Today is the eleventh anniversary of the tragedy of what we all call 9-11 with full understanding of what those numbers mean. It was the day that we in America learned that we were not safe in a cocoon, as we had believed we were. We learned that terrorists could attack us on our own soil. We learned that the world was a scary place and that hate was all around us. It had been there all along, we were all just in our happy little bubble, and that bubble got popped horribly that day.
Many responded with love and a sense unity, even in the face of utter shock, pain, and disbelief. Other went straight into anger and hatred. I firmly believe that being angry at something evil is a natural response that has its place. Hatred is never good. I think it was far more upsetting for me to see people who I called friends screaming in rage at the “rag heads,” than it was to realize that America had been attacked. It was easier for me to know that other countries held such hatred towards America than to see and feel the hatred in those close around me, for as much as America’s bubble had been burst, my own, personal, illusion of a bubble of safety had been shattered beyond repair.
From the time I was a child, because I had experienced so much trauma, and had never felt adequately protected by those who were supposed to be protecting me, I had built for myself a world where everyone was good, and kind, and loving, and worthy of respect and trust. While this was a totally unconscious mode of operating, it served its purpose, which was the creation of the illusion of a safe world full of safe people. Living in a world of my own making allowed me to continue to feel safe and secure in spite of repeated traumas. I guess that might be seen as the good side of it.
However, the bad side was that this illusion of safety all around me left me wide open for repeated abuse at the hands of unsafe people. I would forgive, and forget so well it would come as a completely surprise to me each and every time the same person did the same damned thing to me yet again. Others in my life would say to me, “Does this surprise you? That he did that?” Yes! It absolutely did surprise me time after time!
I had become so adept at disconnecting from my own experiences, and from all traumatic events, that they would literally vanish from my memory almost instantly. This illusion of a safe world that I had created for myself made me deaf, dumb, and blind to the bad behavior of others, while sinking so deep into the shame of my own bad behavior that my world nearly became one of, me= bad, everyone else=good. At the core was me, and my pain, and my shame, and I was surrounded by a very thick, many layered, wall that served to protect me by distorting my perceptions of life events so severely that it was like looking out at the world through a small slit deep within a dark bunker. What I saw through that slit in my bunker was a bubble gum and rainbow world of my own creation. I was safe. I was protected. In my dreams…
On September 11, 2001, that bubble I did not even know existed blew apart. In the aftermath, my relapse, already in motion, though I was sober at the time, took off in ways that still mystify me, though far less now, than then. Back then, I was exposed, and angry, and there was a part of me that I was unaware of who said, “Screw it. If I am not safe here in America, I am safe nowhere.” My drinking took off like a wild-fire fueled by high winds, and suddenly I was doing things that were the polar opposite of safe. I was driving drunk…something that would have appalled me before, and appalls me now beyond words.
I was not just getting drunk and finding myself driving. I was getting in the car with the intent of getting drunk while driving. As much as it pains me to type this, as much as it disgusts me to remember that time, I now know that, finally, a lifetime of anger was beginning to come out in a very extreme, and very sideways way. I know I did not want to hurt anyone else. I am not certain if I even wanted to hurt myself, but some damned part of me was hell-bent on destruction. I thank God every day that I did not kill anyone else during that time, or myself, for that matter. Of course, I got caught time and again, and this led to arrests, and jail time, and a halfway house, and finally sobriety that was nothing short of deliverance—pure divine intervention–in the midst of my awful marriage.
As ugly and awful all of it was, it was necessary. The walls were slowly being broken apart, brick by brick, and my view began to widen. The disconnect remained, but I became fully aware of it. It was while I was in prison, with the help of two wonderful women, both specialists in the areas of trauma and addiction, that the walls came down completely. I came to fully see the illusion I had created, that safe, happy, pretty, world that was supposed to protect me, but in reality had left me so unsafe in more ways that I can explain. Then one day, while spending time with one of these wonderful women, these words came out of my mouth: “I am safe. I can protect myself.” At 52 years old, I finally realized that I could live fully in the world, as unsafe, and ugly as it may seem at times, and that I—me–I could protect myself. To me that was the revelation of a lifetime.
A year later, I know now that most of us have some form of an illusion of safety, and in reality, the concept of safety is always an illusion. We can wear our seat belts, and lock our house and car doors, we can wear helmets and pads, and eat well, and exercise, and watch our children very closely, and still, safety is an illusion. At any moment, within a second, something—anything–can happen that will shatter our illusion of safety. I pray for protection for my children and friends and loved ones every day, and yet I know that should I forget to say those prayers until noon on a certain day instead of saying that prayer as soon as I open my eyes, that God has still been protecting my loved ones without me uttering those words.
I can protect myself, but only up to a point. The reality of it is that it is all in God’s hands and it always has been. There is no other way I would still be alive were this not the case. I still wear my seat belt, and watch my child, and say my prayers, but in the end, God’s plans are bigger than mine and I am happy to have it that way. I know that safety is an illusion, but I absolutely refuse to live a fear based life. In so many ways, knowing that there is no real safety, expect in the arms of God, has allowed me to live a much fuller, happier, and far more carefree life than I have ever lived before. I no longer am ruled by what others think of me. If I want to dance in my living room, I dance. I will never be a huge risk taker, no matter what my arrest record might lead some to believe, but I refuse to wall myself off from the world again.
Yes, I can protect myself in an intelligent way now, but what my intelligence, and my heart tells me to do most of the time is to love as much as I can, and feel as much as I can and live as freely, openly, and peacefully as I can. I am who I am. Love me or hate me, I know God loves me. Like Cramer, I am going commando now. I am out there in this not-so-safe-world, and loving every minute of it! God has got this. I am at peace now.