safe .

Trapped; to be kept captive, deceitfully restrained in an inescapable enclosure.

Held; to be securely carried, gracefully supported in a breathable embrace.

As women’s international day took place over this last week, it seems to have since partnered with sexual assault awareness month and spurred on a movement around the topic of trauma. The ‘t’ word is everywhere right now; my social media for one is flooded with confronting statistics and stories of sexual assault. I don’t want to invalidate the stories of others because I can acknowledge that everyone deserves to have their voices heard and I know that many of the women out there are simply trying to raise awareness to topics that more often than not get dismissed as ‘taboo’. As someone who is part of that 97%, I’m really just not in a place where I feel strong enough to acknowledge my past, let alone stand alongside all these women. Heck, I can’t even name the words out loud without revisiting those past places and falling in a heap. Trauma as been at the forefront of everything, not just my social media but my thoughts, my dreams, my emotions. Following the unsettling encounter I had just shy of two weeks ago with a strange man, I’ve been so fragile and have struggled so deeply. I’ve distanced myself from the world lately because I really just don’t feel safe. I am constantly having flashbacks, feeling hands and pressure all over my body, hearing voices and reliving scenes that I’ve worked so hard to forget. On Friday I found myself in tears panicking, unable to breath and fighting to not once again become trapped in past places. E at the time, was sitting in front of me and I remember feeling so ashamed as I tried to hold myself together. We had been speaking broadly about the week that had past and when the mere topic of trauma came to the surface; she addressed a wedding I’m due to attend, my heart began to race because we both knew who would be at that wedding. E reaffirmed that I was safe and that neither herself, nor T, would ever under any circumstances allow for me to go. I lost sense of what more was said as my mind took me to places I didn’t want to go. I tried so hard to fight and to hold onto God instead but amidst things like trauma, I just really don’t know where God is and struggle so much to sense His presence. Sitting inside E’s office, all I wanted was to feel safe and secure. I yearned for my safely trapped and Gollum was screaming lists of behaviours that would lead me there. I left E’s office and tried to compose myself but fell apart as soon as I reached my car. The rest of the day was harder than anticipated and in a moment of weakness I hurt myself that night. As I was further retreating back into my ‘safely trapped’, almost all too tangibly; God invited me to be ‘safely held’ instead – I’ll pause there before returning to that concept.

You see, all my life I’ve confined myself to living safely trapped for as long as I can remember because since I was a little girl, I’ve had an ever-growing, deep-rooted desire to feel safe and secure. I’ve suppressed trauma and I’ve hidden away from it. I’ve fought for a sense of security and as soon as anything ‘too hard’ to face arose, I’d habitually lean into Gollum and run back into the shelter of my safely trapped. But what happens when God calls us to vulnerably step out into His abundant love, to be safely held by Him? I’m beginning to realise that retreating into my ‘safely trapped’ is in all honesty, soo unhealthy. My safely trapped is a place driven by self destruction and it goes against God’s plan for me; T recently reminded me that God doesn’t approve of my behaviours in relation to Gollum and she is right. In knowing this, I also know that at the same time those behaviours are so very habitual. E explained to me that there are various neural pathways in our brains and the ones we use most often, are the ones that strengthen and become second nature. In my case, the neural pathways that lead me to being safely trapped are so strongly wired; the decision to retreat is engrained and the behaviours are deeply entrenched. I’ve spent years, especially these most recent years, being safely trapped and engaging in the temptations that Gollum lays before me. Why? Because that is what I knew as safe. When trauma becomes most evident and tangible, the only desire my heart has is to feel safe. I mean wouldn’t we all want to feel safe? I couldn’t rely on others to keep me safe as a child, I couldn’t find God and I wasn’t strong enough to keep myself safe. As I’ve gotten older I withdrew from those around me, I lost sight of God and I learned how to keep myself safe; safely trapped. The temptations within my ‘safely trapped’ promise me that sense of security and safety that I’ve desired my whole life. Gollum promises me that safety and out of desperation I often find myself falling back on behaviours that take away from, cancel out and help suppress the trauma; self harm, suicidal tendencies, eating disorder behaviours etc. My ‘safely trapped’ is filled with unhealthy coping mechanisms and for so long it’s been a lonely place but slowly, as seen on Friday night, God is beginning to infiltrate that space. His light is seeping through the cracks of my brokenness.

