This weekend I went away with a group of people from my tribe to the wonderful town of Betty’s Bay. We left midday on Friday and blasted tunes from the radio all the way there. Arriving in a, slightly cold, but clear sunny afternoon at the campsite we had a good look at all the available rooms and finally chose the one we thought best for us. On the wall, we put up a sign that said ‘This is a snoring room” and hoped that was enough warning for others. I love that I feel safe enough with this group of people (some of who I had never even met) to state that so boldly. We quickly picked up a few more people who were happy to put up with the snoring and they joined us in our room.
By 6pm most people had arrived and supper was being prepared. A massive fire was built and the hall started warming up with the heat from the fire and the personalities from my co-retreaters. Warm greetings were given to all, tight hugs and smiles from those I hadn’t seen in a while and tentative hugs and introductions for those I had never met. Little did I realise that this group of people would become so important to me in a very short space of time. The weekend was officially started with a big welcome and the laying out of the house rules. People volunteered themselves quickly for different service and we jumped into an amazing supper of various burgers. I found a seat with my plate of food and started chatting to those around me (some I knew, some I didn’t) and afterward my team was on cleaning duty where we laughed and did service together, without realising it new friendships had started forming and old ones were rekindled.
It was then time for the first meeting of the weekend and without knowing it, time to start getting vulnerable. The topic was ‘Living in the Now’ and a good man was the main speaker, afterwards, others shared back. The next thing I knew I was opening my mouth, introducing myself and sharing. Not sharing words of wisdom or surface level thoughts like I sometimes do but really sharing. I spoke about how irritable I have been and that a winning day for me is if I don’t strangle someone. I spoke about how hard the days have been as I have tried to recover from my latest Bipolar episode. I spoke about how unmotivated I currently am and therefore just ignore the world. Everything poured out as I shared how important living in the now is for me during this time. How sometimes, I can only focus on the next five minutes and how I have to tell myself to do the next right thing in that moment.
I shared and I shared and I shared. As I realised what exactly I had shared my first thought was horror, followed by immense relief and then joy as I saw people listening, nodding their heads in understanding and looking at me with empathy in their eyes instead of judgment. Once again I was reminded why I chose these people as my tribe. They knew what I was experiencing and would hold nothing against me, they would love and support me regardless of what came out of my mouth. Here I could be free but only if I let myself. I went to bed shortly after feeling exhausted but for the first time in weeks, I was relaxed.
Saturday morning started bright and early and I felt rested, at peace for the first time in a while, not irritable, not anxious and not restless. We played a game called ‘All my friends’ and I won’t explain the whole game but the purpose is for people to realise and understand that they are not alone. We have all done things that we are ashamed of or feel guilty for but in this game, you get to see that you are not the only one. Out of the 50 situations that were given not once was someone left standing alone, others always joined them in the middle, sharing their feelings of guilt, shame, fear or remorse. A passing comment from someone was, “never has sharing my secrets and exposing the shame been so much fun.’ How very true. Wounds were opened for people and insights into resentments, fears, and shame were had by all. There was no time after the game to slink off on your own and isolate though as we soon got a ‘burning issues’ meeting going for everyone to share what had come up for them in the game. Tears and toilet paper rolled around the room. People got up to hug others, hand tissues out and silent encouragement was given in the form of hand on someone’s back or leg next to you.
I looked around me and saw what support really looked like, what love looked like and what empathy looked like. It was amazing, I felt amazing, the people around me were amazing. We were a large group of people spanning 50 years in age, over 100 kilometers in distance, from all different backgrounds and cultures, with different identities and struggles. But we were a tribe, we ARE a tribe, we are MY tribe. I know this, have known this in the past and should know it but still, I was keeping my fears inside for so long and putting on a brave face for the world, my family and my friends. Why? Because that’s what I think people expect, it’s what I expect, it’s the pressure I put on myself all the time.
After 3 hours of noble silence and just being with ourselves quietly, we broke into gender groups and us girls sat around the fire while the boys went into the eating hall (I don’t know what happened in there meeting but here is how ours went). It started with that first beautiful, amazing, brave women opening her mouth and talking to us, being honest and vulnerable with her feelings, thoughts, and insecurities. Well, the dam walls broke and something so special and amazing happened at that moment. As we went around the circle and I listened to each of these phenomenal ladies talk I was entranced. I was present, in the moment and aware of their feelings and my own. I had no idea what I was going to say when it was my turn but I didn’t worry because I knew I was safe with my tribe. Halfway through, the snacks came out as we laughed, cried and just sat with and comforted each other.
Finally, the circle turned to me, one of the last women to speak. I had been listening for over 2 hours and it occurred to me that I could also be vulnerable, I could also be honest and I could also receive love and acceptance in this group. I once again opened my mouth, just like on Friday night, and the words again came tumbling out with no pre-thought at all. I spoke about my childhood, I spoke about not feeling beautiful, I spoke about giving up on love and I spoke about me. My fears, my anxieties, my loneliness, and my hurt. Words kept coming out with no thought to what I was saying, without fear of judgment. In that moment I was seen, I was heard, I was loved. And this is the amazing beauty of choosing to be vulnerable with the right people, of opening yourself up. I could have been rejected, judged, laughed at but because of the brave women who spoke before me, I knew I was with safe people, people who had trusted me and it was time to trust them back.
I have struggled to be vulnerable my whole life, to open up and share what is going on in my mind. I have always seen it as a weakness or assumed that people would use my words against me. There are very few people I express everything to but here, on this weekend I was reminded that in my tribe I don’t have to hide things. I don’t have to put on a mask and lie. I don’t have to fear judgment. Here I can just be me, broken, fragile me.
I have had these moments before and I am sure I will have them in the future. I need them often because I forget. I forget that I too am a beautiful, brave amazing woman and when I try to remind myself I don’t believe it. This weekend I was reminded by others over and over again. To each person that shared this weekend with me, that shared their guilt, fears, and anxieties and listened to mine I thank you. The weekend continued this way as we played games together, ate together, had deep conversations and continues sharing with each other.
Sunday ended the weekend with a JFT meeting in the beautiful outdoors, hiking up the moment (which I declined), a ‘Letting go’ ceremony and hugs, hugs and more hugs as we said goodbye. Tears were shed again and numbers exchanged. Photos posted on the group and memories etched in us forever. I will never forget this crazy tribe I find myself a part of and I will always be grateful for the love you all showed me this weekend.