In a few days I’ll be gathering with 40 some other women – some I’ve met in person, some I’ve met online, some I’ve never communicated with. We’ll be spending the long weekend together, taking art classes, getting away from daily life, restoring and rejuvenating. It all sounds lovely. But in fact, circling with other women can produce incredible anxiety in many of us. It has a way of brining up our worst insecurities.
Sadly, this is a common experience, and for many women, just realizing that they might have these anxieties and discomforts, is enough to keep them from signing up or showing up. That, friends, is a travesty. Not showing up for fear of not belonging is holding us back from our divinest of beings, from our best lives, from our potential to live out of our ego once and for all. To not mention keeping us from making some pretty damned cool friends.
I for one often tumble into the trap of looking at other women who seem bubbly and at ease and assuming that they never had these feelings, always had many soulful friends and never have the kind of insecurities around female kinship that I am riddled with. That’s so not true. In fact, they’ve been right where I am at one point: nervous, a little insecure and definitely unsure of what to expect when circling with a group of new people. So, since I’ll be heading to that retreat tomorrow, and I knew that some of us have the jitters, I wanted to write to say: This is how to make it better:
Last year I attended a retreat with eighty other women, on the beaches of the Outer Banks, NC. It wasn’t my first retreat, but it was definitely the first one where I felt like I was going to be in the company of women who were very much like me. I’m really introverted, and though not shy at all, I do have past wounds with women and femininity, so this retreat last year was actually really difficult for my inner soul!
For starters, I came with a girlfriend and I thought that this trip would catapult us from play-date acquaintances to deep and intimate friends. Like we’d have this bonding experience and we’d go home wanting to get a sitter and go out to make art, or drink wine. Well, in fact, the opposite happened. I saw a side of her I had not known, I recognized that, at least for the time being, we were not on the same page in our lives, and our friendship actually ended shortly after returning home.
I also found myself very self-conscious and analytical about my interactions for the first day or two of this retreat. I felt like everyone knew one another and was either older and wiser than me, or had better clothing (and scarves, and bangles) than me. I felt the old voice of “there’s something different about you” rearing it’s head. And by “different,” it meant “wrong.”
It felt like shit.
So I went for a long walk on the beach, and tried to assess what was really going on. And what was really going on was that I wanted to BELONG.
So I then asked myself to look at the people I was feeling already “belonged.” And what was different about them? You know what it was?
They were being themselves.
In all honestly, I should have brought cuter clothes. I’ll admit, feeling frumpish at this retreat is no bueno! But other than that, what I realized was that the real catch is, we often think we will only belong when we’re like others, when in fact, we only belong (at least to a tribe of truth telling, very beautiful souls) when we are ourselves. Because that’s how the rest of them want to love us. And the only way they really can.
So I made a concerted effort to stop talking to myself in my head. And to introduce myself to strangers. And to be okay with sitting all by myself at a table even if the other tables were full. IT MAY NOT HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH ME!! Sure, that’s easy to say, and harder to believe in your soul, but the more I repeated it to myself, the more I seemed to lighten up, and the less often I felt alone.
I had a great time. I talked story with many women. I cried, we cried. We ate til we burst, and went deep over wine.
And you know what else happened? I happened to stumble upon a woman, a friend, who has become what I was seeking all along. That friend who I formed a bond with. The one who I lean on now, in every way, and she leans on me. I moved a whole fucking state for her this summer, more or less!
She’s not coming this year, but I am. And I still have moments where I want to belong and I get scared about being alone at a table. And if any of you are feeling that way before a retreat, or a gathering of any sort, I just want you to know that we all go through that, and we are all very very much loved. And accepted. As we are. So, when given the opportunity to gather, circle, retreat: come as you are, do bring something you love to wear, but bring your open heart and most of all, know that you will only belong when you stop trying to.