I remember being told that I was registered to spend a week at an overnight camp. My mother notified me in her usual matter-of-fact style with little regard for my opinion. I immediately panicked. I knew no one else who was going, and wasn’t quite sure where “Virginia” even was. Why, I thought. Why would she make me go to such a faraway place all by myself? Upon hearing this news, I immediately objected, whining that I didn’t want to go, trying to explain how terrified I was, and crying, all for naught. It was a done deal. A deal I worried and fretted over for months before my departure date. I remember finding the brochure and seeing pictures of other Camp Fire Girls canoeing on a lake, embracing each other and cooking on an open fire.
As the weeks of anticipation went by my dread grew to an enormous amount of anxiety. I was physically sick in the days leading up to my drop off date. I remember waiting for a bus in a parking lot, feeling alone while a flurry of activity was whirling around me. Girls excitedly reuniting with their “camp buddies”, luggage and sleeping bags being corralled into a big pile, and being paralyzed by the fear and dread of being somewhere all by myself. Out of my comfort zone.
As I sat on the bus and looked out the window, my eyes welled with heavy tears as I watched my mother walking away towards our car. I was petrified. I was angry that I was being forced to go. I wanted to be getting in to the car with my mom, to go home with her. Back to my comfort zone. A zone where discomfort was really the norm. The house and family where I felt disconnected.
Some counselors had started to stand in the aisle of the bus and begun singing some songs that everyone else seemed to know. They were clapping to the beat, smiling and as everyone else was full of excitement I was tasting salty tears and wiping my runny nose with my arm. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t swallow as the lump in my throat seemed to be growing with each second. The songs seemed never ending. One after the next, the whole bus merrily made its way to “Virginia”. By the time we turned on a dirt road entering the woods I felt a sense of doom.
We were divided into units, met our counselors and assigned our cabins. There I was with three strangers, all of whom were happy and excited. After unpacking, we gathered in our lodge and the songs started again. I recalled several that had been sung on the bus and awkwardly tried to mimic the hand gestures and clapping that correlated with these refrains. The counselors were warm and welcoming, encouraging all of us in getting to know each other. Our meals were served in a huge dining hall, where we sang grace and the entire camp sang songs after lunch and dinner. They were silly, happy songs that helped to temporarily lift my mood.
The first few nights I suffered through extreme homesickness and sleeplessness as I listened to the noises of the forest. The chirping, rhythmic sounds of the nocturnal bugs, and creatures that come to life in the darkness almost reminded me of those songs I was learning.
Our days at camp were filled with activities. There was little downtime to allow for self-pity. We swam in man-made lake, which left a brown slime on our skin, we made crafts, we went on hikes, and sang a lot! I began to look forward to spending time with my new unit of campers. Faces and names became familiar. There were several girls who I connected with. I began to feel like I was fitting in. I thought less and less about home and more and more about the next song to be sung, and the fun I would be having with my new found friends. Yes, I was making friends! Some of us shared our homesickness at first, but eventually began sharing this experience of inclusion in the unit activities, the skits, the songs and the camp as a whole. I loved this place! I could picture myself in the brochure smiling and hugging my new “besties”.
Before I knew it, the last day of my week away had arrived. It was time to start packing to go home. I found myself wishing that I could stay another week. I longed to stay with my new friends, to sing the happy songs that I now knew by heart. The next day, the bus was back, and once again our luggage and sleeping bags were in a pile. As I sat on the bus, I looked out the window at my counselors walking away. My eyes flooded with tears, and I got that lump in my throat. I longed to stay in my new comfort zone called “camp”, and dreaded going home.
Camp would be one of the most transformational experiences over the next ten summers. I would find my leadership skills, my passion for helping others and some lifelong friends. My comfort zone was in Virginia, not so far away but a world apart from home.
Some of my clients cling to a comfort zone of discomfort. Their hearts are home to anxiety over cash flow, debt and sleepless nights. Our work together takes them on a journey to a place where they can fit in with the prosperous and learn that new comfort zones can be found not so far away, but very close to home.