A few days ago I’d gotten up early to begin my day with God and I wrote the following sentence in my journal; “I feel a sense of brokenness that shatters the deepest parts of me, I search for peace because I know that within that brokenness I am safely held and wrapped within God’s abundant love; even when I struggle to feel it”. I must have said things along that line a hundred times over the last few weeks, I’ve tried to affirm it each time I’ve felt broken. However it wasn’t until that morning that those two words, ‘safely held’, just weighed so heavily on my heart. And then it clicked.. how beautiful is that concept? How vivid is the contrast between being safely held or safely trapped? If only we could realise how abundantly, how wholly, how deeply and how unconditionally God loves us – though in all honesty I don’t think we will ever truely be able to fathom His love for us. My heart has been in a state of conviction since God first laid forth the concept of being safely held. In each moment of temptation to retreat back into my safely trapped, God is there inviting me to be safely held instead. I look down at the verse tattooed on my wrist; Isaiah 41:13, “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you; ‘Do not fear, I will help you’.” Each time I begin to retreat into my safely trapped, when I am fearful and seeking that sense of security, I look to the verse on my wrist and I am reminded that God is there holding my right hand. Why do I live in a constant state of fear that drives me back to my safely trapped, when I know that I don’t need to fear? As I spoke about in my last post a month ago; there is no room for fear in love. I was speaking to E about love on Friday and I told her that for so long I stopped believing in love. It wasn’t until meeting T and R that I have since begun to learn what love looks like; deep love, unconditional love, God’s love. The ‘love’ that past men used to label and justify their behaviours by, that wasn’t love and I know that now. I also know now that I am loved. I may not always feel deserving of the love shown to me, but that doesn’t stop others from loving me regardless of how I feel. And because I am loved I know that I shouldn’t be entertaining my fears, yet each day I find myself crippled by them. There are two types of fears, healthy and unhealthy. The unhealthy fears are the ones that tempt us towards being safely trapped, there isn’t room for those fears amidst God’s perfect love. I have many of those unhealthy fears that rule many of my behaviours. Trauma is my biggest fear because from that stems so many deep rooted fears.

I think that my fears of abandonment and losing love are my two deepest fears. Throughout the trauma I was alone, I wasn’t safe, I didn’t feel secure and no one fought for me. Gollum has worked hard over time to convince me that he won’t leave, that I’m safe with him, that I am secure in my safely trapped and that he would fight for me. The trauma left me feeling lonely in a world full of people and I now live in a constant fear of abandonment. I weigh my every decisions to question whether or not they would cause someone to abandon me, or stop loving me. On Friday I told E that it had been 13 days since I’d last exercised and instead of being proud of myself, I was so fearful of T finding out. It would be nearly 3 weeks since I’d last exercised by the time I saw T again. I feared that she would think that I’m just overweight and lazy and that as a result she would walk away. This same fear arises when my weight begins to fluctuate because all my life I’ve associated weight gain with loss of love. Gollum has tried hard to convince me that I needed to run again in order to earn back T’s love and to ensure that I wouldn’t lose her – irrational, right? This concept applies for all the relationships I hold dear to my heart. I suppose most of my fears are unhealthy and when I take a step back and view them from a logical perspective I can see that they’re irrational. However, knowing that my fears are irrational, doesn’t make them any less real or deep. The trauma comes in waves, some bigger and more damaging than others. I’ve always hated water, the concept of diving and even just swimming has frightened me since I was a child. I have flashbacks of being held under the water by a scary man and since then I haven’t felt safe near the sea. It goes without saying that when waves of trauma come; I immediately seek out my safely trapped. A wave hit me again the other night as I was driving along the dirt roads out by Luke Pen, my safe place. My body tensed behind the wheel, my heart was racing and my mind was screeching loudly. Gollum tried to convince me that if I veered my car off the road, the trauma would be gone and I would be gone; his temptation promised peace and freedom; deliverance. This is just one example of how my fears tempt me back towards my safely trapped. I instead pulled over and sat by the riverside. I put my hands in the cold water and took note of the things around me; the birds singing, the fish jumping, the water glistening. When my mind was calm I began to pray, I didn’t know what to say but Isaiah 65:11 reminds me that God already knows and it’s okay to not always have the words. The riverside is where I undoubtedly feel closest to God. I found myself reading another devotion by Ann Voskamp. I so love how when I open myself up to hearing what God wants to say to me, He without fail speaks to me each time. I can not put into words how tangible and clear His voice becomes when I spend time in His presence; that night particularly. You see, the devotion I read followed on so perfectly from what Friday had held just the day before.

