Renfrew Week Five (Pt. 3)

November  18 – 24, 2018

The week progressed, Tuesday arrived, and I was feeling at home at Renfrew. I said good morning to all of the girls and gave out some new bracelets. Laura, Taylor, and Amanda wanted rainbow ones so I had been busy with making those yesterday. I had a session with Liz and we talked again about having compassion for myself.

“If one of your friends, or even a stranger was sitting here,” she motioned to the empty chair sitting against the wall, “what would you say to them? If they told you all about their struggles, would you judge them? What would you say? You are so kind to everyone around you, so let’s start giving yourself the same compassion. What would you say if little Olivia was sitting here, five years old? What would you tell her out of compassion. How would you comfort her?”

She gave me an assignment to write a letter to myself when I was little. She instructed me to show compassion for myself. To tell my younger self what I would go through and how I would get through it.

I have always identified as someone who does not judge others. Not based on race, religion, ethnicity, social status, appearance, age, anything. I accept others unconditionally and treat everyone the same.

But with myself, I am the most cruel critic. I cannot even fathom speaking aloud the thoughts I have about myself, the comments and judgements about my appearance and my size, to another human being. I would never say these things to a friend. I would never say them to a complete stranger. I would never say them to innocent, little Olivia.

I started writing my letter to four year old Olivia on Tuesday night.

On Wednesdays, Leila lead a group in the afternoon. Sometimes it would be a group where we would process things, sometimes it would be doing an ARC about an experience (I know probably none of you know what an ARC is but I’m not about to do an entire blog post ARCs right now, though Liz would love that).

This particular Wednesday, she decided to introduce all of us to progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). If you have a lot of stress, anxiety, or hyper vigilance, then you know that your body stores this tension in your muscles. For me, it is my entire neck and shoulders. Any time of day, if I bring awareness to my body, I realize my shoulders are shrugged all the way up to my ears. They’re constantly sore and tight. Progressive muscle relaxation is a deep relaxation technique that involves deep breathing and intentionally tensing and releasing the tension from each set of muscles.

Leila pulled up a guided meditation of PMR on the tv screen in the community room. We all began to settle into the couches, listening to the calm voice and relaxing background music. The narrator instructed us to close our eyes. She walked us through some deep breaths. Breathe in, hold it, and then release. We went from head to toe, breathing in deep, tensing, breathing out, and releasing the tension. The muscles in our face, our jaw, neck and shoulders. Our back, our legs, down to our toes. I could physically feel all of the tension leaving my body.

The video ended and I didn’t look up around the room. I looked down at my hands which were completely still. I felt so calm, I didn’t want to do anything to ruin it. I picked up my hands and stared at them in front of me. Not a hint of shaking. I was breathing easy. I couldn’t believe it. It may have been the calmest I’ve felt in years. I worked not to get too excited out of fear that the calm would disappear.

I looked over to Leila and she was looking at me, a huge smile on her face. “I KNEW you’d love it!!”

I showed her my steady hands. I couldn’t stop smiling. I didn’t want to say anything, do anything, or move. I didn’t want to lose this calm. I walked over and sat next to her on the couch for the rest of group and we talked about how big this is. Now I know that if I’m ever feeling panicked or shaky, I can calm myself down. I am capable of creating my own calm.

The second group ended, I pulled out my sketchbook. I haven’t been able to really draw in a while, my hands too shaky to make the perfect details I produced, the perfect shading, the perfect replica of photographs onto paper. But I flipped to a drawing I had been working on back in September. I lay the photograph right next to it and continued to draw like I used to.

I took my sketchbook out to the porch and sat at a table, alone, near the end of the pavement. I watched the sun sink lower while calmly working on my sketch. I felt the warm, sticky air. I kept glancing down at my hands waiting for them to start to shake again. But they were still. I was at peace.


Peace, calm, total contentedness. I wish I could have lived in this small hour for an entire lifetime. It felt intoxicating. I wish I could have set up camp, played it on repeat, bottled it up. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt a peacefulness like this.

My life has always felt chaotic even when I was small. A stressful divorce, an aggressive brother, busyness, sports and ballet and band and traveling, productivity, trauma, constantly running (literally and metaphorically).

Now that I know what this peace feels like, I will never take it for granted again. Never again will I kill myself for busyness and productivity, never again will I work myself to death to accomplish things. Never will I choose to rush and run instead of seeking stillness and peace. Peace. My new life mission is to find this peace and spread it to others.



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