This short story was written by a 30-something highly sensitive man at one of our Deep Emotional Healing Retreats.
I discovered that I was highly sensitive in early 2019. It was a great relief to learn that my tendency for deep thinking and being highly emotional were both quite normal.
In July 2019 I felt an increasing sense of separation and isolation from people, even at my church. I felt like no one really understood what it was like to want to be deep and emotional.
I had often felt isolated when I was younger, and I thought that I had finally accepted it, but the loneliness came back.
At the same time, I wanted very much to be vulnerable with my emotions, but I was very insecure about doing that. I thought doing so would make me stand out, and standing out was often very stressful for me.
I craved deep relationships, but I didn’t know how to find them.
I searched for resources about how to live as a highly sensitive Christian and found Benita Esposito’s book, The Gifted Highly Sensitive Introvert, in August 2019.
Two of Benita’s stories particularly resonated with me in a way no other book has.
The first was about how her father punished her when she was a young child. I also had a similar experience with my mother when I was young, which I’ll talk about below.
The second was about a time when Benita was on a retreat and didn’t feel like socializing but just wanted to let herself be sad and cry. I felt like that so often, but I usually didn’t dare to show it.
I wanted so much to feel free to be my emotional self.
A couple of the exercises in her book seemed strange to me, and I was skeptical they would do anything for me. One was the “Sacred Inner Beloved” dialogs where I was supposed to write a dialog between God and myself. The other was the reparenting exercise where I was to write a reconciliation dialog between my mother and myself.
Mysteriously, within a few days of reading about each of those exercises, I found my mind was doing the exercise as I awoke in the morning. I jumped out of bed and started writing and the words just flowed.
The Sacred Inner Beloved speaks.
In my Sacred Inner Beloved exercise, Jesus told me how precious I was to Him, and how He longed to spend time with me in nature. He urged me to accept His love. I had an image of embracing Him and crying on His shoulder. I cried as I was writing, too. I felt Him say, “Don’t be afraid to cry. Your tears are an anointing to me. I am honored to receive this from you, like I received the tears from the woman who washed My feet with her tears.”
Jesus continued to speak loving, affirming words to me about how precious I was to Him. He promised to heal me.
One surprising promise was that I would be a healer of hearts. That’s something I wanted, but I wasn’t sure if I was hearing Him clearly.
Trauma and Re-parenting Myself
While I was meditating a couple of months ago, I recalled a traumatic memory. Here is the historical version as best as I can remember.
When I was about 5 years old, we were having a party at our house, and my mother asked me to open a bottle of soda for the guests. When I put the bottle on the table and twisted the cap, the foam overflowed onto the table. My mom saw what happened and scolded me in an angry voice, “You must have shaken the bottle.”
I was very hurt. I ran to my room, lay down on my bed facing the wall and sobbed. My mom came in later and tried to comfort me by saying, “If I scold you, all you need to do is scold back at me.” But it felt disrespectful to do that. I hurt too much to even say anything.
During my meditation, the following altered vision of the event came to my mind.
After the soda overflowed, my mom saw what happened, and instead of scolding, she grabbed two rags and ran over to the table. She put the soda cap back on, handed me one of the rags, and said, “Quick, let’s get this cleaned up together.” I didn’t feel shunned and ashamed any more. Then I said (still as a child in my mind), “Are you ok, Mom? Are you stressed or sad? Is something bothering you?” It’s as though I could see past my pain, and could show compassion instead.
Then my thoughts were taken to a scene that might happen soon in my present-day reality. I saw myself saying to my mom, “Were you stressed or sad when I was young?” (I think the answer would be yes.) I said, “I think I can forgive you now,” and hugged her with tears moistening my eyes.
But that was only a vision. Afterward, I felt like it would take a long time to be able to forgive my mom in reality.
Private Breathwork Practice
Benita explained the breathwork procedure so I could practice by myself before I attended her Deep Emotional Healing Retreat.
During a couple of these sessions, I became very sad and felt like God was abandoning me. Once the feeling became so intense that I said aloud, “Don’t leave me!” I felt like I was in a dark place even though the sun was shining brightly outside. Later, I felt God saying that He was with me. I felt that I would start coming out of the darkness soon by going to Benita’s retreat.
Traveling to the Retreat (October 4, 2019)
I didn’t know what I would gain from the retreat, but I felt a very strong sense that this is what I had to do for myself. As I was driving to the retreat, I saw the mountains in the distance and started to weep. I remember saying to myself with a deep yearning, “I’m going to get help.” I really felt God calling me to this beautiful place for healing and that He would meet me in a special way.
