We had been warned about going back to regular life after an intense writers’ retreat. The work required raw emotions that didn’t go away once you cleared Customs. Crying in the shower? Normal. Unloading a torrent of vitriol onto unsuspecting loved ones? Possible. Spending days wondering what just happened? Likely.
I had attended once before, so I knew this re-entry had been extra weird. Last time, I came back with my hardest story workshopped by our host, a prolific author and writing teacher. A whole book had grown up around that story. This time, I had wanted to unearth my next story. I had no desire to work on the manuscript that I had completed months ago. Instead of writing new stories, I returned home with a load of revisions that amounted to a scrapped manuscript and a heap of self-doubt.
My inner voice had gone quiet. Trying to get myself back on track had me in a panic.
Before the trip, I had planned a holistic health reset. The pandemic had been a year of less than healthy choices. An Ayurvedic consultation awaited when I returned home. This Hindu tradition, known in India* as The Mother of All Healing, teaches you to listen to the body’s signals. Through observation of emotions and physical symptoms, you learn how diet, seasons, weather, relationships and past trauma affect your health. Balance is the goal. This would bring me back to myself, I was sure of it.
The naturopathic doctor first asked about my emotional state. I told her what happened at the retreat.
“I started out bursting with creativity. A few days in, I didn’t speak up for myself. After that, I was unable to work on new material and stopped reading what I had brought to share. Right now I can’t even hear my intuition. It’s freaking me out.”
“Suppressed emotion can be a volcano inside us,” the doctor said. “It’s important to recognize when you are releasing emotions and when you are holding them in.”
I had definitely stuffed them down and now the anger and sadness had followed me home. I am a planner and this was not at all where I wanted to be post-workshop. I expressed almost none of my complicated feelings at the retreat, concerned I might tank other writers’ creativity along with my own. That would have made it all worse. But energy is matter and I’m sure they all felt it.
I had no qualms expressing myself at home, however. My patient husband watched me get stuck in the seven stages of writer grief. For several days, I looked at him in disbelief and shook my head. “How did I let this happen?” I asked him, again and again.
I blamed myself for not being able to voice my concerns about how things were going down. There were only two ways I had always communicated hard feelings. One was to be silent. When I sense I may be rejected or judged, I hold back and say nothing. Then I carry that uncomfortable truth and it eats away at my insides. The other way is to drop the truth on the person’s head like a falling piano. When I feel safe, that’s how I do it. People seem not to like that.
“I have been told that when I tell the truth it feels like I am being mean,” I said to the doctor.
“You see things clearly and you speak your mind. Those are virtues. You can share them compassionately.”
It was news to me that there was something in between hammering someone with honesty and saying nothing at all. Perhaps my truth bombs came from holding back so often that when I unleashed the truth, the built up pressure shot out like a nail gun.
The doctor advised that when I restore balance to my body and mind, I will feel more able to express myself with compassion.
“This is a wonderful time for healing, Elizabeth.”
A little over a week has passed since I have been following my plan for spiritual and mental balance. It may not be long enough for a fair assessment. So far, however, the net effect of yoga, breath work, meditation and complying with the recommended food choices is that I feel calm. I can’t say my inner voice has been fully restored, but the lesson about speaking up for myself has stuck. I have recommitted to keeping my own counsel. I am already who I am trying to be.
When we honor our own truth and express our thoughts and feelings with compassion, we get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.
*The people of India are suffering. Please help unicefusa.org.
WRITING PROMPT: Do you have trouble speaking the truth with compassion? How do people respond to it?
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