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Saturday Stories #21 Internal Safe Place
Rediscover a love for fiction, because stories can change the world
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These fiction stories are unedited, unfiltered, and written in 15-25 minutes. Please be aware that they may contain intense material related to emotional healing, trauma recovery, and redirected fears. The today’s insights section contains information and learning from our personal journey with multiplicity/Dissociative Identities while healing from complex PSTD. We bring insights from our perspective as a therapist interrupted who is bringing together lived experience and clinical information.
Written as part of National Novel Writing Month November 2015
Please Note: This story has an additional content warnings of self-harm, suicidality, strong language, vague references to child abuse.
I climbed the stairs to Irene’s office. I was out of breath and sweating by the time I got to the sixth floor. I sat in the waiting room fanning my shirt, leaning forward so the sweat on my back would dry. I hoped that my sweat didn’t get on her leather couch. I hoped that when I stood up I wouldn’t leave a wet spot behind.
I could hear her footsteps before I could see her. She smiled when she came into my view. She waved her hand to indicate that I could come back now. I followed her. Her hair seemed especially fuzzy and grey.
We walked into her office and I shut the door behind me. I sat down on her couch and leaned back, praying that the sweat wouldn’t show. Why did I sweat so much anyway?
The thought of cutting shot through my mind. I pushed it away.
“So how are you?” she said.
“Elaborate,” she said. We always started sessions like this because I didn’t know what the hell to talk about.
I didn’t feel like being here. I didn’t want to look at my emotions. I felt anxious and weird and I wanted her to help me feel better and therapy didn’t’ seem to be working. I still was suicidal and always wanting to cut so what was the point.
“What are you thinking?” she said.
Then I was thinking about nothing and I didn’t know what I had been thinking. That happened to me a lot. I felt that anxiety. I wanted to be here, but someone was afraid.
“What’s going on?”
“I don’t know.”
One of these days I would start talking. I looked at all of her books reading each title. I was getting lost in them.
“Jillian,” she said.
“What?” I startled.
“Are you okay?”
Then I wanted to cry and I don’t cry. The anxiety was replaced by a deep sadness and a healing feeling of being cared about.
“I don’t know,” I said, but my voice was small and young.
“Who’s here right now?”
“Amy,” Amy said. I could see everything, but I could also hear Amy’s voice coming out of my mouth. I was surprised at how young I sounded. How was that possible? I thought I just made this all up.
“Hi Amy,” she said.
“Hi, I scared.”
“What are you afraid of?”
“Are you a nice lady? People say you are nice.”
“Yes, I am nice. What’s your favorite color, Amy?”
“Can you look around the room and spot all of the pink in this room?”
We looked around. Amy became excited when she spotted pink flowers in a picture, pink crayons and pens and pink on Irene’s shoes.
“My shoes have pink on them too,” she said.
She pulled out the tag to show Irene.
“Yes, they do,” Irene said.
“Do you want to come up with a place where you can feel safe?”
“No place is safe.”
“Maybe not outside, but you could come up with an inside place where you can be safe.”
Amy didn’t know what she wanted to do. She felt scared. What if she couldn’t come up with a safe place.
“There is no safe place,” she said.
“We can create one.”
“How do you do that?”
“Is there somewhere you like to be?”
“Somewhere where no one will hurt me.”
“Where is that?”
“Okay, a library. What else do you want to have at this library?”
“I want it to have locked doors and only I have the key to keep all of the bad guys out.”
“Great idea. What else?”
“How about some windows and nice light? And a swing set. And it to be inside and outside at the same time.”
“What about chairs?”
“I want lots of different kinds of chairs. Bean bag chairs. Oh, and a trampoline and lots of kids’ books.
“Great, that sounds wonderful. Can you go there now?”
Amy didn’t know. She was a little afraid. “But, what if I don’t even feel safe there?”
“Well, let’s see when we get there.”
“How do I get there?”
“With your imagination.”
“Do I have to close my eyes?”
