For a span of a few years during my most awkward adolescent years, my mother would buy me a journal every birthday and Christmas. There was one with a bright orange foam cover and a googly-eyed turtle on the front when I was ten. There was the spiral bound one covered in photos of fancy Victorian love letters when I was twelve. And there was the one with the soft padded cover, thick pages, and forest green binding when I turned sixteen.
In these pages, I became my most silly, offbeat, whiny, angry, and quirky self. When I was frustrated with my own idiocy, I wrote. When I was crying after an argument with my parents, I wrote. And when I was mooning over some boy, I wrote.
Even though my mother couldn't be that person who I felt totally safe being myself around, she was able to gift me these journals. It was between the pages of my journals that I felt most safe and free to be myself.
Almost twenty years later, and I'm still journaling. And while adulthood brings additional stressors and ever-increasing demands, we are also usually more able to seek out safe spaces now, as compared to when we were in our angsty adolescence. Most of us, as adults, have more resources, independence, and options at our fingertips to search far and wide for those spaces where we can truly be ourselves.
I've now collected a wonderful therapist, a loving partner, a small group of ride-or-die friends, and a couple scenic local spots with plenty of trees. And as I write this, I'm sitting in one of my favorite coffee shops, which is housed inside the expansive, sunshine-flooded loins of the neighborhood church. (I'm by no means a religious woman, but a faithful one? Definitely.) I feel totally safe with these people and in these places.
I held on dearly to these safe spaces as I turned on the news and looked at social media this morning.
I don't know what's going to happen to me or my loved ones. My country--the country I love with all my heart--has just made history, but not in the way that I had anticipated. As a female human, a daughter of immigrants, a person of color, a recipient of "Obamacare", and as a person who deeply values unity and mutual understanding... I feel decidedly unsafe.
Many people I know are grieving. But like with every period of grief, there needs to be a quiet moment--a "time out" for catharsis, for freely feeling. Our souls cannot heal if we do not give them air.
Our safe spaces allow us to get air so that we can heal. This is what sanctuary is for.
Especially when I'm dealing with heavy current events, trauma-related issues at work, or attending to my own mental health, retreating to safe spaces is paramount for calming my body and mind. Going to these safe spaces is what helps my body to activate my parasympathetic nervous system to take over again, so that my body and brain can restore themselves. Seeking sanctuary is not only a spiritual act; it is an extremely practical act that guards your health in a very real way.
So I take a breath, I take a pause, I let it out, I heal, and then I can go on, using the resilience that a healthy spirit gives me.
Now, let's be real. I am not talking about finding objective and permanent safety. It is a privilege and a blessing to live in a home, community, or country where you are truly protected. (Does that even exist?) No, what I'm saying is that you have the power to seek sanctuary in times of distress, and I challenge you to join me in exercising that power today.
You get to have a say in where that sanctuary is, how it looks like, and when you get to go there.
What are your safe spaces, and how often do you access them?
What all safe spaces have in common is that they offer you a chance to bring your physical and emotional defenses down, 100%. Even for just a moment. If your first thought was, "Oh no, I can't do that!" then chances are, you are living in a state of chronic stress. In order to prevent daily stress or acute stress from becoming chronic (and thereby affecting your immune system and depleting your body and brain of valuable resources), make it a point to regularly shift into "rest and digest" mode by accessing your safe spaces, every... single... day.
I think of "safe space" in three inter-related categories.
These are actual physical locations. The environment in these locations give you a feeling of calm, safety, and security. The level of stimulation in these places are just right and do not assault your senses. Maybe the pace of time or energy feels different in these places. They can be indoors or outdoors. Maybe they're places you have only visited once in your life, but that you can pull up in your imagination. Some of my favorite safe places are under the redwoods, in my shower, and ...at Target, for some reason.
These are people with whom you feel you can be totally yourself, without fear of judgement or betrayal. In my experience, this has been really hard to find, so I'm super grateful that I've now found a few folks who fall under this category. Perhaps that's one of the reasons I journaled so much when I was growing up--because there simply wasn't anyone else to talk to who knew how to "hold space" for me. If all else fails, and you are blessed with the money, I highly recommend finding a therapist who matches your values.
These are things you do that allow you to acknowledge or express your authentic self, without harming yourself or others. They are both cathartic and restorative; they promote release and surrender. Aside from journaling, some of my favorite safe activities are meditating, doing yoga, jogging outdoors, dancing when nobody's home, and watching inspiring (or stupidly funny) videos on YouTube or Netflix. I can fully immerse myself in these activities without fear and without judgement, and I can come out the other side just a little more grounded.
Today (and preferably every day), visit one safe place. Talk to one safe person. Engage in one expressive or restorative activity. Take this time to drop into your own self, which has the potential to be the safest place of all. The purpose of accessing these safe spaces is not to "fix" or escape the daunting tasks at hand. The purpose is to make sure your feet are on solid earth, to prime you to "hit the ground running". The purpose is to unwind the fear and untruths that have accumulated throughout the day, so you can be more of a warrior and less of a worrier.
Allow yourself this one day to nurse your post-election hangover. Let's allow ourselves this time to grieve, so that we can heal, so that we can go forth and lead with hope, love, and ingenuity. First, self-care. Then, keep fighting with clarity and strength.
All my love... and God bless America.