I was at a self-defense training tonight, and one of the things the instructor focused on was managing our flight-or-fight responses. I realized that one of the things that I do — that I’ve always done — to center myself, to calm my nerves, to make myself less tense is to think about particular people. There have always been certain friends that have made me feel safe and happy, and for well over a decade, I’ve used the thought of them to cheer myself up or make myself less scared. Beyond that, if I’m with a group of people (family, friends, camp, organizations), I will often subconsciously choose someone to represent safety to me — as long as I know where that person is, I feel that things will all be okay. It’s mostly irrational, but it’s something I just realized that I do.
The instructor pointed out ways to feel safer in an environment (knowing where the doors and windows are, how many people are there, where food and water are), and I realized that I was already feeling safer. I was at The Exchange, somewhere that is definitely a safer place for me — much like the Gerber-Hart and Access Living are, except that it feels like a safer place all of the time, not just in time for specific meetings.
In more than that, however, I realized that I had been very aware throughout the night of the presence of one particular person — the facilitator for our group. Somehow, knowing where he was — knowing that he was there — makes me feel safer. I don’t know exactly why (because he’s friends with a trusted friend, because he’s a great facilitator for the group, because I feel we have similar politics, because there’s just something about his personality), but his presence in a room makes me feel safer.
I then realized that I’ve always been that way — sometimes there are people who just stand out in my life as some kind of beacons of safety; sometimes it’s a matter of subconsciously picking a person based on who’s there. I have a distinct memory of being a kid at overnight camp, hearing fellow campers in my cabin telling scary stories, and repeating the name of my beloved dance teacher in my head like a mantra in order to ward away the fears. My parents have always been some kind of sign in my head that everything will be at least mostly under control. There have been camp counselors, theatre directors, and various college students (HA’s and the like) who have been the people whose presence grounds me and reminds me that things are going to be okay.
When I went on the prison legal visit, I had this intense, instinctual feeling that as long as my attorney friend was there, preferably within eyesight, I would be okay. Everything would end up all right (well, except for the person who was incarcerated — my friend’s amazing, but even he can’t free someone from prison by mere virtue of his presence). There were exactly four times that I was separated from him, and each time, no matter how briefly we were apart, my tension level would rise higher and higher until I saw him again.
At work, I deal with people’s questions and problems on the phone all day. Sometimes, the people are frustrated, and it’s stressful. Other times, people are upset because they’re going through hard times, and my heart goes out to them, especially when I can’t do anything to help. Rather too frequently, I get “ma’am”ed, and it’s upsetting. I have several photos strategically arranged on my desk to make me happier. One in particular is directly next to my monitor — every time I feel myself getting stressed (and basically before and after every call, especially if I’ve just been called “ma’am,” “she,” or a girl, which all happened today more than once), I’ll look at his face smiling up at me, and the upset drains out of my body. I take a deep breath and click the button for the next caller.
People draw feelings of safety from many sources; people have many different mental happy places (in a library, and a cat’s there, for example). Mine nearly always center around people in my life who make me feel happy and safe. Parents, friends, role models, family members — nothing works to put me in a better mental place like thoughts of loved ones. It’s interesting to actually recognize and acknowledge what makes me feel safe, instead of having it be some kind of mostly-subconscious instinct. If I’m aware of it, I can use it to my advantage, and I can learn to work around and with it if need be.