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.