An unsafe space

Writing about my trauma in relation to my mother, about her intrusions into my intimate space, I began to connect with another big issue from my childhood and adolescence: the lack of a space where I could feel safe.

At first I began to wonder: wasn't there a key to lock the shower door? The truth is that I don't remember. If there was a key, it is possible that at this age (9-12 years old) we were not allowed to lock the door. I don't know. But I do know that the shower was not a safe space, I know it was not a space where I could allow myself to relax.

Such a space simply did not exist. It was impossible for me to feel safe in my parents' house. By this I don't mean that I was permanently afraid of violence or abuse. I don't think I was. But the absence of violence or abuse is not enough to make you feel safe.

I could never relax. I could never know if someone - usually my mother - would walk in unannounced, possibly make some comments to me or, worse, try to caress me. My body and mind were always on alert. My body was always tense.

I remember more from my teenage years. I was sharing a room with my brother, but I had really built my own space in the basement, where I had my music, and where I spent a lot of my time. But neither in the bedroom nor in the basement could I really relax. Knocking on the door before entering didn't exist in my parents' house, so often the door would open unannounced and usually my mother (sometimes my father) would come in. Although she often didn't say anything to me, she would just pass by to do something, it annoyed me, and I was always on the alert.

Then I discovered the long baths. The bathroom with the bathtub did have a key, and for me a hot bath is not so much a relaxation because of the relaxing qualities of the hot water, but more because the bath was my refuge, my safe space, where I could let my guard down, where I could allow my body to relax, at least for a while. A temporary refuge. A time of safety. But invariably I had to leave the bathroom, open the door and return to the insecurity of "my" home.

To this day I still have the long baths. They are important for me to relax, and they are still a refuge, although now I do have my safe space. But this connection remains, and the meaning of the long hot bath for me goes far beyond what it means for most people.

When I finally left my parents' house to study I stopped biting my nails without thinking about it. For the first time in my life I had my safe space, and I no longer needed to bite my nails to endure the anxiety and fear - the insecurity. But even though I stopped biting my nails, my body already bore the after-effects of living without ever feeling safe for 20 years. I remember, years later, a friend of mine massaging my back and commenting that it was like a rock. And it was, but for me it was the most normal, the most usual thing.

Now, 35 years later, I still feel the pain of having lived so many years without ever feeling safe. It is not only this. Beyond that, I had never felt seen as who I was, I had never felt understood or loved. Never. Living in this house meant being constantly alert, being tense, always trying to protect myself, to make sure I wasn't hurt. The after-effects of this life I still carry in my body.