Healing Decade Old Wounds

At the beginning of October, I departed Massachusetts for a quiet town in Maine, just south of Bangor, for a yoga retreat. With a number of different things going on in my life, I felt that it would be a good opportunity to gain new perspective on where I am and where I’m going.

I drove up the coast and felt good as I pulled into the driveway of a quaint old farmhouse. The drive was beautiful and the foliage was vibrant. The farmhouse, though simple and rustic from the outside, had been remodeled to accommodate guests ready for yoga and mediation. As soon as I had arrived, it felt familiar and I was comfortable.

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Actual scenery from the retreat.

We had an introduction to the weekend. Cell phones were to be turned off, yoga and meditation were to be practiced, and words were not to be spoken. Yes, it was a silent retreat. At first, I thought I’d have no problem with it and I didn’t for a while. The night of arrival went well and the majority of the next day was quite pleasant.

There were ample walking trails to meander and walking them brought me into a damp, leaf filled wood that reminded me of plenty of other forests that had soothed me before. It felt so nice to be in that quiet by myself and be so present in every moment.

As the day wore on into evening, I got the bug to write so I did. (What else was there to do?) I scribbled out pages upon pages, seemingly emptying all of the thoughts I’d ever had. I wrote, smiled, felt glad to be writing so much, and kept writing. It turned into a writing exercise and I challenged myself to describe the kitchen in detail. I wrote about feeling like this flow of words was rare and how I needed to savor it. As I savored, words kept coming. The writing seemed endless. It could go on for days if I kept this pace! I could write a book!

And then it stopped. The words went silent. My pen stopped moving. As soon as the writing stopped, so did my joy. I didn’t know it then but my peace was breaking away from me and unrest was fast approaching. I put my pen and journal away as it was nearing the 9:30pm lights out and found my way up the unevenly crafted but sturdy old staircase toward the room I shared with two others. I tucked myself in and the lights were out. I didn’t have the trees, or wind, or notebook to help guide me anymore. It was just me.

I began feeling uneasy that night as I stared into the pitch black room. I know I was looking at the ceiling but I couldn’t see anything. I drifted in and out of sleep and in and out of nightmares. All of those nightmares centered around myself in my high school years when I was angry at the world for everything but couldn’t pinpoint a single bit of where that anger came from. I had visions of people I hadn’t talked to or thought about in many years, some even more than a decade. None of it was good. It felt horrible as I checked my watch every few hours to see if it was over yet. Is it morning? Can I get up? It wasn’t, and I didn’t.

I waited and finally the bell to wake everyone up at 7:30am sounded. I was finally able to get up and out of my head–except I couldn’t. I was still stuck there because I had no where to turn. The day that lay ahead of me was filled with more time in my head meditating, doing yoga, and staring out at the landscape as I tread through the paths of the grounds.

After breakfast, I’d resolved to break a rule. I was going to use my phone. I had to. I had to feel connected to something. It wasn’t the phone itself but who the phone could lead to. People I love are on the other side of that phone and naturally, when upset and scared, I retreat to my safe place: my husband. Only, it was 8:30am on a Sunday and there was no way he was awake. I felt even more alone.

I laid on my bed trying to write something but nothing came. I kept telling myself that I should stay and stick it out because I committed to doing this retreat (except I’d committed before I knew how terrible my brain can be to me.) That was challenged with how I thought my husband would advise me. I kept hearing him say “If you don’t like it, just come home.” He was asleep and I didn’t want to wake him but I know it’s what he would have said.

I toiled over this decision for a good hour before resolving that I would leave.

I packed all of my things, which wasn’t much, and toted my bags downstairs. I told a fellow participant I had to leave “for family reasons” and exited.

Walking to the car, I felt some guilt packaged with the wonderful sense of freedom. I’d let myself down for not staying and enjoying myself but I’d done myself a great justice by realizing when I’d hit my limit and leaving.

I drove and every mile that I traveled further away from the retreat and closer to home, I could breath more deeply and feel more comfortable. That day, as I pulled into the parking lot behind our apartment building, I was so grateful to be home.

