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Monthly Archives: February 2012

A Situation In Which I Am Actually Silent

I found myself so far out of my comfort zone today that my comfort zone was charging for “roaming” status. I was so far out of my comfort zone my tight jeans would have felt like sweat pants with no elastic left. I was so far out of my comfort zone that I was……..struck speechless. Seriously.

Believe me, this is a shocker for both of us, Dear Blog Reader! In virtually all group situations, I am, shall we say, outspoken. I am the one who cracks jokes a wee bit too often, who voices my opinion regardless of whether it’s been requested, and who is all too ready to let you know just what I think about how things are going. The participant who lets no silent space go unbroken, who fills all awkward pauses.

But not today.

I’m participating in a 5-day, 40 hour training that started this morning, a training put on by another agency. And let me tell you, as I entered that training classroom, I was struck with every insecurity I had never had. I barely spoke one word throughout the entire day, save for one particular exercise which happened to hit my sweet spot and allowed me to more confidently share myself with the group.

This is all the more fascinating to me (though probably not to you, which is why perhaps it is just me and my mother reading by now. Hey, Mom) because I love meeting new people, I love learning and classes and trainings, and I even love speaking in front of crowds. Honest, I do. Furthermore, I am generally confident of my abilities, my education and my skills, so it wasn’t that.

And yet I was dumbstruck.

Why? Because I was in a room of about 25 people, and I think I was one of 3 that has not been to prison, was not in recovery, and did not seem to get the underlying cultural language of a 12-step meeting. It was perhaps the most disorienting experience of my adult life, and I found myself absolutely silent, squirming in a silent agony of “Hi-I’m-Miss-Mary-Sunshine”. What do I have to say in this group? What can I offer to a group of people who have experienced life so much harder than any I’ve known? Would they laugh at me? Why did I dress up for this class? Why was my hair so …. BIG today? Could they tell what a goody-two-shoes I was? Why couldn’t I stop thinking in questions?

It sounds cheesy, but I am excited and honored that I get to be with these people for the next four days, learning from them, listening to them. They have struggled to get where they are, and are now investing so much of that struggle into helping other people. They don’t have the casual, professional laissez-faire of the colleagues I’m used to, they haven’t been in a classroom for years, and they open up so much more quickly than they should for all purposes of decorum.

Yet they will be able to pour into the lives of people who are aching and broken and lost in a way I will never be able to. They are Hands and Feet without gloves or shoes or any separation, honest and raw and so intentionally vulnerable.

I do not devalue what I will bring to my work supporting other families, as my experience has been hard fought with blood and tears and pain. As a caregiver and family member of young people struggling to recover from years of abuse and mental illness, I can speak into other lives who have been down that road. But it’s a different road. A road that still depends on external expertise, and resources, and a layer of separation.

I can’t wait to see the next few days unfold. I’ll keep you posted.

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