“Only if you feel comfortable closing your eyes.”
“I don’t want to close them.”
“That’s fine. Can you go in your head?”
Amy thought in her mind of the library. It was wonderfully spacious. And there are kitties in it too. And trees, it is like no place she’s ever been and a swing set. And a slide and merry-go-round. “I love the kitties they are nice kitties that make me feel happy. I like to play with them with string and they have fun.”
“Good, good. How do you feel being there?”
“Okay, that’s wonderful. Now when you are scared imagine your library. That no one can hurt you there because all of the doors are locked and only you have the key.”
“Do you want to have any people there?”
“Yes, I want you to be there, but only when I want you to be there.”
“Will you come?”
“Yes, I will.”
“You can imagine me anytime you want and I will always be there in your imagination. Maybe I should talk to Jillian now.”
“Nice talking to you.”
I was distracted. And didn’t know how to write fast or talk fast I was frozen in my own place of bliss and she was calling me back, but, I didn’t want to come back. So, I just kept being floaty. Until Amy left and then there was no choice. I came back to the front. And I saw the room and it shrunk in size as I came back.
“Oh, there you are?” she said
“Yeah, I’m here.”
“How are you doing?”
“How was it for you to have Amy come up with a safe place?”
“It was fine.”
“Do you feel that you can help her go there when she gets scared?”
“When you feel overwhelmed it is probably the kids having those feelings. And they need your help.”
“Yeah, but it’s so hard. Those feelings feel like mine.”
“Yes, I know. But ask inside and see who is having a hard time.”
“Okay, well, we are getting to the end of our time now. How are you feeling?”
“Okay,” I stood up awkwardly. I walked toward the door. I don’t think I was fully present yet. I still felt the residue of Amy.
I wrote this story during National Novel Writing Month in 2015. At the time I was desperately trying to write a novel about my experience with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Reading this today I am remembering my therapist at the time, the one who recognized and diagnosed me with DID. I saw her for 9 years and several of us came forward and we learned how to begin to feel some level of safety and how to support and communicate with each other.
While the story focuses on a safe place I’ve since learned that for myself and for many survivors the word “safe” is a trigger. Being told somewhere is safe can be a reminder of a traumatic situation where we actually weren’t safe. I struggle to find the feeling of safety, even internally. Sometimes coming up with other adjectives can help, but often one of us remembers something and then it stops being safe.
We once read a story about a castle that the walls and doors could move around as needed to protect the children. That seemed cool and there was a realization that having something that changed or was just really outside the norm gave an added level of safety. To anyone out there who’s been pressured to create a safe place or has struggled to do so I hope that you can be gentle with yourselves and with the process. Some things that can help are changing the word “safe” to something like “okay,” or “comforting” or “calm” or maybe a “brave space” or a “peaceful place” or “adventurous”. Be creative and try different words or maybe fictional places.
Finding a place that feels okay even internally can be a challenge. You may need a break from working on it and that’s okay too. If you’re not ready or it feels overwhelming listen to, honor, and respect where you’re at—if that feels right for you. You and your insiders, if you have them, are the ones who know what’s best for you at this time in your healing.
Image description of a kid reading a book leaning against a tree with the sun going down in the background.
If you wish to continue the story in your own creative writing or prose you can answer the following questions.
If you choose to use these fiction prompts you may want to take an extra minute to check in about how your feeling before writing. Fiction can bring up deep feelings and realizations that can be intense.
Write a story of a fun adventure that happens at this interesting library
Write a scene about Jillian and Amy talking with each other
Write about Jillian’s trip home from the therapy office
This story is almost entirely dialogue, go back through and add in descriptors.
Write a description of a place that you enjoy
Describe the library in detail. Include colors, lighting, temperature, sounds, smells, the way the air is, and anything else that could paint a picture in the reader’s mind.
Set a time for five minutes and free write your thoughts or feelings that come up in response to this story
Write your thoughts about the therapists interventions and whether you liked them or not