By: Jennifer Hardy,CMPS
Peer Support Coordinator
One of the biggest building blocks of recovery from both CSE and addiction is finding safety. Recognizing safe places, safe people and safe coping skills can assure us ongoing recovery and continued healing.
Working in the club scene led me to make close company with people who, like me, didn't make the best decisions. Although I couldn't see it at the time, I was being heavily influenced by someone I can now see was taking serious advantage of me. Back then, I thought she was looking out for me. But I kept finding myself accompanying her to some very shady places. I know now many of these situations were dangerous.
I had developed a pretty serious cocaine addiction by this time, in trying to numb the pain experienced living life the way I did each day. Once, a group of us were using together and we ran out of cocaine. After our usual hookup fell through, my “friend” said she was taking us by this guy's house she knew to get more. She assured us everything would be fine, just not to talk much. We wound up in a maze of streets of total unfamiliarity and when we parked I had no idea where we were. We were told to wait while she knocked on a side door of what looked like an abandoned building. I remember a wave of panic, a moment of clarity where I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself in to. Just as quickly, when she poked her head around to wave us inside, that fear was placed with a survival instinct. We entered single file into a door that opened to a very bare room with no carpet or flooring, no fixtures, no visible bathroom, and no electricity. In one single recliner chair sat a very large and angry-looking man who demanded we pay him a "cover" to enter his house. We were motioned over to a group of people standing around a single light hanging from a cord that extended out a window, forming a circle and passing a pipe. We barely spoke. I was terrified we would never leave this place. I secretly kept back just a bit of the drugs I had bought in order to coax my abuser out of the house. Only when she saw no other options for her to continue using did I feel safe enough to exert that I had more, but that we would have to leave first before I would share.
This was my desperate way of clinging to safety in the midst of abuse and addiction. It was a constant struggle of compliance and moments of exerting the little bit of control I did have. I had to think through the haze of intoxication. I couldn't see a different way.
Looking back on these situations, I am grateful today to be oh so free from the horrible grips of life as survival. It is only by the protection of God that I survived so many situations, and by some truly caring friends who took the time to patiently model what life can be like. I have learned that there are some things that I can control and things I can do to decrease risk. I have learned how to form safe, healthy relationships with people that really do look out for me. I just had to learn that I deserved to be safe and I deserved to be loved. Now, I am careful about the people I allow in to my life, the people I choose to ride in a car with, the people I choose to share part of my heart and life and family with. I have people with my true best in mind to reach out to if I am feeling unsafe. Today I cherish that I always have a way out of dangerous situations and a plan. My boundaries are set to where I don't have to tolerate anything that steals even my serenity, much less my physical and emotional well-being. My life is joyous because I have chosen to fill it with people that have my best interests in mind. It isn't exhausting anymore.
As a result of walking through the fear and reaching out for help, threats to my safety look much different today. Because I am an alcoholic and an addict, if I have one drink there is no telling where it will end me. So now, being safe for me looks like not picking up a drink of alcohol. Just the other evening I attended a wedding with family and didn't expect there would be alcohol present. There was. I wasn't tempted in any way, because, thank God, the obsession has been lifted from me. The problem was, I was drinking a coke and a well-meaning friend of mine had accidentally set down her mixed drink down next to me and walked away from it. When I went to grab my drink, I was confused for a moment over which drink was mine. I realized that this was a risky situation for me to be in . Because of the surprise of the alcohol being present, people being drunk, and having to monitor my drinks closely, I decided it would be safer and more comfortable for me to just leave the situation. So I left early. I didn't have to explain myself to anyone. I just expressed my concern to my super supportive family and we left. And I felt a great weight lift off of my shoulders. Today I am thankful that being safe is a priority for me and my family. That as long as I make decisions that support my recovery, I don't have to worry about picking up a drink or taking a drug or end up stuck in a crack house in Brooklyn with no way out.
There were a long many years for me before recovery when I just couldn't see the variety of physical, emotional and spiritual danger I was in. By the time I recognized I wasn't safe in a given situation, I had already lost a safe way out of it. Instead, I had to spend a lot of energy trying to manipulate my way out of it. Amidst all the chaos I didn't so much as have a tangible plan for myself or any type of real goals. I had no structure for being able to truly care for myself and grow, which can ONLY begin to happen after true safety is found and some rest is had. I didn't know how to set limits or that I deserved to have those limits respected.
It is important to recognize together how the structure we build into our lives can be drawn much closer to us now. We can learn how not to push ourselves to the edge, but to rest easy in the boundaries we set for ourselves. Finding a space of safety, both physically and emotionally, and also living with safety in mind, learning what it looks like to think about what we want out of life, where we want to go and how we need to first be safe.
Part of recovery from both CSE and addiction is actively modeling safety and helping each survivor we work with determine what safety looks like for them and how to recognize dangerous situations. It's important for a survivor to be able to map out a plan for themselves of what will keep them on a safe path, to draw some lines for themselves and to be able to steer clear of these lines whenever they recognize one of them. This could look like leaving a wedding that serves alcohol. It could look like finding a different ride to a meeting than the city bus. It may mean there are certain people one decides not to have any conversation with, much less any type of relationship with.
I have found so much freedom to learn about who I am and what I enjoy and what I am good at since I no longer have to give so much energy to keeping myself alive. I am ecstatic to be sharing what has so freely been given to me!