by Tara Ellison
Driving up to White Sulphur Springs for a one-week emotional detox at the Hoffman Process, I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. A mix of excitement and white-hot dread was percolating inside me. What kind of creature would I turn into after spending a week looking at my worst childhood memories, as well as my adult failures? Hadn’t I been busy for years trying to avoid all of that? Did I really want to dredge all of that crap up again? But there was no turning back. My tuition was paid; I was committed and counting on the Process to help me make some dramatic shifts, even if the very idea of it terrified me.
Stop Doubting, Start Empowering
Although the concept of changing old behavior was scary, I needed to learn how to stop doubting myself and make empowering choices. Along the way I’d acquired a black belt in self-defeating patterns and it had become exhausting. Why did I feel that I had to work so hard to prove my worth? Why were my relationships fraught with negativity, largely of my own creation? I needed to find a way to interrupt the damaging patterns that had become my default.
Where did all of this start? The clues I came up with always led me back to my childhood. There was plenty of unfinished business with both my parents. My mother had been a single mother and I didn’t meet my father until I was 15, setting me up for some pretty dysfunctional relationships with men. It felt like I had carried a broken heart around for as long as I could remember.
A friend who had recommended the Process told me very little about what I was in for – except that it would involve some pillow bashing and that I just had to “go with it.” I wasn’t sure how beating a pillow was going to cure me of my ‘daddy issues’ but I was willing to find out.
In the course of the week, realizations swept over me like waves; some felt like little waves gently tickling the shoreline, while others crashed onto the sand, eager to make their point.
Softening the Heart
During one of the visualization exercises, I experienced the sensation of feeling my heart softening and opening. Doctors often describe the heart condition I have as a thickness or stiffening of the heart wall. Was it possible that I had been making my heart ‘hard’ in an effort to keep pain out? Someone once told me that fatherless girls make themselves tough because they have no protector. Had I, in some sort of physical manifestation of the grief I felt, broken my own heart?
As the week progressed, my heart began to feel lighter and more open. I hadn’t been aware of how much energy I expended trying to shield myself. I hadn’t realized that by striving to keep pain and disappointment out, it had also become an effective way to block love from coming in.
Embrace Change = Embrace Growth
Change doesn’t have to be scary. By the end of the week, my heart felt much fuller and softer than it had before. By embracing growth, instead of resisting it, the Process helped me recognize the ways in which I had sold myself out, an understanding of why I had made those choices – and ways to replace that old behavior. Toxic habits and patterns could now be seen in a new light, which stripped them of any power. Armed with awareness and a new set of tools, it made the future seem far more manageable.
The seas might get a little stormy now and then, but I know I’m capable of steering my own ship. I trust that my heart can chart the course and also change direction, if needed. And that’s a change I feel very good about.
Tara Ellison is the author of the novel, Synchronized Breathing. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, HarpersBazaar.com, and The Huffington Post, among others.