There’s one other thing I learned on my winter vacation: “safe” doesn’t mean the absence of active harmfulness. It means emotionally responsive.

If I have a traumatic memory, the main thing is not that nothing bad happens then. The main thing is that something good needs to happen that soothes the distress. I have dissociated parts because this didn’t happen. Catastrophically bad things happened and, in many cases, no one helped me calm down or figure it out. I had flashbacks later and still nothing helpful happened. The only way to go on was to shut things down.

I didn’t cry last night at bedtime. I didn’t cry when I first woke up. I went to bed feeling cozy and snuggly and warm and safe. I woke up and I wanted to keep snuggling. It was only later that missing Natalya hit me hard.

And I think that has finally happened because, for nearly two months now, I have been emotionally responsive. I didn’t quite get that bedtime was a trigger or the trauma was not a single event, but the ongoing experience of separation from the person I loved and felt safe with, but I did get that bedtime was upsetting. So I did things that reminded me of her.

I held the broken earring that reminded me of Natalya’s earing, and I played the lullabies that she sang to me, and I said goodnight to her. I did things that one might do if a child is separated for a long time from a parent that isn’t so easily reachable by phone. There is an object to cling to, there is a familiar ritual that acknowledges the importance of that parent.

I did things that would make sense to do if any part of my childhood had made sense, and if growing up hadn’t been like living in an abusive group home.

So finally, perhaps, I feel safe. I feel the world can respond to and soothe my pain. Maybe.

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