I took part in a workshop this weekend, which is not something I normally do. I’m not really a joiner, and I don’t like giving an entire weekend to one scheduled thing, nor do I ever really know how I’m going to be feeling from one day to the next; however, the ironic thing is that I want to connect with new people, but I’m not very good at it. I find I have to battle through a lot of my own roadblocks to really do it. Through my therapeutic process, I have learned that I really crave intimacy; I yearn for a community of people who know me and see me for who I am. I have also learned that I’m not very good at creating intimacy because of my family of origin. As far as I can see, all the members of my family existed next to each other, but very little intimacy happened. We were mostly all awkward with each other and it was very lonely.
The two days were going to be spent learning more about the type of somatic therapeutic bodywork that I’ve been having done for years, as well as how to see and connect with people’s inner stories and how those stories manifest in the body’s structure, while supporting them. It was being facilitated by good friends of mine, but I knew I couldn’t rely on them to be my crutches since they would be busy with everyone so I was on my own. (Big thanks to them, though, who, in a manner unprecedented to me when in similar situations, were welcoming and affectionate and made a point to come hug and greet me and, how it felt to me, make me real to the other participants.)
I dreaded spending two days with new people but I really wanted to be involved in it though, since it was a workshop about connecting, and that’s what I’ve been working on doing, I figured I had to bite the bullet and do it, despite my fear and discomfort. As I entered the room and saw the participants, my heart sank a little – it was mostly filled with fit, confident-looking movement practitioners chatting with their neighbors as if everyone knew everyone else – except for me.
Now I know a little bit about defense mechanisms and how you can project them without being aware of what you’re putting out in the world. In college, the people who later became my close friends said they didn’t approach me to do stuff with them at first because I looked so much as if I had my shit together: they figured I would just join in if I wanted to, which was the last thing I had ever been – or would ever be – able to do. Defense systems are designed for distance and protection, not for getting closer, so if we’re not aware of what we’re putting out there, we may be disappointed with what we get back. Knowing this about myself, I went and sat down and tried to keep my face and body language open, be friendly, and not pre-judge.
The other thing that happens when with a group of people I want to connect with is the activation of the most annoying super-power ever – codependent caregiving. My inclination is to care for them so they’ll like me and want me because that’s what’s worked for me before, or at least that’s how I got care in my family. But what it took me a long time to realize is that caregiving them also makes me seem superior to the people I’m just trying to be with; I’m insinuating that they’re not capable and need me to be there for them. Not good.
The workshop turned out to be really rewarding and I learned a lot. The women were lovely, and just as willing to connect and try something new. It was good to be in this situation and really be aware of each impulse to comfort, or nurture, or hug, or whatever and decide whether it was really necessary or would be welcomed. I also pushed myself way out of my comfort zone and made an effort to talk to and get to know the other women, to participate and speak up. I made some real connections and, hopefully, some new friends; deepened my relationships with my existing friends; and stepped even further into the community that is right there waiting for me and has been the entire time. My whole therapeutic process has been like this, actually; trying new things, stepping out of my comfort zone, making changes, admitting my mistakes and patterns, and doing the hard work of being consciously aware.
Metaphors around the oyster and the pearl are common: the oyster making something precious out of something irritating; the choice to look for beauty within something un-beautiful; the ability to grow around an obstacle and still live. The piece of sand is seen as subordinate to the ultimate product – the pearl. Don’t get me wrong, I think the pearl is great, but I really identify with that miniscule piece of grit that gets the process started. That piece of matter refuses to be expelled but stays in the process, and over time is gradually covered with layer after layer of beautiful, multi-colored nacre.
Whatever desire is in me to be better, to have more, to be healthy – to know! – has pushed me and irritated me and bugged me to keep doing the work of cutting through my defense mechanisms, doing things differently, and accepting people in. It has been a really tough, challenging process, but the rewards of this have been immeasurable, in terms of better health, better relationships, and more choices. And everyone can have these rewards. If you’ve been wanting to make changes, do something differently, find out more about yourself, then do it. Ask questions. Do something that scares you, or at least, makes you uncomfortable. Talk to someone you’ve never talked to. Offer a hug or a shoulder. Make a choice you haven’t made before. Find a therapist. Go outside of your comfort zone. Go to a workshop. It only takes a little bit of strength. Remember, you can get pearls of wisdom but you have to start with a little true grit.