I remember when I was a kid there was a pond that a couple of us guys would ride our bikes to. It was called Old Man Hendricks pond. He was a retired farmer who had this private pond that he wouldn’t let anybody into. It had a row of high bushes that surrounded the pond so you couldn’t see if except from the inside. He had a gate with a big padlock on it and a sign that said “No Trespassing”. The fence surrounding the pond was covered by the bushes. We had figured out that if you go two sections down from the gate, the fence was broken and you could climb thru the fence and the bushes in order to get to the pond.
There were so many times that I rode my bike out to the pond and would sneak in thru the fence. Hendricks never new I made his pond a safe place for me. I would bring a garbage sack with some Susie Q’s or Twinkies and a transistor radio. I would swim out to the dock which had been built twenty yards from shore. I remember laying on my back, looking up at the sky and watching the jets streak across the horizon leaving a vapor trail. The planes looked like little match sticks. I would wonder where they were going and dream about being able to go somewhere on a plane. If Old man Hendricks caught me trespassing, I am sure he would run me off.
Hendricks pond became a safe place for me to escape. During those days there was a lot to escape in my young life. There was physical, sexual abuse, family chaos and a lot of abandonment and neglect. Hendricks pond became a sanctuary for me. Later in life I have revisited the site of the pond which no longer exists. The bushes were cut down, the pond had been drained and made into farm land. However, I carry the memory of this pond and made it a safe place for me in my mind.
Throughout the years of addiction recovery, I have gone to this safe place in my heart and conducted many conversations about a host of issues with those I needed to address. There were many conversations with myself and my addictive rationale. I had some knockdown, drag out type conversations with my understanding of God. There was the long discourse with my dad and mom about why they insisted that we attend a cult church. There was the rage about the abuse and everything around it. There were times at the pond I shed a lot of tears about my dad’s, mom’s and brother’s death. It became a place in my heart that I have retreated throughout my adult life in order to settle my soul and create calm and poise and bring myself back to center.
This is what I know about recovery. Life will blitz you with concerns, pressures and chaotic moments. If you are not proactive, you can get caught up with reactivity about the smallest of things. A blue funk will descend, your partner will say something that triggers you, your kids will act immaturely, an old act out partner will reappear out of the blue without invite, and suddenly you get ramped up with worry, anxiety and susceptibility to addictive response. It happens almost at the snap of a finger.
Everyone needs to establish a safe place to sort out the events of everyday life that trigger and create life imbalance. Sustained life imbalance is a dangerous high risk for addicts. As an addict, you can’t just sit with anger toward an experienced injustice. You can’t just blow up at someone over nothing and forget it or expect them to just get over it. Toying around with “eye candy” on the internet is not something that can’t be minimized or normalized if sex addiction is your drug of choice. Flirting with high risk behavior no matter what the addiction is high risk. Clearly when you are engaging these behaviors, you need to retreat to a safe place and have honest conversations with yourself about what’s going on.
Safe place conversations are where sobriety and serenity is hammered out. This is the place that you forge clarity and certainty to do the next right thing. The challenge with safe place conversation is that they need to be conducted so daily, so honestly and with commitment to care for yourself. All of these are simple but really difficult whether you are an addict or not. Safe place is the experience I create to grow myself up by confronting mistaken belief, victim posturing and addictive rationale. As an addict, safe place is the place I can best nip in the bud build up behaviors toward destructive actions.
Here is a list of suggestions to make safe place experiences effective:
- Establish a time and place that no one interrupts you. The biggest challenge is your own thought life. Typically, it is a battle to keep from distracting yourself with a host of diversions. Once the safe place is established people avoid grounding by checking e-mail/texts/latest news from internet/Facebook/and on and on. Before long you will have distracted yourself from the purpose of getting grounded. Many people leave the safe place experience without addressing what needs to be faced and not grounded. To do this work, you must be intentional and purposeful. It’s a commitment to emotionally grow yourself up by holding your feet to the fire in order to create life balance and centered poise.
