Even before we arrived to the Embercombe family camp, I started shutting down. It began at home, when my husband ran down the stairs and said something I didn’t catch over my son’s voice. All I heard was ‘Jasmin’. The urgency in his voice really unsettled me.
Something’s wrong with my daughter. My heart was racing, I panicked, ran out of the room only to find out that her nappy leaked and he was asking what to change her into.
I shut down. It was clearly a disproportionate response to the situation, but I just could not come out of my grump. Luckily, my husband and I had a 1:1 session with the facilitator of the camp on the evening of our arrival. We talked things through, we cried, we laughed, I re-surfaced from my shut down… only to shut down again on the next day. The adult session with space to process our feelings helped. I softened, I came out to play. The next thing I knew, I shut down.
The pain of the withdrawal was unbearable. All was well, and yet I felt wretched. On the third night, my husband held me while I sobbed my heart out. I wanted to feel connected with other people on the camp, but the habitual isolation made me run away, retreat into my shell, pretend I was invisible.
Feeling the pain of disconnection in a beautiful setting with lots of practical and emotional support is much harder than at home. Yet, paradoxically, I could feel it exactly because there was holding. Difficult stuff I shoved aside when I couldn’t deal with it wanted to come up and out for freedom.
What this situation showed me (not for the first time) was that feelings themselves were not difficult as such. What made the situation painful was my resistance to feel whatever was coming up. More I avoided the unwanted feelings, the louder they became.
Needless to say, the person who was impacted the most was my husband. After five days of my shut downs, he had enough. We arranged to have a listening partnership where each of us took turns to speak for 15 minutes without any interruption or input from the other.
Witnessing the pain I caused by my withdrawal was excruciating. Once he spoke about his feelings, it was my turn to empty out.
‘I cannot cope!’ I heard myself saying 10 minutes into our listening partnership. ‘It’s all too much! All these people smiling and being nice, all this support…’
I stopped in my tracks. So the reason I was shutting down was because everyone was so nice?!
I would have never guessed.
It was counterintuitive, but made perfect sense. The most profound healing happens when we are held. When we are struggling and functioning in a survival mode, there is no space to process ‘difficult’ feelings. We need to actively create conditions where we are safe enough to revisit old wounds.
P.S. As soon as I finished writing this post, I read a blog post by fabulous Danielle La Porte. As there seems to be a certain synchronicity, I included a link. Perhaps the feeling of disconnectedness was on the way out during the camp and had its last stab? Who knows… Enjoy!