In February, I spent a week alone. A week alone to complete an intensive healing retreat with a health and spiritual practitioner in Arizona (thank you technology). I rented a small one-bedroom Airbnb and with laptop in tow, I embarked on an adventurous experience like nothing I have ever done before.
I had a lot of faith in the outcome of the retreat, I knew God would be there and I knew that healing and growth would be found along the way. I also knew that these would continue to be discovered and realized as God continued to work long after I left the apartment that week.
Despite the faith and assurance I had, there was also some anxiety running in the background. I had talked with Dr. Trudy ahead of time, read her entire website and knew she was the one I wanted to work with. I have done so much therapy in my lifetime, especially over the past 10 years. When it comes to deep seeded issues and trauma, some of the therapeutic processes that I have been through have been so painful and sometimes retraumatizing. Dr. Trudy assured me that our process would be different. I trusted her and yet I didn’t know exactly what to expect and wondered how it would all go.
Would I have to “relive” the experiences that could still bring me to tears in order to get to the other side?
Would my path to healing include carrying the weight of unbearable pain in order to “work through” and release it?
I didn’t know and I was a little bit scared. I was scared that the process would be so emotionally painful and that I might feel like I would break under its weight.
I have a hard time with not knowing. Knowing makes me feel safe. Not knowing exactly how things would go that week was especially hard for me.
Anxiety and pain have held so much power over me my entire life. They have kept me stuck, enslaved and caged. For a long time, I didn’t know any of this, I just thought it was how you lived life. I didn’t know that there was a different way because I was blocked from seeing or doing anything else. Learned thoughts and behaviors coupled with spiritual strongholds and blockages blinded me from seeing that there was another way to live.
But this time, the pain of staying the same was much greater than the pain (real or anticipated) of change. This time, I was desperate and my marriage was on the line.
The things that I was carrying around from my past were cropping up in every nook and cranny of my life and my marriage was deteriorating. Something had to change and I was on my knees literally and figuratively in surrender.
Whatever I chose, it was going to be painful, I just needed to choose whatever felt like the “right” kind of hard.
Which hard was going to move me toward where I wanted to be?
So off I went to spend a full five days on my own to learn, heal and uncover what had been stopping me and getting in my way. As I mentioned, I was anxious about the retreat, but I was also worried about being alone for the week. I had never been alone for that length of time before. The little girl inside of me was worried about being lonely. After the first night, she was quickly reassured that this week alone was exactly what she needed and there was no need to fear.
Cat Got Your Tongue?
Have you ever felt like you had something to say, and it just wouldn’t come out?
Have your words ever felt stuck in your throat?
Have you ever felt so nervous to say or do what was inside of you that you became paralyzed and froze?
Have you ever been so worried about losing your sense of belonging that you put on a mask and hid your true self?
I could have answered a resounding yes to all of those questions before my week alone in February. However, over the week as my work with Dr. Trudy progressed, I was able to pinpoint and understand the origin of this, identify patterns and triggers of these behaviors, grieve over what was lost and make some plans for the future.
Rewind to around 1990 when I was about 10 years old. There were a lot of significant things going on in my life. I began puberty early and my changing body was getting a lot of unwanted attention from other kids my age. My parents had separated around that time and that activated a lot of things within me. Add to that some generational hinderances and as a young girl I was experiencing things that I wasn’t even aware of, let alone able to articulate.
I picked up perfectionism, not receiving love, believing lies, people-pleasing and hiding behind a mask to try to protect myself. I concluded that I needed to abandon who I was because that girl was unworthy and not good enough – there was something wrong with her. It never occurred to me that I was created on purpose with a purpose. Or that I was just right the way I was. Or that it was others, not me that were the problem.
Nope, I made up my mind that I was wrong! I decided (not consciously of course) that in order for me to be safe, loved and have a sense of belonging with people, groups and institutions, I would have to contort and camouflage myself. So that’s what I did, for decades.
I got so “good” at playing the roles and wearing the masks and stuffing my true self down that I got into my 30s and realized I didn’t even know who I really was. That was one of the scariest things I have ever experienced. Being hit with the reality that I never really knew myself and wondering if I would ever be able to dig myself out was extremely frightening. This also felt especially terrifying as now I had daughters and the last thing I wanted was a generational repeat. But it had to begin with me, I had to do the hard work of coming home to myself for my girls to even have a chance.
It’s funny how that all works out in parenting, at least for me anyways. In my experience, generally when I want something for my kids or I see something in them that I’m worried about or I want to change, things usually come back to internal work that I need to do in myself. I often experience my children as mirrors reflecting myself back to me. This is often difficult for me and I have been known to throw a little tantrum with God,
“Can’t they just be the problem for once? Why does it always have to come back to me? Ugh, being a parent is so hard!”
So here I am, still processing and uncovering what was started at my retreat in February. I’m understanding things at a deeper level. Now that the figurative sock in my mouth has been removed, I’m adjusting and working through the fear of fully stepping into myself. I am continuing my process of self-discovery and learning to accept and love myself at deeper levels.
Sometimes I feel like a wild animal who has been caged for a long time and has been set free. While inside the cage, the animal often vacillates between clawing on the cage to get out and helpless surrender to their circumstances. Once the animal is let out, they may immediately bound out of the cage so happy to be free. However, shortly after their initial freedom cry, the animal may feel really disoriented and realize that they have forgotten how to live in the wild. They may hesitate in moving forward and be tempted to or even go back into the cage. Even though it was a stifling prison, it became familiar and in an odd way started feeling like a safe space.
This is how I often feel when I am gaining new freedom. This is how I feel right now at times.
Recently, I was listening to Dr. Christena Cleveland on a podcast and she said something so powerful……..
“The cost of freedom is ALWAYS worth it.”
That sentence has been running through my head for weeks. I am chewing on it. It is empowering me as I slowly step and explore this “undiscovered country” that God is leading me through.
I know and have experienced too much to go back to my cage. The past 2 months my insides have been bubbling up, like a volcano that’s ready to blow. Now is the time. Now is my time to leave more of my old cages behind and keep stepping into the world as more of my true self each day.
Today I belong to myself and God. I am safe with myself and God. And I am loved by myself and God.
No longer am I the animal in the cage. More and more I am stepping deeper into and living as the girl that I was always meant to be.
Written by Shannon Stedman. To read more of Shannon’s writings, visit www.shannonstedman.com. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/holestowholecoaching. Instagram:@shannon_stedman.