Over the next few weeks, I recovered from traveling that deep within my thoughts. I’ve recovered and realized that as much as I did feel pain from all of those thoughts and nightmares, it helped me. There was some positive in it.

Since the time of anger in my high school years, I’ve always felt anger towards that time. The emotions that I felt then are the only bits that I could recall from that time so I ended up hating that time and those people. In reality, I was lost and scared and felt like the weirdest person on Earth because no one I knew was like me. No one I knew felt this way (or at least I didn’t know it if they did). I was angry because I felt alone.

Something happened on the retreat that allowed me to feel the uncomfortable emotions from high school and set them free. It was the exact same set of emotions that I had in high school and I didn’t even know it. I was at a retreat with some people who were probably really cool but there was a rule: silence. I couldn’t speak to them nor them to me and it felt so utterly lonely. Again, I became angry and upset because I felt alone.

The scale is much smaller (two days versus four years) but eventually, feeling the same emotions can help release some old but similar ones. I’m thankful for the retreat because it allowed that bit of unexpected healing. Those feelings have broken free–like I’ve managed to acknowledge and validate them and that’s all they needed to leave me.

But I’m not sure I’ll be going on another retreat anytime soon.

Treasured Words

I was in high school and I thought I loved math more than writing. That would turn out to be skewed (not entirely wrong–I did love math and if I’d kept at it, could probably have gotten to a high level of study) but I was certainly not at a point when I was writing or reading for pleasure. I was okay with being a math nerd and I didn’t know it fully then, but there was something else stewing. I was mad. Mad at the world but not really at any thing in particular. I was mad at feeling weird and out of place. (Had I known that writing would have helped, maybe I would have done more of it but I’m not sure it helps to speculate on what I should have done when I was 16.) I’d tried to fit in but that made me feel even worse so I stopped. I cut my hair short, dyed it blue, and wore clothes from discount and second hand stores because thrifty was more me than Abercrombie & Fitch jeans that cost $100.

I surrounded myself with other weirdos and we were happy with that. Before the days of claiming my introversion, I just thought we were the only ones who liked to go to the beach at night, walk around, and silently stare out at the moon’s reflection on the ocean. We didn’t have to say as much but we all knew we were in the right place and we were happy to be in each other’s company. At the very least, I was happy in their company. The waves would crash in and I’d feel the cool, damp sand beneath my bare feet. I can’t remember any of what we talked about but I remember the sensation of feeling home. With them, I was not the strange girl. I was a part of it; part of something. It’s one of the few things that I think back on during that period without feeling the anger I’d embodied. It is a rare calm memory and it’s refreshing, even now. In fact, I still dream of it and feel peaceful when I do.

It was around this time when I was told by my friend Emma that I should read a book. I’d really love it, she said. It was called The Perks of Being a Wallflower. My math mind didn’t think much of reading for pleasure but Emma was a weird girl like me. If she liked it, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try. (While Emma gave me this massive gift of life then, it’s strange that we didn’t keep in contact. It was the MySpace days, before Facebook, and I guess we never fully moved over together. Sad. Mostly because I think back so fondly of that time and that group of friends that was so short lived. Emma, Becca, Will, and me. It was a good one and I hope they are well.)

I read it. And then I read it again. I marked pages and underlined passages. The book was broken in and tear stained. I loved it and it spoke to me in a way I didn’t anticipate. I didn’t know what introversion was but I knew that I understood Charlie. I felt like he felt sometimes. I cried not only at the sad parts but at the parts that filled me with so much joy. I was overflowing with those very same emotions that Charlie was feeling. I couldn’t believe that there was a book about the weird kid and that I related so much.

So when another friend asked to borrow it, I let him. It wasn’t just a book to me. It was a piece of my life that I was passing along to someone else, hoping that they’d feel like I did. It was a dream that it would bring us closer as friends. If he read when I loved and saw the passages that I felt, then he could come closer to understanding why I am me. Idealistic. As angry as I was, I was still hopeful that people cared as passionately about the small things as I did.

