acceptable or at least makes it seem that whatever happened was not that bad.”

Just…damn. I don’t even know what to do with this yet. And then she says a few pages later: “Remember, care is a dimension of love, but simply giving care does not mean we are loving.”

Of course, I’ve grown up in what I’ve always perceived as a very loving family. We are very affectionate and say “I love you,” a lot. And yet…while there have been plenty of times where I felt loved, there’s also been that feeling of not feeling safe or at home with my own family. I think bell hooks gets it right here. My definition of love has been dependent upon trying to see my family as loving and the emotional/spiritual abuse I experienced as “not that bad.” And honestly, what makes this hard is that I know my parent’s intentions have been good. However, never intending harm does not negate that harm was caused. I mean, I felt the need to hide that I was going to therapy because of that feeling that I was not safe to disclose that information among other things going on in my life.

So…that’s what love is. And if love is what makes me feel safe…that’s not something I’ve truly experienced much up to this point. It’s revolutionary and new for me to embark on this journey. To be safe is to be loved, and to be loved is to be cared for in such a way that all involved are nurturing each other’s wellbeing.

I think this means defining home and family for myself at least too. To be safe is to be loved and to be loved means to be at home with those who make you feel safe–like family should be. What I’m learning about home and family now is that I’m having to choose who I make my family since my physical family isn’t what it should be. That means finding people who make me feel at home and safe. Hoping to figure all this out more but this is where I’m at for now.

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