Coat of Many Colors: Benita’s Retreat Story.

Emotional Intimacy Beings Within.

My Intensive Personal Growth Retreat Preparation

The North Georgia Mountains cradled a group of people who gathered for an intensive transformational Retreat.  It was one of my first retreats with my teacher, Lee.  I was looking at a whole lifetime of not being true to my Authentic Self for fear that someone, mostly some man, wouldn’t love me.  I was afraid to be vulnerable, to be transparent, and to reveal my flaws. I was successful in business, and I dressed impeccably. I looked good. I had spent a life time developing coping strategies designed to create success and love. But my body was stiff and hurting. Some called it chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. My breath was short. Deep down inside I felt scared and insecure, but I didn’t let anyone know it.  I certainly did not cry in public places.

Committed to being true to my Authentic Self, I decided to break out of the “need to look good” pattern.  I wanted to feel my emotions when they came and to take responsibility for them. I wanted to stop blaming others and hiding my Authentic Self.  Instead of stopping the tears, I wanted to be transparent and honest.  I realized that others might feel uncomfortable in my presence, but I chose to see them as adults who could take care of themselves and handle their own feelings while I felt mine. I didn’t have to protect them from themselves. I chose to stop my unhealthy codependent care-taking behaviors.  I promised to love my Authentic Self and to love others more wisely. I committed to stop manipulating their impression of me by projecting a fake mask. More than anything I wanted to stop abandoning my Authentic Self. If I wasn’t willing to love myself unconditionally, how could I expect any one else to be there for me in a deeply connected way?

My Retreat Experience                                                                                                                

As I walked into the dining hall Saturday morning, the room was bustling with chatter and laughter. My introverted self was not feeling very sociable. I felt out of place, and observed my discomfort.  I thought to myself, “I won’t fit in if don’t socialize with them.” Tears swelled in my eyes, but I didn’t know why. Instead of smiling politely, I gave my face permission to be sad and cry a little. Instead of putting on a happy face and chatting like all the others, I didn’t make idle conversation.  I ate a little, keeping silence.

Then my eyes were drawn to a brightly colored ski jacket hanging on the back of a chair. I was very moved by its beauty.  It had wide diagonal stripes of turquoise, periwinkle purple and fuscia pink blazing against a solid black background.  Would I sit quietly appreciating its beauty, or would I express the joy I felt to its owner? What would my Authentic Self do? My inner voice told me to share my joy because expressing my joy as well as my pain was part of being true to my Authentic Self.  Listening to my inner voice and acting on its direction was my mission that weekend.

I walked across the crowded room to the table near the jacket.  “Whose coat is this?” I asked. A dark-haired woman responded, “It is mine.”

“It is so beautiful!” I exclaimed.  “It’s just so beautiful!”

She glowed and said, “Thank you.”

I walked back to my seat.  There was still food on my plate, but I didn’t want to eat it.  Neither did I want to socialize.  So I walked out of the dining hall and headed through the woods to the building where we were to gather for the retreat.

I entered the large one-room building.  No one else was there.  “Good,” I thought.  Curling up on the sofa, I vowed to stay present with my Authentic Self, still feeling sad and tearful.  I knew people would walk in soon. I talked to myself saying, “Don’t put on a happy face when they came in. Stay close to your Self. If you want to cry, cry. You have the courage to be real and transparent.”

A few people came in, laughing and talking.  I was still crying softly on the couch. They ignored me. “Good,” I thought.  They didn’t try to distract me or make me feel better, although I thought it was strange that they would ignore a person who was crying.  A few more strolled in, and then a few more, all talking among themselves and ignoring me.

Then a woman walked over to me and sat on the floor in front of me.  She gently put one hand on my knee and sat quietly with me. There were no words. She was just being present with me. I cried more, touched by her warmth and tenderness.

Another woman came in and she, too, sat on the floor in front of me, resting a hand on my other knee.  She gazed into my teary eyes as I gazed back.  There were no words, just quiet sharing.  “What a beautiful gift,” I thought.  We continued communicating without need of words, love radiating between us.

Then the woman with the ski jacket walked over to me and placed the coat around my shoulders, saying, “Here, this is for you.”

I enjoyed the comfort of the coat while cuddled up on the couch.  She sat with us, too, and I continued being close to my Authentic Self, softly crying, grateful for the women surrounding me.

After a while, my tears subsided and I breathed easier, feeling like a weight had been lifted off my body.  I looked at the woman who owned the ski jacket and handed it back to her.  She said, “No. This is for you.  I am giving it to you. I have enjoyed it for two years, and I am done with it. I am making many changes in my life, and I am giving away many things. I want you to have it. It’s yours.”

“You mean it?” I asked while gingerly receiving it. She smiled and nodded. My eyes moistened again as we stood and hugged each other. I was so touched by her love, and she was touched by my receiving. The other women and I hugged.

My Reflections

The women and I trusted ourselves enough to act from our Authentic Selves. I discovered that I could be transparent while loving myself every moment, even while crying in public. I discovered that some people would love me in a way that I felt nurtured, and that others wouldn’t connect with me at all, or only superficially. That’s how life is. The more I commit to be my Authentic Self, the more those who want to connect with the real me will come into my life. Others will go on their way. That’s OK. When we are true to our Authentic Self, we love more fully and purely.

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Author and Retreat Facilitator: Benita A. Esposito, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor and LCMHC. I’ve been leading intensive transformational retreats for four decades. If you’d like to attend a retreat, view the current schedule: click here.

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Specialties: Couple counseling, divorce, emotional roots of disease, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, grief, and success skills. Combining intuition and evidence-based practices, Benita gets to the bottom line to help clients create flourishing personal and professional lives. Psychotherapy is available in Blairsville and Atlanta, Georgia.