On the 13th of October, I got on the plane by myself to head to a solo trip to Northern Ireland and Ireland for 8 days. I booked a retreat in Northern Ireland on the northern coast outside of Belfast at a place called Corrymeela, known for its work in reconciliation since 1965. I have long been an admirer of Corrymeela and couldn’t wait to spend this time in the midst of continued recovery and pre newborn times around here.
I spent the night at our friends’ place in Dublin Thursday night and made my way to Belfast on the 14th by train. Luckily, another participant in the weekend retreat last minute could offer up a ride to two of us in Belfast on Friday so she met us at the train station to meet up to head to Ballycastle where Corrymeela is, about an hour and a half from Belfast if you drive directly. Debora (our amazing driving saint), Andy and I decided to grab some lunch in Belfast first before we would take our time driving up the coast to eventually get to Corrymeela for check in around 5pmish.
It was truly a wonderful afternoon of deep conversation, beautiful views, British tea and meandering to a retreat built around Stillness in Community led by the amazing Kiran Young Wimberley.
I am sure I will talk more and more about the retreat as things unfold again but it was what felt like an important weekend to me. There were a few led sessions but the weekend was mostly built around what we needed to do to be restorative. Everything was optional but there was worship offered in the mornings and at night. The sessions included walks, music, yoga and sharing times. We were invited to be silent during the inbetween times. Meals were open to conversation although there was a table for those who wanted to remain silent (that was never me I have to say…people are so fascinating to me!).
The retreat was from Friday evening until Sunday afternoon. I feel like I could have used one more full day but what was offered was really truly wonderful. For me, in this space and time, as I mentioned in my last post, this space offered up a place to think about writing again and feeling the nudge to do so. I have not felt this since my diagnosis in April when my gynecologist first saw some of a mass in my abdomen that with tests and CTs revealed that I had a 23 cm mass in my abdomen. I didn’t write through the tests and I didn’t write before or after my first or second surgery. I haven’t written though any recovery yet. I have told some that it feels like in the midst of just surviving and recovering and dealing with day to day hurdles and pain, I just didn’t have the space or capacity for anything extra.
Sunday morning we were invited to come to a session called “Listening circles.” I thought about not going. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to just talk into the space and have people comment back. It felt like too much but also, I couldn’t think of a better thing to do. We had to be out of our rooms and I could have gone for a walk but something also pulled me into this idea for some reason.
I stayed in the room and decided to be a part of a listening circle however uncomfortable or even however worthless I thought it might be. We divided into groups of four. I was in a group with three other women, the woman to my right had just turned 80, the woman to my left was in her 70s and the woman across from me in her late 20s. The woman to my right was Northern Irish, the woman to my left was Scottish but living in England and the woman across from me, Irish. We all four came from different worlds but I recognized immedately all four of us were complex and strong incredible women who were tuned into actually listening….not waiting to talk, not plotting our next thing to say but all four of us were women who had learned to truly actively listen and wait to see what comes next.
I quickly realized that what I had been dreading was going to be a great gift.
The woman to my right shared first about needing to refind her voice. Those who age are made to feel invisible but she had asked for help in this place and had found her vulnerability met with kindness. She was finding herself again in her 80s.
I shared next. I shared about my lack of writing and my confusion around this and my missing this but also my cautious optimism about being able to blog and journal a bit on retreat. The woman to my left, who I had been talking quite a bit with over the days, said that she heard this and wondered why, if this is how I process, I couldn’t process like this. And in this moment I saw the woman to my right click. She smiled and me and said:
“When animals are hurt and when they are wounded and and traumatized, we know that they curl into themselves and protect themselves in quiet until they have enough healing to open back up again. Perhaps you just needed to be quiet for as long as your tender belly needed to heal in order to survive.”
This was the most beautiful and poignant thing I could have heard over the weekend. She heard me and got me and was so right. My chiropractor has been telling me that my body had literally curled a bit into itself to protect my middle. My pelvis is out of whack and my hip flexers are tight. My diaphram is tight as well and part of my recovery is opening back up to the world. I am scarred but healing and now it is time to unfurl.
Metaphoricaly and physically, I am unfurling. I have begun to journal and write and dream about writing again. I started looking towards perhaps a few pitches again and thinking about writing here and there. It is a start. My tender belly is no longer needing protection but recovery now looks like loosening my scar, unfurling my body, not needing the stark quietness. The scar is 21cm or around 9 inches and vertical from above my belly button down to my pelvic bone. It is loosening and softening slowly but surely. It is not as angry red as it was. My organs are shifting to where they need to be and perhaps now my mind can also unfurl to not just process pain and trauma of my surgeries but now to process and make meaning. I don’t have pain any longer when I stand up but i can feel my muscles and nerves reknit themselves which is a soreness of healing.
Thank goodness for the words to match the actions and never underestimate what a listening circle could open up. It is lovely to be seen and heard.
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