Trust-building at the Retreat (October 5-6, 2019)
I found myself quickly trusting the other retreat members. I think it was because I knew we were all there to find healing and that many (if not all) were highly sensitive like myself. I was very ready to remove my mask because I felt that if anyone could understand me, it would be these people.
During those two days, I wept more than I ever had in the presence of other people. It was incredibly freeing to finally express my emotional self and not feel like people were staring at me for being strange or different.
Retreat first day: Breathwork (October 5, 2019)
We did a group breathwork session for more than an hour on the first day. For me, breathwork is similar to a waking dream where my emotional self is freer to explore deep emotions, desires, and unresolved wounds from my past. I also connect with God. Some of the thoughts and images made sense, and others were more mysterious and symbolic.
Early in the session, I felt like I was lost in a dark unfamiliar place. I remember being afraid and wondering, “Where am I?” Then I felt like I was being rescued from drowning and was coughing up water.
After some time, I felt the presence of Jesus. A sense of peace came over me. The music changed to something that sounded like a choir, and I had a vision of angels standing with Jesus. I felt so loved and sensed Him saying to me, “I will move heaven and earth for you. My legions of angels will be with you and help you.”
Almost immediately I sensed the pain among the other members, and I thought, “I’ll take that pain upon myself.” But an inner voice told me, “You need to ask Jesus to take their pain.” I imagined bringing each member to the embrace of Jesus so He could bear their pain. I embraced them from behind so I could be an added comfort to them. It felt good to comfort a hurting person.
Some time passed, and I had an image of myself as a baby in the hospital. (When I was younger, my parents had told me that when I was a baby, I had a bad fever and had to stay in the hospital.) I felt really alone and abandoned. I also had an image of my parents watching me with concern, but not being able to come near me. I believe that this experience was the true source of my feelings of abandonment that I experienced during my private breathwork sessions.
Later, I felt my stomach tensing up. I don’t let people touch my stomach. If they do, I wince and get tense in that area. Benita came over and placed her hand on my stomach and also on my chest, and I relaxed a little. Her touch felt safe, and I didn’t feel any need to tense up defensively. I felt a healing power through her hands. As I kept on breathing deeply, I felt the urge to exhale violently as though I needed to expel something really dark and evil. At one point I even wiped my mouth in disgust and told the evil to leave me. After I felt like the evil was sufficiently gone, I relaxed.
Retreat second day: Reparenting (October 6, 2019)
During the group reparenting exercise, one member took the role of the stern version of my mom and another member took the role of the compassionate version.
I was able to express to my stern mother how hurt and crushed and shamed I felt by her scolding during the soda incident. I was shouting, “How could you do that to me? I’m your son!”
When the compassionate mother was comforting me, I recalled all the reparenting work I had already done. I said to the stern mother, “I know that I didn’t come with instructions. I know you had your own problems at the time.”
Then I had the chance to play the role of the compassionate father for another retreat member. I placed my hands on her shoulders as she expressed her pain about being neglected by her father. I felt a deep sadness. When she started to cry, I was overcome with emotion and I wept, too. Then I knelt down face-to-face with her. I held her hands and talked to her as her compassionate father. I was still crying, and I couldn’t speak very loudly.
Benita guided me in what to say, such as, “I do love you, my daughter.”
I wanted so much to make the client feel loved, and I had so many affirming words in my heart that I wanted to express. I said, “I’m so sorry,” and went on to say all the different ways she was precious and the activities we would do together.
After a few minutes, the stern father also approached, facing her and standing behind me. He began to speak affirming words. I felt like I needed to allow them to reconcile more fully, so I moved to the side so I was no longer between them. Then I took her (the client’s) hands and joined them with the stern father’s, and I put my hands on top of both their hands, while the stern father continued to affirm her. We stayed that way until he was finished with his healing words.
That experience was one of the most fulfilling that I ever remember. Jesus said comforting words to me in my Sacred Inner Beloved dialogs, and now His love and affirmation were flowing through me to help others.
Post Retreat Debrief (October 7, 2019)
Benita and I had a private session after the retreat. I told her that I didn’t think I was ready to tell my mom that I forgave her. Benita encouraged me to be more intentional about writing reparenting dialogs, and I agreed to do that a few times before our next meeting.
An Unexpected Conversation with my Mother (October 8, 2019)
When I got home after the retreat, I felt a strong desire to ask my mom about the details of the time I was sick as a baby. I told her that at the retreat I recalled a feeling of being abandoned in that incident, even though I have no conscious memory of the event because I was a baby.
She told me that I had a serious infection which required me to stay in the hospital for several days. The doctors had to try two kinds of antibiotics to stop the infection. My mom went back and forth between home and hospital to keep checking on me. The nurses didn’t allow her to hold me because that might disturb the IVs I was hooked up to, so she could only caress me with her hand. But she was so adamant about holding me that she did it anyway when the nurses weren’t looking. She knew I needed that comfort.
