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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Anderson

Safe House

Updated: May 29, 2023

I think I was being “safe housed.” The problem is, I was safe, sure, but it was probably the most terrifying thing I have ever experienced in my life.


Waking up in a strange land.


From my point of view, a beating was nothing compared to my mother’s attempts to keep me safe. I would like to invite you to image what it would feel like if one day you woke up and you had no idea where you were. You were surrounded by people you had never met, and had no idea how you got there, or how long you would be staying there. Take some time to really imagine how you would feel if that happened to you tomorrow morning.


My eyes open slightly. Just enough to see that there is a soft glow of light coming through the window. At first, I feel the peace of just waking up. There are a few minutes of disorientation when I wake up in which I feel, what I think is, a peaceful mind. It is just awareness, no thoughts, no feelings, just becoming aware that I am alive. This peace is short-lived, as soon the information starts to register in my brain. Light-window-daytime. Window-curtains. The first realization kicks in. Curtains. This realization clicks into place. I am not home. I do not have curtains on my window. Negative emotions start to bubble up. Fear, anger, resentment -it does not matter because I have to set that all aside and try to figure out where in the hell I am. All that fear, and what ever else was coming up, will have to wait. I do not have time to deal with any of it. I am now in survival mode.


I will now be in a state of hypervigilance. Solo, the part of me that keeps me safe, kicks into gear. First off, I must figure out where I are. The ritual engages. The first thing that is going to happen when I leave the room is I am going to encounter a woman. Always, I could count on that. Almost always, she would be in the kitchen cooking food. She will be nice and kind. She will feed me and start asking me questions. I will say nothing. I am not trying to be rude; it is just that I literally do not know. I do not know the answer to whatever question she is going to ask. Lady, you know more about this lady than I do. I just woke up here. I have no idea how I got there, when, why, or for how long.


I must pause here because this is important. I honestly never remember the journey to these peoples' homes. I do not know if I blocked it out from trauma, or I was asleep, or honestly, maybe even drugged. Both me and my little brother would NEVER take a pill that she gave us. We both never trusted her for some reason. And as a teenager, I personally watched her overdose my nephew on cold meds. I got into a fight with her, because I knew she was giving him too much. Sure enough, the kid started to hallucinate. He was reaching for things in the air and talking to them. We would pretend to take it, she would have us drink it directly from the bottle. Or if it was a pill, take it and then throw it away later.


The nice lady would continue to ask gentle questions, and I will continue to stare blankly at her. I will do EXACTLY what ever they tell me to do. I say nothing, do nothing. I only move when I am told to move. I only speak, when I am told to speak. I make myself as small and as quiet as I can.


After breakfast, after everyone has left, it will be me and her. Will she try to engage in some form of entertainment with me, books, coloring? It literally does not matter to me. She thinks I am going to play! Not a chance. I will wander around the house gathering clues about the kind of environment I am in. You can tell a lot about people by really looking at their stuff. Clean houses are super dangerous. Those people are usually mean. They will not hurt you physically, but they will get easily irritated and annoyed. To this day, overly clean houses distress me. I almost cannot be friends with someone who has an exceptionally clean house. Just going to their house triggers me. People with clean houses are emotionally dangerous. They snap easy, get agitated easily. As an adult, I know this is not true. But I cannot convince myself to even give them a chance. I develop weird ideas, based on these experiences of constantly moving from house to house, a sort of short-hand theme. For example, houses with a lot of white. I almost feel sorry for them. They exude a sort of “nobody” vibe. I like houses with a lot of white. They are just as lost and scared as I am, they are hiding also. They never expect interaction from you. They are content to be lost in their own world, they are safe, they will leave you alone.


This is probably the one thing I can honestly say, that I think my mom was trying to do the best thing she could do for me. This trauma, I can honestly say was probably an act of love of sorts. She was trying to keep me safe, and she was right to do so, he probably would have killed us if there was not some sort of intervention. However, it was the execution that really sucked. She never talked to me about it most of the time, and if she was talking about it, it was segmented and…well crazy. Imagine someone in extreme distress, trying to tell a tiny child what is going on. It made no sense. Combine that with the fact that my mother did not have a firm grasp on reality. There was no useful information coming out of my mother.

So, she would take me out of a controlled environment in which I had elaborate and well thought out places to hide and be safe, and she would put me in an environment in which I knew no one, had nothing, never with a sibling, always alone. I never knew where I was, who I was with, or how long I was going to be there. And that was the biggest problem, I never knew when she would come back and get me. As the days, and the weeks, even the months went by, no contact, no phone call, nothing. My mom would abandon me over and over and over again. Eventually, the people I was staying with would start asking me on a regular basis when my mom was coming to get me? A sort of irritation would develop. This is when the fear would really start to kick in. I knew, that my welcome was wearing thin. Everything that I say and do will then start to really annoy them. Previously very kind as supportive people would become distant, angry, and resentful. I knew why, of course. I knew it did not have to do with me, but I would soon become the target, because they would not be able to contact my mother.


