A self-described mother martyr goes on a solo journey and rediscovers the value of her own joy.
It was relief not envy that poured through me after reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2017 O magazine article, “Self, Centered.” Instead of viewing solo spiritual journeys as, “irresponsible, frivolous... selfish,” she argued it was a human right and even necessary.
Envy would have been an understandable response. As a stay-at-home mom with two little kids, bathroom time was my only alone time. I was also ill most of 2017. In and out of ER rooms or lying down with debilitating fatigue, it hurt to speak.
On the really hard days, I’d dream about going to Miraval. Six years ago, I watched Oprah with best friend Gayle and sixty other women attend the Arizona resort and spa on the Oprah Winfrey Show. It was expensive and my kids were way too young for me to leave them. But as the days inched closer to my 40th birthday and my fatigue got worse, I allowed the idea in. “You need this. You haven’t been alone in a while. Go find yourself!” my husband said.
My four-hour red-eye to Los Angeles was met with heart palpitations and nausea. Were these anxiety signs or hidden symptoms of heart attack? After tossing and turning in a seat that didn’t recline, I still had a three-hour layover, a short flight to Tucson, and an hour drive to Miraval. I was exhausted and on edge when the driver finally pulled up to the gates of the resort.
I often joked with my husband that I was like a rabbit. I could hide any illness or discomfort like my life depended on it. This came in handy as I sat on the shuttle with a group of giggling girlfriends, at candlelight dinners alone, and at breakfast while a chorus of people sang, “Happy Birthday,” to a woman there with her best friend.
It took three days at Miraval before I lowered my shield, the one that kept me protected from exposing too much. I was sitting in a yurt surrounded by 20 people of diverse ages and backgrounds in a class called, “Mindful Stress Mastery." Each of us laughed and nodded our heads as we listened to the ways stress had impacted our lives. I felt myself relax in the comfort of knowing I wasn't the only one.
On my last full day at the resort, I took the luxury of sitting in my hotel room to simply gaze out the window. I thought about the worker who gave me a lift in his golf cart when I first arrived. When I told him it was my birthday, he said he had a present for me. From his pocket, he pulled out a shiny brown stone. “From now on you won’t have to look up for answers," he said. "This will help you find the answers within.” There was the yoga teacher/somatic therapist who told me self-love was the way to cure my physical ailments and the faith healer who made me cry like a baby when she asked me to forgive everyone in my life, including myself.
I thought about these people and how their words and concern were healing. And then as I watched the rain outside the window, I heard something else I needed. Sweet silence.
I returned home after four days refreshed and thirsting for my sons. Not much changed externally. But there’d been an internal shift. It had been one of my most challenging years. I was living in a sea of unknowns. Life was a constant hamster wheel taking care of other people, and I was terrified I was going to fly off of it. But it’s too easy to abandon yourself when you’re a stay-at-home mother to young children. It’s way more compelling to calm your child than it is to go take care of yourself. You're expected to be a martyr, but in reality it’s not doing anyone a favor.
We women think giving to everyone else is how we make the world a better place. But Gilbert says, “[U]ntil you can alleviate your own suffering, you will continue to inflict suffering—not only on yourself but also on those around you.” When I got to Miraval, I was angry. I didn’t have support, but I didn’t want to pay for help. I let my dreams fall to the wayside. I watched in resentment as everyone around me seem to be happy and fulfilling their dreams. I suffered. My sons suffered too.
Getting a little too angry with my son was a sign that I was burnt out. Being sick and tired were signs I was failing at self-care. Deciding to go to Miraval felt like a radical decision, but it was also a practical one. Devoting time solely for me was an act of love and responsibility. It was a testament to my own self-worth and a commitment, a promise I would never again abandon myself.
Solo spiritual journeys don’t require luxurious retreats. You can make your own by booking a room at a hotel, volunteer to house sit for a friend in another state, or rent a home for a few days. Opt for some place quiet. Make sure to spend time alone, have meals by yourself and walk in silence. Do something that feels unfamiliar and may even scare you. One more thing, and this is important: when you return home, think about ways you can incorporate more joy into your life. Having kids squeezed all the joy out of me and made me a terrible person to be around. Joy is not an extra but a necessity. Go on a joy diet by filling your days with things that make you happy and eliminate the things that suck the joy from it. You’ll remember who you were before life got busy and rediscover yourself.