Weeks and months passed. I wanted to retrace the pages I’d come to love but my copy had not been returned. I asked him about it, hoping to hear an emphatic “I loved it!” but instead, I was faced with a confused look of someone who couldn’t remember what book I had lent to him or where it was.

This piece of my soul had been carelessly shuffled away somewhere. Lost. My markings were gone forever. I was shocked that someone, who I thought was a friend, would treat a part of me so neglectfully. Of course, to him it was just a book. He had no idea that this book was me. Losing it, forgetting it, not caring about it was in turn doing those things to me as if planned and executed with malice. He didn’t do it intentionally but it didn’t matter. It felt just as bad.

If I’m fully honest, I don’t think I’ve lent a book to a friend since. At least not a favorite one. I was burned when I needed those words more than any other time in my life before or since. That’s not an easy wound to heal and all these years later, it still stings a little.

So why am I telling you this today? I’m reminded because I just discovered that there is a movie being made out of this book and I’d love to reread it but my copy was never replaced. It’s time to pick up a brand new version, unworn, and read it again. Maybe it won’t speak to me as much as it did then. Maybe it will. But I know that the girl who once read and cherished that book is still somewhere here, even if she has grown up and matured. She is still here–angry about her own weirdness. She is doing her very best to accept it and embrace it but the memory of then still lies deep inside.

Our weirdness is what makes us stand out, she says to herself. Blending in was never an option.

Natural Affinity

As children, my Dad would bring us on nature walks around Lily Pond. We lived across the street and had extremely easy access to the small walking paths that twisted through well rooted pine and oak trees. We’d look for deer tracks using my Dad’s hunting experience. Even though we rarely spotted anything, there was always that possibility and it was exciting as we tried to be quiet enough so we wouldn’t scare anything away. (We were never quiet enough.)

On these walks, I’d listen for squirrels rustling in the leaves or birds calling for others of their kind. It was mostly a quiet retreat into a place where we seemed to be miles from real life but it was just there–seemingly in our front yard.

The Charles at dusk.

Recently, I was very restless on a particularly warm evening and I needed to do something. I walked to the bank of the Charles River and took a seat. It was dusk and I reflected on the nature walks that I went on with my Dad as a child, as well as all of the family vacations we took “up north.” At the time, I never appreciated our quiet and soothing vacations. I wanted to do something. But that night, as I sat by the river listening to frogs croak, I might as well have been far away by a lake in middle-of-nowhere Maine and I realized something extremely important.

I had managed to find a place to live that offered me the same type of escape from reality in nature that I had grown up with.

We all carry some deep rooted values that we learned when we were kids. For me, it’s that it’s okay to just observe nature. It’s okay to be quiet and listen. It’s okay to think about something or nothing. It’s okay to just be and let things be around you.

It has become a very valuable resource as life gets busier and more complicated. There are ever more things to think and worry about. There are so many times when knowing how to feel better is essential. And I have the tools. I have nature to help me refocus on who I am and what really matters. Thank you for that, nature.

And thank you for showing me all of this, Dad.

We’re Alone; Together

Motorcycling was something I never expected to enjoy. Maybe more accurately, though, it wasn’t even a thought in my mind.

Then my husband got his first one about two years ago. I was definitely not interested in joining.

As he became more engrossed in his mode of transportation (he is a motorcycle commuter even in weather that would deter others), we made an investment in a BMW bike. And that’s when I started to get curious. It was easy for me to write off the previous vehicles–they weren’t very prestigious. The new BMW was interesting, complicated, and expensive. It was clear that we were going to be in possession of this type of bike for a long time. Why not give it a try?

I’ve slowly taken to riding with him. It took time but I think I would consider my interest to be in the “budding enthusiast” category now. (A massive change from my previous “no way, no how” philosophy.)

I feel like The Stig when I’m all geared up for a ride.

The wonderful thing about riding together is everything.

