On Belonging, Friendship and Surviving Renae’s Hikes
I attended a women’s retreat this past weekend.
It’s a retreat I’ve attended many times before. I’ve helped plan these retreats, I’ve MC’d these retreats. The location was familiar – a simple, beautiful space deep in our coastal hills. Miles from nowhere and perfect. I’ve enjoyed these retreats – always. But this time…this was different.
A whole new angle. A fresh perspective. An entirely new point of view.
I’m not going to die young. I’m not about to hit my expiration date. I’m not going to bring the same suffering on my family that my mother – inadvertently and unwillingly – brought upon hers.
In the past, when I have prepared for a weekend women’s retreat, I carefully followed The Rules. You know The Rules, right? So important, The Rules.
Here are The Rules:
- Go shopping beforehand. Buy something new and cute and springy. Being well-dressed will make you look happy and in control.
- Recruit close friends. Do not attend events without Security Blankets, i.e. friends who know your crappy baggage and like you anyway. Because, no one else will.
- Smile. Never let The Others see you unhappy. They wouldn’t like you.
- Choose your seat carefully. Surround yourself with Security Blankets so you are not at risk of being judged. Never sit with anyone else. They wouldn’t like you.
- Limit meaningful conversation. They aren’t dealing with hard stuff like you are. You are alone in your struggles and they wouldn’t understand, anyway.
News flash: those rules are wrong. Aren’t you shocked?! What a revelation.
I also realized that I’ve had a chip on my shoulder for decades. I’ve actuallyresented other women who are able to attend these retreats with their mothers. I’ve been mad at them for having that blessing and privilege. I didn’t even realize it was there until it was gone. Funny how that works…
I’ve also felt the teensiest bit resentful (okay, it wasn’t teeny) that everyone else in the room was going to live a marvelous and wonderful life, while mine was foreshadowed in mental illness and suffering. Because clearly, my Crappy Baggage is bigger and heavier and more awful than anyone else’s. (But we don’t talk about that…see Rule #5.)
This past weekend, I followed a new set of rules. Once again, I didn’t even realize I had rules until I stopped following them.
- Shove yoga pants and favorite slippers into a suitcase. Throw in a pair of rubber flip flops as a little something extra. Wear the same pair of jeans all three days.
- Go alone. (None of my closest friends were free that weekend. I went anyway.)
- Sit with someone new at every session and meal.
- Talk about The Hard Stuff when and where appropriate. Be vulnerable. Be honest. Cry as needed. Smile – the real one – often. Laugh.
Here’s what I discovered:
- We’ve all got Crappy Baggage. We’re just carrying it in different shaped suitcases.
- We’ve all got issues with food and body image. All of us.
- I can survive Renae’s hike. (Inside joke: we call these annual events “Death Marches” but with great love and respect. She’s a monster with hills. She should be a trainer.)
- Sweating and panting alongside other women breaks down any barriers that might still be lingering.
I came home from the weekend with a whole posse of new friends. But more profoundly, I found myself the entire weekend…in the middle of things. No longer on the outside, looking in. I…belonged.
Sort of like grace is friendship — not something you earn, but something you receive.
When I share my hurt and broken places, it gives the gal across from me the permission to share hers. I can’t tell you how many lovely conversations I had with women who were total strangers moments before. We shared our stories. We shared our broken places. We celebrated with one another how we’ve survived, and thrived, and triumphed.
I am convinced that the shortest distance between strangers and friends is a shared story about our broken places.
Another woman there said this: “I see God better, I feel God better, in community.”
So true! When we allow ourselves that intimacy and vulnerability, we are able to light the way for one another.
The cracks are how the light gets through.
Fear, hurt, disappointment and suffering….they thrive on darkness and isolation. Every time we bring them out into the open, those wounds heal over a little bit.
I went years without saying the words “Huntington’s Disease.” The Great Unsaid, the family curse. The fear grew and grew, and swallowed up joy and friendship and love. I think back now and wonder…how much did I lose to that fear? How many women could have benefitted from my story, but I was too afraid to speak?
When was the last time you took a risk and told your story?
When has someone else’s story empowered you or given you the courage to share yours?
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