Today, I sat in my therapist’s office and talked about my grandmother’s house. I am starting EMDR therapy, and that means I will be going backwards in time. I will be revisiting the scenarios that have left me a big ball of anxiety this year. While doing this, my therapist wants me to have a “safe place” to land inside my brain, a mental place I can visit when I need to regroup.
As soon as she said, “safe place,” I pictured Grandma’s house.
It’s not that nothing bad ever happened there. I cannot tell you the nights I spent afraid of ghosts and spirits living in the walls. And, lawdy, my cousin Richard found all sorts of ways to torment me. Threatening to lock me in the cellar and feed me possum stew were his favorite “jokes.”
It’s not about the absence of stressful events. It’s about being a kid and being 100% myself.
I didn’t fit in at school. I got made fun of for having the wrong clothes, crooked teeth, greasy hair, etc… The boys I liked never liked me back. Friendship was often a minefield in elementary and middle school. I was also living with undiagnosed ADHD. I was disorganized, always in trouble for not keeping my bedroom clean enough, always losing papers or turning in messy assignments.
But not at Grandma’s house.
When we were at the white house with the grey porch, perched on a hillside in Eastern Kentucky, I was a child through and through. My days started with Grandma reminding me to put on socks, because the floor was cold. Then there was breakfast and playing outside and visiting my Aunt Dixie just up the walk. There were always stray dogs and cats to be found, well-water to drink, and bright flowers blooming. There were long hours to read my Oz books and tables covered in my favorite foods. Grandma always made me deviled eggs.
At home, I had chores… a room to clean, dishes to wash, the vacuum to run. In Kentucky I had no responsibilities. Maybe I would sit on the porch and help Mama snap peas. Maybe I’d ride to town and pick out ice cream and sweet cereal. Maybe I’d be able to convince someone to walk me down to the creek, where I was terrified of falling through the bridge slats, but I wanted to be there anyhow.
I haven’t been to Grandma’s in more than a decade. My uncle lives there now. I’m sure, if I went, it would be a very different experience.
But inside my head, it can look and feel however I like. Inside my memories, I can cover the bottom in corn stalks and sunflowers, ripe red tomatoes and row after row of green beans. In my head, my favorite orange Tupperware cup will forever sit by the well, waiting for me to fill it to the brim and take deep cold swallows.
In my heart, also, Grandma is always there, sitting in her chair, telling us the local news. And Grandpa’s there too. When I close my eyes, there he is, a deck of cards spread out across the bed, letting me pretend to play with him, even though he was really setting up for solitaire.
There are warm hand-stitched quilts on the beds, bottles of Avon perfume in the medicine cabinet, and no matter how life is in reality… here…
Here, I am always welcome.
What about you? Where is your “safe place?” Do you have one?
If not, think about it right now. It is a beneficial exercise, EMDR therapy aside. Think about a place where you feel loved, safe, happy… What do you see there? What do you feel? What do you smell? What sounds are around you? What do you taste?
If you’re willing to share, leave a description of this place in the comments. I’d love to read them.