We are a team.

When we go through a corner, we lean together. When we stream down the open road, we’re hearing the wind rush past us together. We hate slow cars and red lights together. We even put on our gear and take it off together.

And at the very same time, we are each alone.

Aside from a tap on the shoulder or a short conversation during a stop, we don’t speak. We don’t communicate verbally and we don’t have to. Bodies can say a lot without words when we’re in constant contact and that’s all we need. We are each inside our respective heads and I quite enjoy the lack of other stimuli. There’s no radio and no conversation. We can just be silent together and wander through our thoughts independantly.

We are alone and we are together.

It is beautiful and an experience that I never expected when I previously thought of motor-sports.

Now, I’m excited for every weekend at the prospect of just going somewhere. Anywhere. Camping, or a night in a cabin on a lake, or a quick trip to Taco Bell–they’re all made many levels more interesting if we’re riding.

The Introvert Epiphany

Last fall, around Thanksgiving, I took a personality test called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (test can be taken here, Mr. Curiosity). I know I took it before but I didn’t put much stock in my results. I don’t know what I tested as those years before but this time I took the test, it impacted me greatly.

While the results are four different letters–four types of our individual personalities–the one that has affected me most deeply was the first.

I.

Introvert.

I had, somehow, gone 26 years of my life thinking I was just insane and weird rather than realizing I was an introvert. I needed education!

My salvation came through a book: Introvert Power. Not only was I not insane, I was powerful for being this way. (Whoa…)

As I devoured the pages of Introvert Power, I had eerie realizations that I wasn’t the only one like me. Passages about general traits or possible experiences and reactions described me exactly. I was reading a book written in another time and place but it was about me. I was able to dive in and feel whole. It was a truly eye opening experience that the author, Dr. Laurie Helgoe, could absolutely know and understand me on a deeper level than I understood myself.

The more I realized this about myself, the more I realized that I could use certain tactics to prevent myself from feeling overwhelmed after a day at the office or a party. I could take lunches all by myself with my journal. I’d have just enough down time to be able to return to the office, refreshed for another sprint.

At a party, I could remove myself from the situation and interaction for a little bit to recharge before going back in. Or, if that failed, I could go home. And that’s okay!

This discovery and realization has completely turned my outlook on life around. It is not a weight dragging me down or something that I need to get past.

It is okay. It is good to nurture my introversion. I’m not mentally ill in some way. I’m just me and it’s okay.

A Well Timed Musical Discovery

The Fall months at the office are an extremely stressful time. Our clients try to pack a year’s worth of sales into four months and surprisingly, it’s largely successful. It leaves me stretched thin and tired but luckily, there are a few things that help: time off, rest, laughter, and most of all, a poignant song (or album).

Last November is when I discovered the song Shake It Out by Florence and the Machine. She sang triumphantly about how “it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back so shake him off.”

It’s how I felt during the hectic busy season. She understood. I had survived the worst of it for the year and it was time to celebrate. It helps a little to remember that rough times will always happen but the most important part is to get through it and return to your happy self.

So when more tough times lay ahead from various stresses, I found myself in need of another reassuring tune. It was just a standard week day but it was not a good or easy one (I couldn’t tell you what happened and I’m not sure it’s important but it was not the most pleasant of days). My music was on shuffle on my drive home because I had no idea what would sing me some relief.

And then, this: All This and Heaven Too. (Go ahead. Take some time to listen to it. I’ll be here when you get back.)

This brought the emotions and I began crying. Not the pretty crying where one singular tear streams down a cheek but full on wailing. Again, she understood. She sang what I felt and explained it in a way that I wish I’d been able to focus and come up with it myself. She struck a chord.

For months I’d listen to the Ceremonials album to and from the office. It prepared me for the day ahead and comforted me when it was over. It was part enjoyment and part therapy.

Then it happened. She announced tour dates. There weren’t any in Massachusetts but there was one show at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut on May 11th. I purchased a single ticket for just myself, despite a couple adverse reactions. Wouldn’t I be lonely? No. It was an experience I needed to have alone in a sea of people. It was the first time that I’d only gotten one ticket and it felt freeing.

