My safe place is sitting on the edge of a cliff off a high mountaintop on a quiet starry night, watching the stars twinkle and gazing into the glow of a big round moon. I’m so high up that the moon is almost looking at me right in my face, the world is quiet, and there’s nothing around me. I feel so free and safe here. In my safe place, I would sit with my knees tucked into my chest and stare at the calm and serene night sky. Although it’s at night, I felt warm there, not at all cold.
As early as I can remember, which is around the age of 12, I would often visit this spot when I felt despair, lonely, and misunderstood, and I would stay there for as long as I could. It was my escape, a place for me to ease my emotions and calm my inner storms when things became too much at home. That is until I open my eyes to the reality that I was still in my bedroom, and my safe space only exists in my mind’s eye. This was when the feeling of coldness started to settle in.
Going there often usually happens right after I had been reprimanded or spanked by my Asian parents. Although looking up the term spanked as a child, it seems mild compared to what I went through. I often was accused of things that I didn’t do—insinuated on thoughts and feelings that weren’t true. But worse off, I became a mute to these attacks. I found that the more I battled back and tried to express my fundamental human rights, the more I was to endure. It became quicker and easier to become submissive and accept my reality over having a voice. At least it was over with faster, and I would rather suffer in silence in my safe place rather than wasting energy on a battle I was never going to win.
When I start to feel these complicated, heavy emotions, I’ve noticed that it brings out physical symptoms. The coldness, tight fists with my nails digging into my palms, my gut feels like it’s been punched, I’m gasping for air, there’s a heavy, dense weight in my chest, and it feels like it’s caving in. When these physical symptoms are triggered, I begin to decline down a dark path in my thoughts, and I would start thinking that there’s something wrong with me, that I’m unloveable, and that I don’t belong.
What’s worse is, sometimes, these physical symptoms showcase more than I care to reveal, and I would often get scolded for this – but it was for all the wrong reasons and assumptions. I mean, as a child, there’s only so much internal pain that I can bear while remaining neutral and not showing any emotions on my face. Sometimes, I’d slip with a frown, sigh, or a furrowed forehead, and that would be enough for another round of denunciations. Do you know how hard it is to feel pain, become a mute to it, then having the need to keep the physical symptoms at bay, while having more assumptions attached to it, then being whipped for it, but not being able to defend yourself, as it’s a losing battle anyway? The words “extremely debilitating” do not even begin to answer that question.
I’ve only shared this space and feelings with one other person, my husband. I find this a bit uncomfortable to share because I feel exposed and vulnerable as I’m letting others in on my little safe secret spot and the reasons why I run to it. But I’m doing it anyway because I know that many of us have something similar going on. We all have these old patterns and scars that bring on a mix of emotional and physical symptoms.
These scars can distort our behaviors and cause us even more suffering especially when life is cruel and triggers these old emotional wounds, which causes them to start throbbing again. I used to try and ignore it, shake it off, or escape to a distraction that would hopefully make me forget about it, which is a normal reaction. Yet this hardly ever worked because emotional scars are like physical scars; they never go away. However, just like all physical scars, it becomes a part of me and serves as a reminder that I have gone through something. They exist and are real. I can’t fix them. But, I can accept, heal, and honor them as a part of my history and individuality.
Reframing my mindset to experience my emotional and physical discomfort patterns rather than running away from them serves as a reminder of where I’ve been, how far I’ve come, and who I am. Looking at the wounds with a new perspective has made me proud of my journey, where I didn’t let my circumstances and dark thoughts completely engulf me. Despite all that has happened, I still get out of bed the next day, and I still stand tall with my neck held high. I endured. It is in the acceptance of my past where these wounds heal, allowing me to heal. The acceptance and recognition of my pain also prevent these scars from letting my emotions and reactive thoughts spiral out of control. It’s a healthier way of living.
Ironically, now I see this spot as a sorrowful place. It serves as a reminder of where I would go when I’m at a low point in my life. I suppose it’s the same concept as listening to a song that reminds you of a painful heartbreak. Even as I’m writing this post and describing the cliff that I had imagined myself sitting on, I have tears streaming down my face and can still feel the old scars. However, the difference is now there’s a feeling of love and compassion that accompanies the feeling of pain. There is love and compassion to my younger self for all the times I needed to go to my safe place to self-preserve.
A side note (and something cool I found out about myself) the act of visualizing my safe place when I was younger happens to be a form of meditation. I currently practice meditation daily, but before, I, like everyone else, used to think that I had to sit there with my mind empty of thoughts and emotions, muted to the world for me to be successful at it. As a child, I never understood how monks could sit around with their minds empty all day and become enlightened. This is absurd because how can you be enlightened with an empty, thoughtless mind?! Finding out that I’ve always been practicing meditation is pretty awesome. I wish I had known it sooner to have practiced it more freely without the ‘I might be a weirdo’ feeling. I think we all have moments in our lives that we are practicing meditation, we just don’t know that we’re doing it. If only we knew that we were meditating, we could stretch out these moments to make them more beneficial. Meditation teacher and author, Jeff Warren, has said, “Meditation doesn’t need any kind of special set-up, the basic orientation to more present and awareness can happen in a single moment, no matter where you find yourself.”.
We all have these inside scars. It is our battle wounds, which make us interesting. How we cope and mold ourselves to it makes us who we are. Remember to celebrate and honor each step of your journey, no matter how small.
Be kind to yourself, the world would be a boring place without you.