On Locks

I stopped locking the door after I left my husband. I was living in the house alone with our small son and our little dog, and I stopped locking the door. This behavior seemed counterintuitive, I know. The counselor at the domestic violence shelter told me to change the locks, but for some reason that I couldn’t explain to myself, I felt safer without the locks at all.

I told myself that it was because I was now fearless, that it was because the worst had already happened to me, that if a robber came into my home and attacked me, I would either survive or I would die, and what was the difference?

In the past years, I have told myself many things to explain away the mysteries of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The elusiveness of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is that it doesn’t always make itself apparent. It’s not always obvious that a certain behavior comes from the disorder and not from reality. Sometimes, it’s difficult to separate illusion from reality.

I left my locks unlocked because, for some reason, that behavior gave me the illusion of feeling safe.

But safety isn’t a feeling. Safety is a state of being, and by giving myself the feeling of safety, I was actually creating a state of being that was unsafe.

Last night, I was working in this workbook on healing the trauma of domestic violence. Outside of my therapist and my friends, it has been the best resource for my continued recovery. I was reading a section on being rational–on perceived vs. real safety–and the authors used an example of two women in a battered women’s shelter. One woman only felt safe with the door locked because a man had broken into her apartment and sexually assaulted her. Another woman only felt safe with the door unlocked. Can you guess what had happened to that woman who only felt safe with the door unlocked?

She was severely beaten as she tried to get out of her apartment but couldn’t escape because the door was locked.

I am crying as I type this because that is what happened to me too. It happened so many times.

The thud of the lock slipping into place meant that I was trapped.

And, so, for the past year and a half, I have been leaving my door unlocked because it made me feel safer. Because like so many women, for so many years, it was what was inside the house that was dangerous.

I remember locking myself in the bathroom during his rages. He had a bobby pin that he had bent to pick the lock. I knew I was only buying myself time by barricading myself in the bathroom. I would sit with my back to the door, my feet propped against the sink, and hear the click of the lock when he connected with the pin. Then the banging would begin. He would shove himself against the door. If I used my legs, I could hold out for maybe a minute or so, but then, because he was skinny but strong, he would always break through. My body would slide to the side. The door would open.

And there he was.

He left that bobby pin resting on top of the door frame. When I would go to the bathroom–even on a good day–always, that bobby pin looked down on me from its watchtower above the door. Like a sentry letting me know that there was no safe place.

It is the unknowable that makes things so hard, that reaches out and grabs me in moments I don’t expect. The sight of a bobby pin, my heart accelerates. The sound of a lock, I want to throw up.

Last night, I woke up in the middle of the night afraid. “What if someone breaks in?” I thought. This was a rational fear, not likely, but rational. I had left the door open again, even after reading the chapter in my workbook.

It was time for me to realize the danger was no longer inside of my home. I got up and locked the door. The sound of the lock slipping into place brought relief.