I went to the concert on Saturday and it was perfect.

Florence came out in a long flowing black dress and bare feet. She skipped, twirled, floated around the stage in those bare feet. Free. Her subtle hand gestures to areas of the crowd made us feel a part of it. Blowing kisses and welcoming us to her talent. She must have said “Thank you very much” in her London accent no less than 15 times. She was sweet and gentle until she belted out the lyrics to the songs that have spoken to me. She was powerful.

To me, she has demonstrated what it is to be female. Emotional yet powerful. Sensitive and graceful yet hard willed. Not willing to take shit but also hurt if someone she’s let in betrays her.

I have found myself connecting more and more with these facets of myself which is probably why I’m so pulled into her music. Her album just happened to come out at the time in my life (to date) that I am most receptive to the feelings and messages. It helps me feel like I’m not the only one with an overwhelming emotional burden while also having to seem put together. It’s part of being me: being a human and being a woman.

My emotions make me who I am. Sometimes they’re extreme. Sometimes they’re subtle. All the time, they exist within me. I’m not the only person driven by “I feel” rather than “I think” but that’s okay. The world needs people who feel. The world needs me. I’m just not entirely sure how yet.

I’m ready to suffer and I’m ready to hope – Shake It Out

Why So Lonely?

While Tom and I were on our honeymoon, I ate breakfast on my own. He isn’t the biggest fan of food in the morning but it’s my favorite meal so I made an effort to get my much loved eggs every day. On one of the last few mornings of the cruise, I went to the non-buffet breakfast option and was seated at a table for one.

My waiter, who was some Spanish speaking nationality with tan skin, came over to greet me. At this point in the cruise, I was tired of being constantly surrounded by crowds and thought a little odd for seeking out the more quiet spots to hang out, and was ready to return to my normal life where solitude is far less questioned.

When the waiter got to me, he said “Why so lonely?” with a smile on his face. I’m not sure if his English wasn’t great or if he really interpreted my solo breakfast as me being lonely, but I felt I needed to retort.

“Just because I’m alone doesn’t mean I’m lonely.”

His smile quickly vanished and he apologized as he was just joking before. But it’s an important thing for me to say. As a 26 year old woman, I have always felt a little bit off. Slightly insane. Kind of weird. But in the last 9 months, I’ve been able to put a term to that weirdness and begin to really embrace it.

Introvert.

I like quiet solitude. Sometimes it’s staring at the wall. Sometimes it’s driving without a destination. Other times, it’s a coffee shop with a pen and my journal. But it’s me and I’m not insane or weird. I’m an introvert.

Part of learning about yourself is fervently accepting it in the face of adversity, or at least on that moment, in that instance, I needed to do it. I needed to say it more than I needed anyone to hear it. Of course, I partially feel bad if it was his lack of English skills, but I really didn’t say it for him. I said it because I am okay with eating (and doing many other things) alone. I said it to prove to myself that I can own who I am and how I operate best.

I’m not the party girl type with a penchant for nightclubs and endless streams of new friends. Somehow, that’s odd. In order to not make it odd to others, I feel that I need to fully embrace that I am as normal as they come but it just might not be your normal.

You like loud parties with tons of new people instead of coffee shops where you sit in silence? Awesome! Enjoy the hell out of it. I just prefer the latter and there’s nothing at all that’s wrong with me because of it.

Of course, this is more of me spouting off about accepting myself for who I am and how I live best rather than needing others to accept me for it.

That end goal here, though is to say this. Being alone and being lonely are two very different states. For some, being alone is translated as being lonely and thus, is a miserable, terrible, awful thing.

For me, being alone is bliss. Possibilities are endless when I have some solo time to catch up with myself and my thoughts. Do I write? Or read a book? Or go for a drive? Or just start at the ceiling? I don’t know, but those are all incredibly exciting options for me that will make me a gentler human if I do them.