In Safe: A Memoir, Elspeth Roake shares her journey with depression and trauma-related disordered attachment, from the lowest lows to finally finding healing.
Elspeth competed in horse shows, and the book begins in Florida for the winter show season, with her going into the hospital for suicidal ideation. She ended up being Baker Acted (committed involuntarily), and was forced to undergo a cavity search when she arrived on the psych unit.
After she’s discharged, the book then moves 2 years back in time. Elspeth’s boss Leslie plays a major role in the book, and was Elspeth’s main source of support. She writes:
I’m not good with boundaries, and Leslie doesn’t have any, so in some ways, she was the perfect mentor for me. In the long run, it didn’t set me up for very good relationship skills, but I didn’t realize this until much later. I continuously emailed and called, and eventually texted, once that was invented. She is my boss, but over the years, she has also become my best friend and my life coach. And now she is, in my mind, the one person who can fix everything.
At one point, Elspeth realized that she needed to work on her mental health, and put together her own program for this. She shares some of the reading that she did that resonated with her, including Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score.
She set high goals for herself, including doing an Ironman, but offers the insight, “I have succeeded. I also realize I have failed. I am the same person I was before I completed the Ironman. If anything, I am more depressed, and feel even more psychological pain.”
Cutting was a major coping mechanism, and the book explores her state of mind while cutting. Elspeth admits, “I’ll always be a cutter, active or not. It’s who I am.” Even when she was in therapy, the cutting continued, and her story is a good example of how self-harm is unlikely to stop unless there are new, more adaptive coping mechanisms that are effective enough to take the place of cutting.
Suicide also comes up repeatedly in the book, and is discussed honestly and openly.
The book offers really interesting insight into what it’s like to have disordered attachment. One of the things she had a hard time with was object permanence, i.e. knowing that things still exist even when they’re not in front of you. It’s interesting to observe her relationship with Leslie. Elspeth says that “When she is gone, safety simply doesn’t exist” (hence the title Safe). While Elspeth mentions that she doesn’t meet the full criteria for borderline personality disorder, her relationship with Leslie gives the reader some insight into the favourite person dynamic in BPD.
After the hospitalization that occurred at the start of the book, Elspeth manages to find a therapist who was able to help her make real progress with recovery. That part of the story is compressed at the end of the book, so in a way, it seems like it happened quickly, although clearly that kind of healing work never happens quickly. It sounds like she was able to make tremendous progress compared to the lows she shared with the reader.
For me, what really stood out in this book was the exploration of attachment issues. The author is very open about her state of mind, and nothing is glossed over because it might be embarrassing. She’s able to articulate her thoughts and emotions very well, and from what appears to be a place of non-judgment. This book makes for a very interesting read.
Safe is available on Amazon (affiliate link).
I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.