- Quiet your spirit with silence in the moment. This is a compelling assignment. Most addicts are dominated with monkey brain thinking. Their mind goes on and on constantly thinking about everything and essentially about nothing. It just races incessantly. Safe place will help you slow things down and focus. It will not happen all of a sudden. It will require conditioning, not unlike other aspects of your life that you have conditioned. I believe that developing recovery skill sets require that we reach out to other aspects of living that we have accomplished through conditioning and apply that skill set to quieting your spirit. For example, you do not run a marathon just by saying you will during your first run. Rather, you condition yourself and in time you are able to complete the marathon run. To be able to quiet your spirt in safe place, you will need to condition yourself. Start with 5 minutes. Just focus on your breath. Each time your mind goes to some other thought just bring yourself back to focusing on your breath. It doesn’t matter how many times. Just do it. In time, you will condition your mind to think about nothing except your breath in that 5 minute period. Of course, mindfulness meditation really helps with this skill set. You have to remember this. As long as you allow your mind to give way to monkey brain thinking, your addiction, whatever it is will thrive. You must develop the capacity to quiet your spirit in silence. Safe place is the work out room to develop this skill set.
- Determine that the last truth you want to face is the first truth you will embrace. Most likely, whatever it is that has triggered life imbalance is not the first thing confronted in your safe place. Usually, there is resistance to go there. It will take discipline and conditioning like so many other areas of life. Yet, safe place becomes powerful and sacred when you face yourself with what you do not want to look at. If you have a bad attitude about a situation or person, are resentful, discouraged or overwhelmed by shame, you must begin your safe place conversation there. It helps to verbalize what you are feeling, regardless of how irrational it might be. It can be helpful to write your thoughts and feelings on paper. If an addict, you will then need to sit with the part of you that wants to act out and hear it out. It is helpful to say it out loud as clear as you think it on the inside. To go back and forth—addict thought— recovered response- until you see clearly what you must do. Here’s an example for a sex addict. “I want to screw my neighbor” So, in my safe place, I put my addictive rationale in a chair and let that part of me argue for and lay out the case for acting out in this way. Then, I respond to each point made in addictive rationale with recovery response. Like, “yeah, that would be exciting and the rush would be overwhelming. Yet, the hurt of ruining my committed relationship to my partner would be crushing. I would not only tear up my relationship but end a good relationship in the neighborhood. The result would be catastrophic for a short term thrill.” At some point, the power in recovery will need to override addictive response and create a pathway back to centered living. Then, reach out and connect with support people who are willing to hold your feet to the fire of sobriety in order to follow through with your safe place conversation.
- Anchor yourself in affirmative thought. After you quiet your mind, sort your thoughts, and clarify your steps back to poise and centered living, you must bathe yourself with affirmation. This too, is a difficult skill to incorporate as a lifestyle. Yet, my experience is that unless you create a mindset that actively lives out what you dream of becoming, you never get there. As an addict I have learned that what you think about is what will expand. It’s the very property of thought. So, if you think about what is missing then that is what expands. If you focus on what you have that is what expands. Affirmations about the tools for recovery and my positive reality of employing them is a secret to successful sobriety that leads to serenity. Yet the skillset of affirmative thought, is underemployed. It is a simple yet difficult habit to cultivate. However, those who experience long term serenity, not just sobriety, engage in this practice regularly. Deprivation always fuels entitlement to act out. Practicing affirmations become so helpful toward shifting out of a deprivation mindset and takes what is and makes it enough. Safe place is a great place to accentuate recovery muscle through affirmative thought once you have determined your way back to center.
Some people struggle with the idea of going to a safe place to recreate centered living. This place can be a literal place or in your mind’s eye, like I do. The litmus test is if you talk to people, addict in recovery or otherwise, while they may not use the language of “safe place”, clearly you will find that these folk have learned to create a way of bringing themselves back to center that inspires living from a higher self. A safe place can take many forms, but, I don’t of any serene people who live without it. —KW
You can read more insights about the importance of embracing every day experiences in recovery from Ken’s newly released book “Dare to Be Average- Finding Brilliance in the Commonplace” – published by Daily House Publishing and currently on sale through Amazon.com