Help Me Stay Safe

The morning chill hasn’t been enough to quell the heat of anxiety as it blooms in my belly upon waking. I fight dread off my chest and scrape myself off the bed as worry turns itself up. I have worked hard daily not to listen to fearful thoughts. Attention feeds them and then they grow. But today I found getting up easier even though the chatter was already present and rising. I got up feeling safe in myself, so I listened.

It’s not easy to separate the threads of fear, and in my mind there has been a tangle. I’ve repeatedly warred with the terrible idea that someone wants to hurt me. It is a story that comes from the pain of not being able to be who I wanted to be, who I was certain I could be. I set expectations and could not meet them, and in doing so, sadness was born. A rift I don’t know if I can recover from because it appears so vast still wakes me on fire with true memories and imagined futures. And even if I have weighted my shoulders with far more self-judgment than I should, I still open my eyes quaking and choking on air.

It is painful to love people and think they might twist what you have given them into a stormy deficit, rack up imagined debts based on historical revision in a moment of their own fear, lose sight of your care. It is even more painful to do it to yourself.

These are pieces of the fear puzzle inside me–some I create, some were created. Small pieces. I know I am not responsible for others’ reactions to me. The most I can do is extend compassion, try to keep the lines of communication open with a positive outcome in mind. Sometimes it stops feeling safe. For a time, I have to pull back in order to assess my reactions to others and myself, find that deeper understanding of what is good and what was wrong. To do as I’ve said and care for myself before I can meet someone else where they are. I do this as needed with the intention of coming home to love.

Here is my greatest fear: that others will not do the same for me.

Talk to Me

This was made real to me recently when someone shut me out with no warning. It hurt because there was no room for compassion or understanding. It set the fear ablaze inside me–Does someone want to hurt me? Do they know they are hurting me? Even worse–are they hurting me because I hurt them? And then the rational part of my mind comes in and says to give it time. Wait. Breathe. Keep up your gratitude practice because this person has felt and is important to you and you want to the best for them regardless of their reasons for locking you out. They may not want your support or friendship right now, but you can wish them well. 

But that greatest fear? It’s that someone will choose not to talk to me. To be confused or hurt and never say, “Hey, this thing happened and it felt bad.” Or, “I need some space from you right now because of X. Not sure if we can work through it. Don’t want to right now. I’ll get back to you if and when I feel safe.”

Why is that important to me? When we share our needs and boundaries with someone, even when those needs and boundaries feel bad to one party, it is a compassionate statement of hope and possibility or, at the very least, an expression of personal needs. Because my coaching and business and, well, life are built on my commitment to compassionate communication, it is frightening to have it denied. To not know whether I’ve hurt a person and how so I can try not to repeat the action toward them or anyone else.

This is not a criticism. I am not angry. If this boundary is what is safest for a person, it doesn’t matter if I understand it and I expect no explanation. I respect it and will honor it because I believe we all deserve to feel safe even if their actions have left me uncomfortable. I may not have ghosted anyone before, but I have set no-contact boundaries during times when I’ve needed them. This is basic self-care and the right decision.

But this does not stop my fear that others will do the same and choose to make themselves invisible without warning. At its core, this is the fear of rejection and judgment. Even deeper it is the fear that I could become an unsafe person without ever knowing it is happening, how or why. That I could become the antithesis of or reason for every word I write and all the work I do.

I’ve had to be rational and remind myself that it is incredibly rare that I’ve been unable to resolve disputes through direct communication. And no, I don’t mean resolve as in we are all happy. I mean it as in we’ve come to a place of mutual understanding and agreement about what comes next for us–what are the boundaries that will serve us best going forward. As long as it feels safe on both sides, I keep trying. I trust myself. I believe in myself. I can’t control how others feel about me. I can only do my best.

However, we are all sometimes blinded to our full reflection in the mirror. We are human. We will make mistakes. If we do not remain humble, we are at great risk of creating harm. So, as a person who is working to create safe spaces on and offline, I request that you, readers and community members, please talk to me if a concern arises. Please communicate with me compassionately and I will do the same for you. Let us not assume. Let us know. Why? I want to make sure I am and stay a safe person so I can do this heart work of supporting you as you survive your stories.

For now, I am resetting my goal of reaching just one person with my writing. When I meet it, I will set it again just as I always have. This reminds me I don’t have to reach everyone. I am not perfect. I will do my best minute by minute, word by word. After owning my fear and allowing vulnerability, this is the most compassionate act I can do for myself.

Beloved readers and community members, thank you for sharing this space of vulnerability with me. I wish you peace and endless self-love as you navigate your own fears. May they be briefly felt, quickly resolved and points of growth as you walk your beautiful healing path.

Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

5 Discussion to this post

  1. Stacia says:

    Always here to talk to you when you need an ear. Thank you for this brave piece that clarifies a hallmark of healing from trauma: when someone says to a survivor “you have hurt me,” the survivor often fears that means “now I am going to hurt you.” Your willingness to integrate your own healing journey into your writing and professional work is commendable, and it’s empowering for others like me who are trying to do the same. Love to you. <3

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  2. Janet says:

    I’m sorry for your recent hurt. I wish you peace and healing.

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    • Shawna Ayoub Ainslie says:

      Thank you, Janet. The greatest concern I’m holding right now is hurting someone else. My gratitude practice is wonderful. Instead of focusing on making sense of their disappointment in me (especially not knowing the details and wow can the mind invent fun topics to circle forever), I can send them positive thoughts and hope goodness, healing and beauty for them. Compassion is an amazing thing. They never need explain or contact me. Whatever I did, I am sorry for. I’m not perfect and won’t pretend to be. If I do that, I definitely won’t find the healing I need right now from all the other pressing issues in life.

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  3. Robin says:

    You are such an amazing and giving person, my dear. I am so proud of all the work you do to help yourself and others learn compassion, healing and peace from within. I worry sometimes that you will one day slip and give too much of yourself away, getting hurt in the process. But then, there you are, standing tall, sometimes curled up small, but ever the advocate of love, tolerance, compassion, and inner peace. I love who you are. And I love you!

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