Through my non-profit, the Center for Earth-Based Healing, my staff and I offer free trauma-informed ecotherapy programs for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. We just offered a program last weekend, Camp Ostara, for survivors of domestic violence. This blog was inspired by my experience at camp.
I conceptualize healing trauma like standing in front of a mirror watching our own heart beating in the reflected image of our chest. As we stand there looking into the mirror, a door appears in our heart—the door represents a sacred invitation; we have a choice to make. We can open the door and walk more deeply into ourselves, or we can stay where we are and ignore the door until our last living day on Earth. We’ll never be able to forget the door exists entirely though, because it IS our heart. From time to time we’ll see it out of the corner of our eye as it will always call to the part of us that it wants to reconnect us to in the first place.
Our other choice is to walk up to it, open it, and choose to step more deeply inside of our heart—where our dragons (deeper wounding) often show up first asking to be healed. This is what healing trauma requires, and Life—or that invisible dance partner we all have that we have zero control over—makes sure all the right doors and dragons appear at just the right time in order to facilitate and encourage our healing. The catch is this…even Life won’t override free will, so in the end, it is always our choice to heal or not. In that sense, Life is the ultimate empowerer. It presents us with options, but it will always allow us to make our own choices and it will never abandon us no matter what we choose. This is what my staff and I offer to each woman who attends Camp Ostara.
In the process of healing, there is also hope and expansion—like the new room we just stepped into is more spacious, where we feel a sense of liberation and confidence within our self, an “okay-ness” that we didn’t feel before. Just when we think we’ve gone as deeply as we’re ever going to go inside of our self, another door appears, and another, and another. Healing asks us to be willing to say yes over and over again to opening the next door and risking being confronted by what terrifies us the most—our dragons.
In time, as we go more deeply into our self, we realize that the fear we feel so intensely—fear of being swallowed up by the dragon—is actually the cries coming from a vulnerable wounded part of our self that has been waiting all along for us to offer it our unconditional love and acceptance. The dragon is simply the way this little wounded part has protected itself all these years…it is a disguise, and the fear is really a beautiful invitation to heal, to reclaim some part of our self that is saying….
"I am ready to be seen by you and receive unconditional love from you, because I am part of you and your unconditional love is the only thing that can heal me."
Doors come in an infinite number of forms over the course of a lifetime. They can come in the form of a person, an adventure, an email, or a miracle. They could be a chance meeting with a stranger at a conference, the unexpected death of a family member, a health scare, a new job, or even a text message. Doors aren’t always “negative” but it is probably fair to say they will always offer or put into motion new experiences that will challenge our current “story of who we are,” and encourage us to heal, grow and expand in some way.
I believe Camp Ostara is one such door for survivors of domestic violence.
I see this entire process as essential to healing our wounded world, as I believe the most radical form of activism in this moment in time is choosing to heal ourselves first—love ourselves first. Make it about nobody but yourself, total accountability to yourself starting now, total responsibility for all of yourself and all of your wounding starting now—making a commitment to yourself to engage with whomever and whatever supports your healing, even if it is hard or scary sometimes. I am completely convinced that the only path to healing this wounded world is to heal ourselves one person at a time. After all, the whole is made up of the parts, and each of us is one of those parts.
Camp Ostara invites survivors to engage with what supports their healing—Mother Nature, the staff, the other campers, the Great Mystery, and their own hearts. I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that saying yes to camp often feels scary, but every camper will admit that once she opened the door and “walked her edges,” as we like to say at camp, that it turned out to be a life-changing experience.
Opening the doors and loving our dragons are what facilitate what I call The Sacred Reclaiming. This is the moment when we no longer allow the damage (or fear) to control our choices in life. We no longer believe the disempowering narratives we’ve told ourselves our entire life in an attempt to self-protect. We no longer have to build the walls that cut us off from love, intimacy, deep connection, or our emotions; we no longer turn away from challenging situations or conversations, and we no longer resist the very process of healing that leads to The Sacred Reclaiming.
The Sacred Reclaiming can happen with anything we have exiled within our self because it hurts too much to shine our light on it again once it was lost or taken away from us. This pain is real and valid, and it deserves to be honored and met by unconditional love.
I witnessed The Sacred Reclaiming happen over and over again this weekend at Camp Ostara. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like it in fact. This group of women chose to literally open and walk through the doors of Creasey Lodge where we all lived in community throughout camp. Every single one of them had this determined energy about them, an energy of stubborn persistence, an almost defiant energy that said, “ENOUGH! I deserve to heal, and I will make it so!”
