The Collapse of Safe Space

Yesterday I went to the center where I meet with my spiritual community every Sunday. This has been a place of exquisite refuge for me. I have built each week around having the energy and resources to get here because it has become so important to my sanity. I was beyond thrilled to find this place, because not only was it a setting where I was able to drop my mind and show up fearlessly as the deepest part of my self that is untouched by the drama and trauma of a human life, but the building was good! I felt good in this building after they had carefully and lovingly restored it 5 years ago for being a sanctuary for yoga, meditation and wholeness. It has been such an important part of creating a new, meaningful life in this new location that I counted it as one of the main reasons to stay here.

I know better than to get attached to things.

About six weeks ago, I alerted the facilitators that there was mold growing in the area where they have plants and a decorative bamboo water fountain. I mentioned it 2 or 3 weeks in a row. Then I left on a trip and missed two Sundays.

The trip was intense. I had a lot to process from going to see my family. I am stable enough in my recovery that I trust that I can recover from big hits. That means I know I will get inflamed and exhausted and sick by going to the East Coast, but I also trust that I am able to function while feeling crappy and drug myself to sleep. It is hard to process emotions when you feel like crap. Crucially, I have a safe place to come back to.

I was looking forward to having an opportunity to process Sunday morning. I always feel better Sunday evenings.

When I walked in, I had forgotten about the mold. Within seconds, I could tell it had bloomed. Not only was the smell overwhelming, but it was obvious that this mold was a “slammer.” That means hours or even days of recovering from minutes of exposure. I felt dizzy, my face and eyes started to burn, my lungs hurt, my kidneys flared up and I was shaken. It was like walking into a room with a diesel engine running.

I knew I should leave, but I was already contaminated and wasn’t willing to just pop this building onto my “No Go” list without an effort to solve this.

The manager happened to be there on a Sunday, so I knocked on his door. He saw that I was ashen and on the brink of tears and asked me if I wanted to sit down. He said he had gotten my messages and had examined the area with the fountain with “someone who was mold sensitive” but they couldn’t smell anything. I found that amazing.

I told him that I suspected that it was the decorative bamboo fountain that was rotting, and would he be willing to remove it? He hesitated. Hmm. “Its a choice between aesthetics and health,” I said. He said “Yes, but for just one person… what would you do if you were in my position?” A skillful question.

“I would remove it.” I said. “I may be able to feel it when others can not, but make no mistake that it is affecting everyone.”

He was compassionate and reasonable and we agreed on a plan for me to purchase a new fountain and coordinate installing it. He conveyed that of course he wanted this space to feel safe for all people who use it.

I stayed when I should not have. I stayed in the corner farthest away from the mold colony and focused on calming my mind. A friend opened the door near me as a way to offer me fresh air.

That was kind, I thought, but I knew that if the air flow was coming into the room, it would help and if it was flowing out of the room, it would be flushing the mold toxin towards me and I would have to leave immediately. I walked to the door to check. It was a 50-50 chance.

It was flowing in and smelled fresh. I decided to stay as long as I could.

What followed was a profound emotional processing. Instead of processing the trip, which was backed up inside my tired body, I had to process something else. Bigger.

I was overwhelmed by the accumulated trauma of losing my safe spaces over and over in the last 3 years.

The very first one was when I was so sick I was bedridden and realized I had to muster the focus and energy to move out of a moldy house. When I succeeded in activating this clear knowing of what was needed, I got the opposite of support. I got abandonment. If my diagnosis had been MS or cancer instead of mold illness, the response from my community would have been vastly different.

When your experiences do not correspond with “consensual reality” comprised of the agreed upon perceptions of the people in the cultural framework that surrounds you, you have the human experience of “marginalization.” Marginalized people are everywhere. They are actually most of us, when you add up all the margins together. “Reality” reveals itself as just a big Matrix everyone is jacking into.

When the kind and compassionate facility manager balked at the inconvenience of removing an aesthetic element when it meant I would never again be able to come to this spiritual sanctuary, it lit a stick of dynamite that blew open the trauma I had not processed.

So process it, I did. (My mother said “Do not waste this suffering!”)

I sobbed in a crowded room. I watched the waves of psychic pain and the memories of terror as I watched home after home after home become unsafe for me. I recalled the moment when my father’s house became unsafe, after luxuriating in the archetype of protection and stabilizing love for weeks, the neighbors fired up a “fake smoke” machine as part of their Halloween display and my body went haywire from the chemicals. I could not even be there, when all I wanted was to cry on my father’s lap, I had to flee. Again.

So I didn’t flee this time. I watched my mind and I cried. I knew when I left this precious spiritual sanctuary, I would not know if and when I could return to this place.

I did leave early. I asked a friend who lived nearby if I could use her shower. I have long stopped carrying a change of clothes in my car in case of contamination. It is so rare that I come across “slammers.” But I happened to have a change of clothes on this day.

Allowing the suffering to overwhelm me while grounding myself in the stillness and joy that is always there underneath the maelstrom is the core of the spiritual process that is overtaking me. The bigger the maelstrom, the more potent the stillness. With this process, the historical trauma that was locked inside this hyper-sensitive body gets ventilated once and for all. Never to return.

2 Comments on “The Collapse of Safe Space

  1. I can only imagine the pain and anguish you went thru. Going thru the detox for Type 3, and knowing how hard it is to see improvement, and then to have it all go away. You are NOT ALONE. You have team members out here in them internets.

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  2. Please keep writing. For those of us who have the same diagnosis, you’re inspiring.

    I am not sure of your medical regime, but my doctor does talk about using enough cysteine and a combination of histamine blockers that can eventually lead to a reduction in sensitivity to new exposures (depending on your sensitivity) by calming the associated Mast Cells.

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