A sort of resentment started to grow in me towards my mother. I honestly don’t know when it happened, or if it had always been this way, but she became not a caregiver, but almost an adversary. As a tiny child, I began to see my mother as an obstacle to overcome. I had to hide from her to keep her from taking me from my home. She was trying to keep me from being able to take care of myself. My dad beating us was bad, but it was over quickly. Being abandoned, now that is a deep pain. Having to hide in the woods for a few days without food and water is a little rough, but it nothing to not having any control, being completely vulnerable, in the control of strangers, now that is deep fear. I would take a beating to a “safe house” any day.


Now, I do not want to leave you with the impression that children should not be safe-housed while there is a crisis in the home. Of course, they need to be removed, but you should do it the right way, by calling the cops, by getting the social worker involved. If a social worker had placed me in a home, there would not have been abandonment issues. She would have been my connection to my family. She would have tried to keep at least one of my siblings with me. She would have talked to me, told me what was going on, she would have checked in.


But honestly, I don’t think my mother was trying to abandon me. At least I am trying to believe that. I think that she did what she knew to do. She was raised Mormon, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Their history is that they were persecuted by society, so they became a super close-knit society. In this church, you lean on each other, you do not go to the outside world for help. So my mother would get someone in our church to take me. But after a few times of not coming back to get me, they would not be willing to take me in anymore. The net had to be wider and wider. This meant that I was no longer being safe-housed in my community, I was being taking all over Wyoming and even into Utah. She literally instilled PTSD in me for almost every small town in the state. I am afraid of the State of Wyoming. All small towns kind of look the same. In Wyoming, everything basically looks the same. Even after I grew up, when I drive from any place else to Wyoming, I will start having a panic attack. And I will stay on the verge of a meltdown, the entire time I am in the state.


Image what happened to me when my husband and I decided to move back to Wyoming for my husband to start a new and exciting passion. Yep. That is what happened. I slowly descended into a state of fear that I could not get out of, no matter what I did. I became a small child, afraid to move, or speak. Afraid to leave the house, afraid of everyone. The panic attacks became so frequent and so intense that I could no longer cope. She won. Years after she was dead and gone, I was dealing with the aftermath of her actions, her choices. Generational trauma in action. The Mormons were traumatized into dysfunctional groups. They taught my mother very bad coping strategies. She then created trauma in me. And on it goes. Now my husband, my children, everyone I encounter, now must deal with my trauma, my panic attacks, my melt downs. Now my husband and my children are traumatized by me. No one was doing anything negative on purpose, it is just how it is. The Mormons experienced oppression, persecution, they had social trauma. As a result, my mother had religious trauma. Her religion taught her to hide things instead of addressing them. Because my mother was trying to hide the abuse and dysfunction, she transformed it into abandonment trauma. I in turn, turned my abandonment trauma into what is called, secondary trauma. Watching someone melt down is deeply disturbing. Especially if they are highly sensitive or empathic. When I would lash out with fear or rage that had nothing to do with them. I hurt them. We are all victims of Generations of Trauma.


I would love to be able to end by telling you how to fix it, but I can’t. It’s hard, it’s deep, it’s complex. But what I can tell you is this, you are not alone. We are all in this together. Isolation makes it worse. As hard as it is, the only way out of any of this bull shit is together. For most people, being in your own head is not a good place to be. The more I force myself to connect with people. The more I give people the benefit of the doubt, the more I try to be a friend for others, the more I stop the trauma. The more I am willing to trust people, the more I am pleasantly surprised. The more I talk to people, learn about them, the more I realize that we are all the same, basically. The abandonment, the feeling of isolation, the lack of control; that is helped by connection of any sort. A smile, a wave, a have a nice day; every little thing that we do every day, makes a little bit of a difference. I personally require myself to go on Instagram twice a week and make at least 3 positive comments on people’s post. I found that just that little thing helped. I felt just a little bit better having done something positive that day. Then I started doing it in real life. I started trying to say positive things to people met…honest, real compliments. That’s it. Find something nice to say to someone to make their day a little bit better. So cheesy that it hurts. But it is true. If you want to be happy, do something nice for someone else.


Now understand, it does not solve anything. I am still triggered, I still have panic attacks, I still melt down and cry, or lash out. But I do not feel so alone when it is happening, and that makes all the difference in the world.


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1 Comment


rondarohrer
May 10, 2023

Very gracefully written in the face of deep seated resentment.

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