Everyone Deserves to Feel Safe

Everyone Deserves to Feel Safe
–by Laura Dennis “You’re safe now,” my friend said, stroking my hair as I sipped a glass of water. Some time later, my daughter said nearly the same. Both times, I curled softly into sleep.

Not much of a story, is it? Woman gets scared, woman finds safety, woman sleeps. For me, though, this story is remarkable. I’d been fighting an epic migraine, one that had started clawing up the side of my face during a five-hour drive. That was the spoken reason for my fear. The unspoken reason, the one only those closest to me guessed, was that my son had lost it again, the first…and worst…time in a while. If there hadn’t been others around to intercede, well, best not continue that thought. And yet, although a wave of fear did indeed ripple through me, it crested somewhere far beyond.

It’s not that I didn’t take my son’s threat seriously. I did. He’s injured me before and I know he could again, especially since he’s grown. I used to be so afraid of his anger that I could scarcely function, much less parent effectively. But I also know that if faith and years of therapy have taught me anything, it’s that you can’t conquer fear with fear. Only love can stand up to fear. My son might bluster and brawl till the bitter end, show me the “fight” part of “fight or flight” at its best (or worst, depending on your point of view…). It looks a lot like hate and maybe sometimes it is, but most of all, he’s acting out of fear, fear born from early years filled with abuse and neglect. In a way, I get that. After all, for years I was reacting out of fears all my own.

You might think I want to forget those years, now that for me, at least, they’ve passed. You’re not entirely wrong. Those were hard and dark times, and even with therapy, medication, faith, and meditation, they could come again. At the same time, however, those dark days are a gift. Before I met my son, I’d not really known much by way of fear; without him, I might never have understood what it is to be anxious and afraid. Knowing this as intimately as I now do has made me not only a more therapeutic parent, it’s made me a better mom, teacher, person, and friend. All people, especially children, deserve to feel safe. It’s a tough road, I know, but let’s keep trying to create the security that they need. Who knows? Perhaps one day, when we stroke our children’s heads and tell them they’re now safe, they will believe us enough to wrap their troubled souls in our love and maybe, finally rest.

I am a solo mother of three, all adopted as older children from India, all of whom have been affected by early childhood trauma, particularly my youngest, who was diagnosed at age six with RAD, ADHD, and ODD. We had struggled along as best we could for more than two years before that, whereupon I started learning all I could about trauma and attachment. It has changed our lives for the better. Not only has it set my son on a path that could –maybe– lead to eventual healing, it taught me the type of help my eldest would need as she dealt with her own past en route to young adulthood. Perhaps best of all, it led me to ATN, who not only helped our family, but also gave me the chance to pay it forward by helping families like ours find the support they need. In my “real” job, I am a World Languages professor and department chair at a private liberal arts college in the Appalachian mountains. I have found a way to merge my passions by researching the depiction of intercountry adoption in world literature and film and guest-lecturing for education classes about diversity, inclusion, and trauma-informed instruction. In what passes for my free time, I enjoy long walks, reading, writing, playing piano, and caring for our dog and cats.