For several days after I was released from the hospital, I cried and fussed whenever my mom wasn’t carrying me. Apparently, I was so traumatized that I needed to feel safe in her arms. My mom barely slept for a week because she walked around with me in a sling or I wouldn’t fall asleep.
After hearing this, I realized it was getting late, so I went back to my apartment to sleep. (I live in the same building as my parents.) My soul was so moved with admiration by what my mom did for me that I felt I needed to tell her. I remembered a story that I read in Benita’s book when she saw a beautiful ski jacket. She said, “My inner voice told me to share my joy because expressing my joy as well as my pain was part of being true to my Authentic Self.”
I went back to my parents’ apartment. I didn’t have words, so I just opened my arms to hug my mom and started to cry. She thought it was because I was still feeling the abandonment as a baby. But I said it was more than that, and that we could about it talk later. She wanted to hear the rest of what I had to say right then.
I told her about the soda incident and my “revised version” where we cleaned up the mess together, and where I asked if she was stressed.
She said that was very mature of me to think that way, and remarked how much the retreat must have done for me. She told me that she was stressed when I was young because of family tensions and mistreatment. I knew about some of this mistreatment, and now she was confirming what my intuition had told me. The mistreatment was likely the cause of her outburst at me when the soda overflowed.
After a few moments, I felt a strong desire to reconnect with her, and I reached out for her hand. She gave me her hand but also hugged me, and I cried again, and she cried a little, too. Then I told her that I was ready to forgive her. I now understood that her harshness was due to her own problems at the time.
We talked about some of our recent conflicts. One was where she made a comment that I was neglectful for not putting away the leftovers. (I couldn’t do it right away because I was occupied with something.) Her comment had really triggered me and after stewing on it, I had told her it wasn’t ok to attack me for being irresponsible.
When recounting this incident, my mom said that she often says things in an off-handed way just to make conversation because she feels like silence is “stuffy.” She suggested that I just “argue back” in a friendly way when she says offensive things because she feels better when doing that. But I told her that I feel worse when I need to confront people and that my feelings are easily hurt. I told her I prefer nonverbal communication, so instead of filling the silence with banter, how about just a hug?
The amazing thing is that I realized this “nonverbal” preference of mine during a private session with Benita, and now I had the knowledge to express that to my mom.
We hugged one last time before I went off to bed. I didn’t cry this time but felt very much at peace. When getting ready for bed, I had a song playing in the background. Before the retreat, this song would bring up a sad yearning feeling, as in “I don’t like where I am now, but I know somehow it’s going to get better.” But listening to the song now felt very different, as in “I’m in a good place. I feel ready to spread my wings and soar!”
This was an absolutely miraculous outcome … one I didn’t expect to happen so soon.
So many different things that I experienced while working with Benita came together at once: reading her book, the private reparenting, the group reparenting, the breathwork visions, the one-on-one sessions, being with kindred spirits at the retreat, remembering Benita’s jacket story.
I feel that God brought everything together. Each piece was necessary for this transformation.
Now my mom and I have made a habit of embracing almost every day.
Final Closure (October 10, 2019)
I woke up feeling very loved by God. He said to me, “Though you are lost, I will go to the ends of the earth to find you and bring you to Myself.”
God had one more thing to teach me about my past trauma.
Up to this point, I had two versions of the soda incident when I was five years old: the historical one that originally traumatized me and the one where my mom was perfectly reasonable and we cleaned up the spill together.
A third version came to mind.
Mom scolds me, and I start to cry, but then she immediately says, “I’m sorry for saying that. Come here.” She embraces me until I feel accepted again. She says again, “I’m so sorry I said those hurtful things. You’ll always be my precious baby.” I hold her tight and feel her warmth until I feel entirely comforted. When she feels that and notices that I loosen my embrace, she looks into my eyes and says, “Ok now? I’ll hold you as long as you want.” I say, “I’m OK now.” Then she grabs two cloths, hands me one and says, “Let’s clean this up together.”
I realize now that it’s important not to completely cover over a traumatic memory with an idealized version, or to hold the traumatic one and the ideal one as separate versions.
Loved ones will hurt us sometimes. That’s the reality of this fallen world. But God provides means of reconciliation and understanding and healing. When that happens, in God’s time, we become free to merge the hurt and the love into the beautiful tapestry where both darkness and light play their part. The light appears so much brighter when seen against the backdrop of darkness.
~ The End. ~ Lovingly shared by “KL”
Did you find this story compelling?
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Credentials: Retreat Facilitator, Benita A. Esposito, MA