And make it so they did. Each woman faced her own dragons at camp, and one by one I witnessed The Sacred Reclaiming when they softened towards themselves just a bit and allowed the hurt to be witnessed and held within a container of unconditional love named Camp Ostara. Sometimes we need others to show us how to hold our wounding within a container of unconditional love before we understand how to do it for ourselves. This too is what survivors are offered at Camp Ostara, and here are some of their words demonstrating the power of this offering:
“Goodbye to the past. Hello to a bright future. Bad mojo is gone forever up in smoke!!”
“I am going to get a tattoo of the Camp Ostara logo right here on my arm where there is a scar. All of my tattoos cover up the scars, and I want this tattoo because camp was a launching off point for me.”
“This long weekend has been life changing... I pursued more and better ways of healing and becoming a better human... I walked so many of my edges in these days, but I was not alone, between kindred spirits and soul sisters I was gently guided through my darkness into peace... I am strong, very courageous, never alone, never on my own, and I just proved to myself that I can reclaim so much that I thought had been lost... I can definitely do hard things... I am grateful and honored to have found a space to face myself, my edges, my demons with such grace and love... Every need was met... Higher power provides...”
Who knows how many doors all of these women had to open before they arrived at the door titled Camp Ostara? What I do know is that at some point in the healing journey, a door opens not to a dragon, but to another mirror, and when you look at it, you are looking at yourself looking back at yourself—and you see your own beauty and divinity for the first time since the long journey began. That is what I hope my staff and I offer to each woman—a mirror that allows them to see their own perfection, a mirror that allows them to finally understand that true beauty is made of both shadow and light and unconditional love literally consists of this:
Unconditional Love = Healthy boundaries + Showing up just as you are and allowing yourself to be seen + Still being able to offer and receive love even after showing up just as you are and being seen
In other words, you finally know you are worthy of it and you know that love will not be revoked the moment you allow yourself to be seen in shadow. At the same time, healthy boundaries are in place that create the safe container that can hold the entire healing experience in a respectful, sacred, and loving way.
I once had a camper who knew me personally say, “Michele, you live your life like you run your camps.” She was right. I do not want to live or move through the world in any other way in fact.
Offering unconditional love to yourself or other people will look differently in every situation. Unconditional love is not a “universal static experience” that shows up the same way no matter what. It’s not this floaty transcendent place we hover around in while “feeling love for others.” Unconditional love is embodied love, dynamic love, messy love, and sometimes painful love, as it is the only thing powerful enough to meet our deepest wounding. It meets each person in the unique ways that person needs to be met, and I think of this as the moment integration really begins to take hold in the heart.
Another way of stating this is when we experience this popular quote, “Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed, it means the damage no longer controls our lives,” or as I like to put it, The Sacred Reclaiming has taken place.
It takes a scrappy woman to say yes to opening the door when we’re fearful we’ll be swallowed up or burned by what awaits on the other side, and for many of us, we will toy with the idea for a while, walk up to the door, wiggle the door knob, and then retreat again. This too is part of the process of The Sacred Reclaiming, but the hard truth is that at some point, the door must be opened as something inside is asking to be healed and loved that will otherwise remain unhealed and unloved, and in turning away from the door, we are literally turning away from our own hearts. We are turning away from a part of ourselves that so desperately wants to be loved. When I find myself in this position, the questions that always show up in support of my own expansion and healing are these:
What if this door—the one that calls to my heart the loudest at times but feels the most terrifying—what if this door is the one I’ve been waiting the longest to open, the door that if I say yes to opening it, can lead to The Sacred Reclaiming of my deepest wounding? What if I am just one more yes away from a deep and sacred healing that brings me closer to my authentic Self more than anything else I have ever chosen for myself?
Like I said, it takes a scrappy woman to say yes, and I had the great privilege of spending this past weekend at Camp Ostara with 12 of the scrappiest survivors I’ve been around in a long time. We all hiked in sleet and snow (a camp first!), crossed multiple treacherous stream crossings (the water levels were really high), we laughed, cried, ate, sang, cooked, joked around, acted silly, danced, created, practiced vulnerability, shared from our hearts, and held sacred space with one another as women.
I saw myself in every single one of them and one of the many gifts they offered me was the reminder that the Human Spirit will eventually prevail. Even the doors that appear to be locked permanently or that we tried to throw away the keys for will still open if we just say yes to reaching out and turning the knob.
Just because we choose to turn away from the door does not mean it doesn’t still want to be opened. The doors never fully disappear after all because all that is waiting on the other side is a wounded part of ourselves wearing a disguise as a dragon, and what it so desperately needs is our love and acceptance, because remember, the fear we feel is really a beautiful invitation to heal, to reclaim some part of our self that is saying…
"I am ready to be seen by you and receive unconditional love from you, because I am part of you and your unconditional love is the only thing that can heal this wound."
This is The Sacred Reclaiming.