I’m an anxious person.
It’s important to know that I’m also a person who says “yes.” What I mean by that is if I’m invited to an event––like, really invited, not just Facebook invited–– or to read someone’s story, to go to coffee or across the country, way more often than not, I say yes. Even when I’m under extreme stress, a limited schedule, or have other reasons to say “no,” I tend to commit anyway, sanity be damned.
Yeah, it’s not healthy.
Last year, when a dear friend planned to attend Camp Souldust to celebrate her birthday and invited me to join her, I said yes with the caveat that I’d apply for a scholarship; I’m a writer, and my paychecks don’t support soul-nourishing experiences like adult summer camp.
I poured myself into the application, baring my sore soul. I sent it then forgot about it.
A week later, I received a response from Rachel Ford, the founder of Souldust. “Pack your bags,” it read, “you’re coming to camp!”
See ya, comfort zone.
The thought of spending three nights away from my spouse, Chad, felt overwhelmingly bad. It filled me with uncertainty and dread–– the only word that truly reflects this feeling is fear. A little bit ridiculous? Sure. But totally real.
Another detail about me? I’m a chronic doubter.
My editors, who I’d just informed about needing time off for the event, were thrilled for me and assured me I’d have a great time. “I hope so,” I said, “but it’ll be funnier to write about if it’s awful.”
But, I’d won a scholarship. There was no backing out now.
Hesitancy swallowed, I packed my bag. Two weeks later, off I went to Camp Souldust.
Driving up the long stretch between Camp Colman and the rest of the world is a little bit surreal–– you’re on dry land, but the road is surrounded by water. To the left, Whiteman Cove, a glassy body of lake with a dock and a swooping red waterslide. To the right, the Case Inlet, a long stretch of cool water and beach. Overhead, a rustic wooden arch greets you.
Then, suddenly, you’re in the forest, under a canopy of green and a big open sky. Adults wearing ridiculous outfits and costumes are excitedly waving you down, waiting to meet you. A bucket of hobby horses waits to be ridden at the front door. Inside, someone has friendship bracelets for you.
It might sound a little intimidating to some. To me, an extroverted professional sex writer, it was definitely new territory.
At the first night’s campfire, I wasn’t alone in feeling tightly wound, asking myself why I was there, who all these strangers were, and how I was going to get through the next several days of this seemingly uncomfortable experience.
God, I’m glad I stayed.
The days that followed were the kind of beautiful Pacific Northwestern days one might expect in April–– some blue skies, some grey skies, some drizzle, some sunshine. A lot of people taking advantage of every drop of sunlight. What I hadn’t expected was absolutely everything else. Mornings spent on meditative hikes that brought me to tears, afternoons filled with engaging, interesting workshops that asked me to deepen myself and my experience.
After a (G-rated) transcendental tantra workshop, I called my spouse to see how things were going at home. Externally, this looked like me feeling anxious over finding a phone with reception. Internally, I worried that maybe over the weekend, I’d end up outgrowing the marriage I’d been so happy in before. Here I was, doing this work, while Chad was at home. What if we grew apart because I was finding all this joy, this magic, in the woods?
The fears I’d had around leaving home? This is what they had been all along: I was terrified of outgrowing my marriage.
From the other end of the call, Chad told me about all the conversations that had taken place in the days before. The things I’d talked about, learned about, experienced in my workshops? They’d been the same areas that my love was steeping in at home.
But by taking a step out of my comfort zone, I found out that, with a little space, my marriage was able to grow right alongside us both. Individually, and together, we were growing, a hundred miles apart.
Free of the fear that my joy would ruin my life, (it sounds so easy to just get over when you put it like that) I felt even more able to connect with others. One particularly joyful fairy of a human ran around the camp, occasionally kissing me and others on the forehead before flitting away to spread more joy.
On the dock, in the evening mist, the youngest camper–– nineteen, a soldier about to leave for her basic training–– and the eldest camper–– seventy, the one to spearhead this particular adventure–– were joined by several others, myself included, as we stripped down to our underwear and slid into the wickedly cold waters of the cove. Once we were all dripping, standing together on the slick wooden slats again, we embraced in an enormous circle. Then, our soldier climbed the waterslide one more time and, giggling, took her second dip.
Around the campfire, we shared silliness, magic, each other’s company. Every night was more comfortable than the last. Our final campfire, I’d blended several tubes of glitter together to create “unicorn dust” for my cabin (The Unicorns, obviously) to “bless” our fellow campers’ foreheads. One by one, we poked a finger into our rainbow glitter and pressed it onto the faces of the campers around us. I’d been a little bit worried everyone might find it obnoxious, but every single person smiled and leaned forward to be “blessed.”
That closing night, several people shared that, at the first campfire, they’d felt the urge to GTFO, too. Like me, they stuck with it. And, like me, they were so grateful they didn’t give into the fear and leave.
As I left the glitter-coated campfire to head to a crystal sound bath, I realized something: it had been days since the last time I’d had a panic attack.
That may not sound like much to some, but me? I endure anywhere from one to ten panic attacks every day. The pounding, aching chest, the battery-acid rush of hot and cold down my body, the inability to breathe–– it comes out of nowhere and leaves me crouched on the sidewalk, pressed against brick buildings, or, most of the time, pretending I’m fine, sweating through it, hoping no one notices that I am silently freaking the F out. Because they always happen outside my house, I can easily get into the habit of staying at home. Avoiding the world. Doing everything I can to stay in my comfort zone.
By coming to camp, I didn’t just get out of my comfort zone at home. I expanded it all the way across the campgrounds, water to trees. I was surrounded by people I didn’t know, doing things I’d never done, and my exhausted, sore mind let me do it.
My marriage grew with it.
Most importantly, I just did it. All on my own, alone, and together with some of the most supportive, kind people I’d ever met. And they were doing the work too. Alone, together.
This year, I’ll be attending camp as the Associate Director. The founder, Rachel Ford, has seen me in all my joy, my sorrow, my anxiety, and she knows that a human is a human, no matter how painfully nervous, introverted, shy, whatever. She’s really good at making space for everyone. That’s kind of why, I think, camp works like it does. It has a human being with a sparkly heart at the center of it, hoping to give you the space you need to find your own brand of magic.
Not everyone’s going to be facing fears that their growth will hurt their lives. Not everyone’s going to get through a handful of panic attacks at every turn. Not everyone is like me, but what works about Camp Souldust is that it doesn’t matter. No matter how different, unique, and even stressed-the-F-out you are, there’s a place for you.
I hope that, like me, you stick around if you feel that doubt the first night. I hope that, like me, you apply for the scholarships if you can’t afford to come. I want you to come.
I hope that, like me, you get to grow. Outside your comfort zone.
All on your own, and together.