Re: temptation; something we’ve all found ourselves encountering beyond measure. If we’re honest, we’ve all been promised an abundance of happiness and freedom if we only give into that temptation. It’s a daily thing, that choice between giving into temptation or resisting; sometimes it’s even hourly. Everyone is tempted in different ways and everyone’s temptations stem from their places of vulnerability. In my case the temptations play on my deepest desires and fears that stem from trauma. They can be as small as tipping out my fortisip in a hope to lose weight so that I can earn love, to as big as driving off the road or buying a packet of cigarettes to punish myself for not being good enough; those temptations and every one in between are all very tangible and consuming. Our temptations play on our vulnerability, they tug at our hearts fears and promise deliverance; But what they don’t tell us is that they in turn also gut our lives, they bring destruction. I know from experience that when I fear losing love, Gollum convinces me that I need to do as much as I can to earn it back; lose more weight, run an extra 10km, skip more meals, do acts of service etc. The temptations come when he tells me that by engaging in those behaviours, I will conform and then the people I love, will love me in return. I know that when I am deep in my depression, Gollum feeds off of those emotions and says unrepeatable things that convince me the only freedom I will find is through hurting myself or ending my life; more temptations. Voskamp laid forth the concept of temptation offering only two choices, two paths for two types of pain; there is either the pain of self-denial, or the pain of self-destruction. The pain of self-destruction is the easier choice, it’s the path that Gollum has convinced me I deserve, it’s the path I’ve been down time and time again and it’s the path that leads me right back to my ‘safely trapped’. Whereas the pain of self-denial is harder to choose because it requires you to fight and resist the temptations that lay before you, it asks you to go against choices that in my case have become habitual. But what if the pain of self-denial takes you down a path that leads you towards a place where you are ‘safely held’? What if the desires of your heart are met by One who is greater than your fears or the temptations that lay before you?

There’s a sense of freedom that you gain when you step into God’s abundant love because it’s there that you realise that you no longer need to fear and you know that when temptations arise, you are already safely held. Choosing to step into God’s abundant love may be a choice that you need to make time and time again, as is the choice to self-deny. As Christians I think it’s quite common for us to drift away from God’s abundant love, reasons for doing so will vary among us but in my case I often drift because I feel undeserving. T has tried to explain to me countless of times that I don’t need to deserve love or work hard to earn it; I simply need to accept it and allow God and allow others to love me. I’m trying hard to learn this because it’s concept is so foreign in to me and what I’ve grown accustomed to over the years. The beauty of God’s unconditional love is that it’s always there, God is always waiting to meet us with open arms and wrap us in abundance. God’s love lasts an eternity; whereas the life we live on earth and the false sense of security brought to me by my safely trapped, are both only temporary. God is forever, Gollum is not. I’m learning that each temptation can either lead me back to my safely trapped, or can drive me towards being safely held. When standing at the crossroads I am faced with choosing between two paths, answering two questions. Do I want to choose to follow my hearts own desires down the habitual path towards my safely trapped? Or do I want to choose to follow God down the path towards being safely held?

It takes courage to make the right choice. It takes courage to self-deny and fight against the temptations that are laid before you, to follow God down the path towards being safely held. That courage doesn’t come by doing what we want to in life, it comes by laying down our hearts deepest desires and entrusting our lives to God. That courage is selfless. In Luke 9:23 Jesus tells us that anyone who wants to follow Him, needs to deny themselves daily. Each day God calls us to self-deny and step out into His abundant love. My heart’s desires will never be wholly fulfilled by Gollum, they can only truely be fulfilled by God. Jesus died for us and His death broke the chains that the enemy holds us captive by. Our brokenness can be exchanged for God’s wholeness, that is where our courage comes from and it is what works to destroy temptations. If we self-deny and die to ourselves, then we become dead to the brokenness that keeps us from breaking free, we become dead to what wants to kill and destroy us; I am able to break free from Gollum, the one who has relentlessly been trying to kill and destroy me. It’s a spiritual battle, I remember saying that to T when she came to visit me on the MH ward last year; the journey I’m on is a deep spiritual battle and the victory can only come from God – I need to self-deny and vulnerably surrender unto Him, I need to allow myself to be safely held.. daily.

Facing trauma is hard, it’s indescribable and it physically hurts my heart; it crushes and wrecks me. But God is showing me that I don’t need to run from my suffering, I don’t need to retreat into my safely trapped – I instead need to embrace my suffering because it causes me to run into God’s abundant love where I am safely held. God loves us beyond measure and His love is abundantly enough. Jesus is abundantly enough. I can only hope that one day I will grow to realise that I will never lose love and that I don’t need to earn it either. I can only hope as well that one day I will reach a point where being safely held becomes habitual, where I no longer feel the need to seek security amidst my safely trapped.

– c (22.03.2021)

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