Escaping the City: Braving the Darkness

This was my third week at Escape school, and my toughest but also the most enlightening so far. I underestimated how much this course affects you mentally. I thought that because I have been seeing a therapist for years, and practice daily meditation and journalling that I was ready for whatever it would throw at me. Arguably, because I am so self-aware, and have made my mental well-being into something of a personal project, I am also far more sensitive to the world around me. Something that can be both an asset and a hindrance as I go through into this challenging introspective course.

To recap my journey so far, week 1, I dove in and did the Open Mic challenge — speaking for 5 minutes from the heart, baring my soul, and abandoning my pre-planned speech for the bonus points of being spontaneous. Week 2 however, was a little bit like the fall that comes after the pride — it was as if I went in there with great expectations — I had faced the “toughest challenge” of the course in week 1! I was badass! And also now everyone “knew me” from my five minutes of sharing openly… I expected people to understand me, without me having to explain myself. I expected everything to run smoothly. Needless to say, it didn’t.

I left week 2 berating myself for all the things I “shouldn’t” have said or did, getting annoyed over what other people had said or how they had reacted to me. I worked myself into a negative spiral of self-judgement and critique — one that is all too familiar to me. I knew the only way to get rid of this darkness was to shine light on it — to tell people and hear the truth of what was really happening. The women in the ToGetHer Further Facebook group were wonderful as ever — particularly those who had been through the Escape process and knew the intensity and vulnerability we go through. But still the gnawing feeling persisted.

I didn’t write last week. I “productively procrastinated”, distracting myself by being very busy with many important tasks. I didn’t speak to my Escape Tribe about what I was going through either — it felt silly and childish to write it in a message. And then the agony of waiting for a response would be too painful. So I held it in until I got to the Escape school on Tuesday this week. I held it in until I couldn’t hold it anymore, and the tears spilled down my cheeks. Finally I spoke and explained what had been going on in my head for the past 7 days. My circle were understanding and patient as I worked through and processed my experience, but I still felt raw throughout the rest of the evening.

This week’s session was on Identity — on how we see ourselves, but also how other see us, so it felt poignant that I was experiencing this struggle that night. As we were led through a guided visualisation I felt as though my senses were extremely heightened — perhaps partly through my regular guided meditation practice, or because I was so raw that my barriers were down. Either way, I can honestly say I have never felt the intensity of emotion I experienced as we went through the exercise. Stepping into other people’s shoes, imagining them and allowing ourselves to feel how they see us (or how we perceive they see us) was so powerful. Each of the 4 times we stepped into another person’s shoes I felt as if I was stepping into the light, and each time I stepped back into my own, I felt the darkness envelope me.

By the end of the exercise, wiping tears from my eyes, I felt this deep sense of knowing — that I was loved, respected, cared for and even admired! But I was not reflecting all of this in how I see and treat myself! I felt a sense of duty — to live up to the beauty that other people could see in me, and allow myself to shine instead of hiding away in the shadows.

I was reminded of this powerful quote from Brene Brown in Daring Greatly:

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy — the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

Brave the darkness. Discover the power of your light.

This post was originally shared on on 17th February 2017.