The first time I went away from home, I was eleven. Eleven years-old is far too old to go away overnight for the first time. I wasn’t just going away overnight. I was going away for four nights, over a hundred miles from home, on a PGL adventure.
I did not cope well. I struggled to look after myself; to shower without getting my towel or clothes wet; to get into a shower and changed again in time – because there weren’t enough showers and my classmates had gotten into them ahead of me. To carry all of my things. To get in and out of a sleeping bag, one-handed. To work out what clothes I needed for which activities and when. To keep up. Basic, everyday self-care was exhausting and I was hardly sleeping. On Wednesday, we went canoeing and I scraped my finger. I barely stopped crying for the rest of the week. I was struggling with being away, and I wanted desperately to go home, to be cared for.
Memories of that holiday, and several experience since, leave me scared of strong emotion. Once I had started crying, for the most benign of reasons, I was overwhelmed with the pain of being away and missing home. When strong emotion threatens now, I suppress it. Push it down. I am scared, with that strength of feeling, that if I started crying, I would not be able to stop. I distract and try to forget. Zip myself tight shut.
I did that extensively last week after something had upset me. Each time a fresh wave f emotion hit, I breathed and let it roil over me. Better that than give in to it. But it got stronger. And stronger. And then someone told me why I was hurting, and acknowledged the hurt and the pain and I broke. And cried with them for a long while. But they also helped me to ground and to gather myself in, and to breathe again.
They say that I am more resilient now than I was. I don’t feel different inside. The hurt still hurts as intensely as ever it did, and I still try to ignore it and the voices that tell me I feel this way because I am no good, “rotten, rotten, rotten,” as much as possible. But when I can voice the pain, the tears don’t last for an eternity. I can calm down again. The distress is manifest (I am told) to a lesser extreme. The external is different. Maybe, it follows from that, that my internal world can change, too. It seems I am changing from the outside-in.