Sunday, October 20, 2013

Letting Go of Labels

The past few months have been intense for me. I was interviewed for a book, started uncovering even more about myself in therapy, pushed myself to start leaving my "victim" self behind, and participated in my first retreat.  All of this I did with support, but ultimately it was done on my own.  Not something that I would have ever imagined doing just a few years ago.

The first major leap was coming up with my own safety contract, which I've talked about previously.  I took full responsibility for all my actions and began to repair the relationship with my therapist. The second major leap was not giving up on my action plan. I found a DBT program, found it wasn't for me, and then went on to find another DBT program. While this may seem just the natural course for many, for me it wasn't.  Often in the past I would take the first program not working out as a sign. This time I didn't really have a choice: I made a plan with my therapist to do DBT for a year and I knew backing out of that was not an option.

Third major leap? Not letting money stand in my way.  Found out that this new DBT program was a bit pricier than my insurance wanted to pay for, but instead of walking away or going into crisis, I was able to work out a price that was more affordable for my out of pocket fees and for my insurance company.  I think a lot of being able to work that out had to do with the experience of my first retreat.

I found out that a social media friend of mine, Jamie, was co-facilitating a mindfulness retreat in PA and I decided, "why the hell not?" Two seconds after making the decision that I would be going I started with the chorus of "I can't"s.  I can't afford it. I can't go alone. I can't take the time off of work. I can't drive 5 hours away for just a weekend.  The list went on. For the first time in my life I decided to put aside everyone else's needs and take care of my own.  I went on a tireless hunt at work for people to cover my shifts.  Finally, the I can't take time off of work was crossed off my "I can't" list.  Then I paid for the retreat.  Crossed off another "I can't." Then I started putting money aside for the trip. Then I decided to take a couple of extra days to camp by myself, thus pushing the I can't go alone to the extreme.

Just a week before the trip financial worry decided to rear it's ugly head. I stopped trying to be perfect and decided that maybe every bill didn't have to be paid on time.  I called up several of the companies I owe money to and made alternate arrangements. The next thing I knew I was on my way.  I thought that *that* was the hard part.  Turns out, it was the easy part.

The hard part was getting to the retreat and meeting my feelings face-on.  All the things I thought I was "taking a vacation" from were there to greet me: fear, victim mentality, trauma, emotions.  From the moment I walked into the lodge until the moment I got in my car to leave I met all of this head-on.  Retreat, after all, does not mean to retreat from the hard stuff, but to take a leave from daily life to tend to the hard stuff.  And hard stuff there was.

I made many great new friends and connections, but one was particularly important. The woman who bunked next to me turned out to be a twin of mine: many of the same interests, same sense of humor, same love for dance. We were the first ones to jump in during Dancing Mindfully exercises, and we were often the ones chuckling over "inappropriate" humor. The most important aspect of this connection?  I wasn't hiding in it. I didn't use it as a reason not to dig deeper nor did I use it as my reason to dig deeper. It just was. This is something I've never considered before: a relationship can just BE. It's doesn't have to force you to do something or to not do something.  Just Being is something major I brought back from this incredible experience.

So for the weekend I allowed myself the following: to feel sad, to cry, to not have to talk, to enjoy, to not push, and to let my spirit lead me. I took that with me from the retreat to my days camping and I enjoyed all that I got out of it. The major theme of my self vacation? Letting Go of Labels. I meditated, danced, prayed, talked, and envisioned myself Letting Go of all the labels I have chosen to define myself by.  They aren't definitions, they aren't ME. I don't have to have a word to summarize myself with. It's okay to associate with different groups and to have phrases that identify what characteristics your personality has, but they aren't the end-all-be-all of who I am.  It has taken me many years to realize this.  I'm not Holly Ann, the lesbian/wife/artist/therapist/client/victim/survivor/optimist.  I'm just simply, Holly Ann.

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