A Soul-Nurturing Experience
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. ~ Maya Angelou
This past weekend I attended a Safe Communities retreat in Ephrata, Pennsylvania at the beautiful Hurst Bed and Breakfast. The retreat was led by Linda Crockett, Lyn Barrett, and Mark Harris, and it was exactly what I needed at this time in my life. The retreat was described this way:
Resistance, Renewal and Re-emergence is an apt descriptor of the cycle of seasons, as well as our lives as we heal from trauma. We find ways to resist what threatens [to] devastate our lives; we build our resilience muscles as we push back against despair and loneliness to make space for life; and we re-emerge not as we once were, but as someone who has been made strong at the broken places and moves into a different stage of life.
Before this retreat, I had a negative view of the word “resistance” in terms of healing from trauma. To me that word meant resisting the hard work of healing, rather than facing the pain one has been through. However, as Lyn Barrett talked about resistance, I realized mine was a narrow view of the concept. She outlined the three ways we normally resist as a child: fight, flight, or freeze. I did resist as a child, and for the first time I realized this was a good thing. I employed all three kinds of resistance at different times in my childhood, but the one I used most often was “fighting” through voicing the injustices in my life. Mem called that “backtalk” and the punishments were swift and severe. The whippings sometimes silenced my voice for days as I succumbed to despair. But eventually my voice re-emerged, which brought about more punishments. Maybe I would have saved myself a lot of pain if I could only have stayed silent. But then again, I may have lost my voice forever. As it was, Mem was never able to silence my voice for long.
Lyn went on to outline the ways we continue to resist as adults. There are unhealthy ways to resist that include drug or alcohol addiction and other forms of self-harm. Then there are also healthy ways to resist through therapy, building community, working on trust and relationships, creating a life, growing in spirituality, and daring to dream. I realized that even though I have resisted in unhealthy ways, I’ve also resisted in all the healthy ways listed.
After a lunch outdoors with a beautiful view of a pond and the Pennsylvania countryside, Linda Crockett talked about resilience, and how it builds on our strengths. She said research shows that those who have experienced childhood trauma and are healing have developed more resilience than those who have not experienced chronic trauma. It is through our resistance that we develop our resilience. She also talked about resilience being the process of making meaning out of our trauma. She offered the idea of “post-traumatic growth,” which was a whole new concept to me. How powerful!
Linda asked us to do a writing exercise answering three questions: “What broke me?” “what saved me?” and “in what ways am I strong and resilient?” This is what I’ve written in response to these questions:
My mother broke me. First she loved me. She cared for me and nurtured me in my young childhood as only a loving mother does. And then she broke me when I began forming a self. She punished me for telling my truth and for speaking out against the ways I was being wronged. She whipped me when she was frustrated, when she was overwhelmed, and when she felt chastised. She broke me for using my voice. Her aim was to silence me.
My voice is what saved me. Telling my story and being believed was what I’d craved my whole life. I had to put 600 miles between Mem and myself before I would discover what it felt like to no longer hold my untold story inside me.
I am strong and resilient when I’m learning new ways of thinking as I did when I pursued a formal education at Smith College, when I experience a breakthrough after a long struggle, when I develop deep and abiding relationships, and when I dream, articulate, and move toward the future I envision. But most of all, I am strong and resilient when I can speak for that vulnerable and resilient little girl who once had her voice suppressed. It’s so true — I am stronger at my broken places.
Linda ended her presentation with this profound thought, “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do.” This is such an affirmation for me. Owning my story has caused me a lot of heartache, but it is also what has saved me. I find believing in myself and loving myself are two different things. I can believe in myself when others (especially family members who echo Mem) show disdain for my perspective, but loving myself is more of a challenge through all the judgment and ostracism. Linda’s words of wisdom remind me to love myself right through the negativity that comes my way.
By the end of Saturday, I felt nourished in mind, body, and soul. Without any sermons or references to religion, I felt spiritually nourished, and I will carry this with me. I hope I will have another chance to take part in a Safe Communities retreat. I will take that opportunity!
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