Back in the summer, I went on a camping trip with my partner, our first days-long expedition into the woods in the one year we have been together. Days prior to our departure I felt a mix of excitement, anticipation and a little bit of nervousness. Little did I know I would also have my most intense and challenging experience with myself, and as a result with him, in our relationship so far.
We were sharing a big private campground with all his relatives near a beautiful wildlife preserve in Washington State. Our tent was tucked in a quiet spot under 100-year old cedar trees, at least a 20-minute walk on a wooded trail away from everybody else.
One night, we were holding hands, being silly and laughing as we walked back to our tent after staying up late by the fire with his cousins. I asked my partner to hold my bag as I went to use the port-a-potty in front of us. Once I was done and walked out of just it a few minutes later, he was out of my sight; luckily I had my head lamp on me. I started walking towards our tent not being able to see well in the distance without my glasses on and I could not find our camping spot. I yelled his name a few times to no response. I stood under the dark sky while I froze in panic not knowing what to do next. I took a few breaths and walked back to the beginning of the trail, slowly retraced my steps trying to remember the way. After a while I could see a white dome glowing under the black night. I felt a deep sigh of relief coming out of my chest, I had found our tent.
The saga was not over. Before I unzipped the tent door to get in, I took a few deep breaths. I noticed my body was shaking and I felt very scared and angry. I hesitated to go inside the tent or stay out of the tent for a few more breaths. I noticed my body shaking off, like a zebra after being chased by a predator.
After a few minutes I stepped inside and sat on my sleeping pad. My partner knew right away something was up for me and asked me with a worried voice what was going on.
Once I sat down I could really feel my body shaking. I felt nervous about telling him the truth about how I was feeling. What if my storm of emotions was too much for him and scared him away? Could I betray myself and not tell him how I was truly feeling? I took several breaths and with tears in my eyes I told him I was feeling angry and scared. I paused in anticipation of his response and felt my body still shaking while he looked at me quietly. With tears now falling down my cheeks I told him I expected that he would wait for me outside of the port-a-potty and I did not communicate that to him. Feeling regret seeing how my suffering was my own fault, I went ahead and told him I knew I get lost in the woods easily and did not give him a heads up. I felt my own shame piling on and the part of me that thinks I am always right crumbling. I felt naked emotionally while his eyes stared at me with angst. Then there was a prolonged silence. I could feel my heart beating fast with anticipation, wondering what happens next, am I being too emotional? is he going to leave me?
The next day my partner thanked me for sharing my feelings with him without blaming him. Part of me can hear that, another part of me still remembers how in my teens and early twenties I was very reactive. I watched that was how my classmates, and later my coworkers, gained respect from others. I wanted to feel respected too so I let my reactivity express itself freely. I had a short fuse and sharpe tongue.
Years later, while sitting down at my therapist's office, is when I realized that behind the mask of reactivity I was hiding emotional pain and loneliness, along with a yearning to connect meaningfully with others.
Fast forward to now, I am a student at The Relationship School® where I am learning self-awareness, emotional regulation, how to communicate and connect with others authentically, and how to remove my masks to reveal my genuine self.
What crossed my mind that one night shaking in the tent with my partner was, this is my chance to let someone I love in into the intensity of my experience. I did not resort back to my old patterns of reactivity or running away. I let my partner enter my world when I felt the most vulnerable, and felt held by his love and gentleness in a true act of true intimacy.
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