As much as I enjoy being around people, I also crave time on my own. Striking the right balance between companionship and isolation every day feels essential to my equilibrium. So, given my need for solitude, opting to hole myself up with 23 strangers for a week on the Hoffman Process wasn’t a decision I took lightly.
I also recoil from the spotlight. At school, just the thought of being asked a question in class had me praying the ground would swallow me up. Later, as a student journalist, I’d be frozen with fear during writing exercises. Knowing we’d have to read out our work to each other left me unable to commit a single word to paper. My tutor told me to get over myself or get off the course. Her ultimatum served me well. I may be self-conscious, but I can also be single-minded. I was determined to be a journalist. I got over myself.
Of course, I’ve had to overcome my inhibitions on countless occasions since, but embarking on the Hoffman Process took things to new levels. I’d taken part in enough ‘self-improvement’ workshops to know that personal development in a group setting is never a spectator sport. For starters, there’s the introvert’s nightmare of taking centre stage while introducing yourself to the other participants. Then there’s the trust-building exercises, often involving lots of eye contact – awkward for just about everyone, but excruciating for seriously self-conscious types.
I couldn’t be sure just what I was letting myself in for – many details are kept under wraps so as to be intentionally surprising – but I’d assumed Hoffman would be a whole week of this stuff with bells on. To top it all, I’d be sharing a room with a stranger. There seemed little chance of enjoying the precious, restorative solitude I crave.
So why sign up? Basically, I wanted serious change – and fast. Years of sporadic counselling had helped me keep the depression I’m prone to at bay but there were issues stemming from my childhood that still hung over me like a cloud. They had darkened my life for too long and I was determined to escape their shadow once and for all. I hoped the Process would do the trick, as challenging as I knew it would be.
Watching 23 other nervous people enter a bright, sunny room on our first morning at Florence House in Sussex, I got over myself very quickly. Introvert or extrovert, it was pretty obvious each and every one of us walked into that space with a sense of trepidation. Stepping into the unknown is always scary and this was new territory for all of us.
Then something curious happened. As we began, one by one, to go around the room introducing ourselves, I started to relax. I wasn’t looking forward to the focus being on me, but hearing others speak with such sincerity made me want to reciprocate. We’d been asked to keep things brief, which helped, but knowing I wasn’t alone in my state of apprehension fortified me.
The Process seemed to work like magic to encourage trust, openness and honesty. On the face of it, my fellow Hoffies (as I affectionately call my Process peers), were all very different. From a range of ages, backgrounds and nations, on the surface we were a diverse bunch. But what we all had in common was a desire to make things better for ourselves and our loved ones, to put our demons to rest and clear the way for happier, more fulfilled lives.
There were times on the Process when I wanted to run for the hills, but to quit would have felt like a betrayal of the group’s camaraderie. I’d feared being with so many strangers, but in the event they were a huge part of what kept me going through that week. A kind smile gave me strength when I was struggling. A giggle in the coffee break lightened the mood when things felt too heavy. My roomie turned out to be an absolute delight and there were even opportunities for solitude.
Voicing my sadness, anger, fears, resentments and pain was an incredible release after so many years of bottling things up. Listening to others was equally powerful. Over the week, I grew more conscious and less self-conscious as we all shared our truths.
The Process is gruelling and at times painful. But it’s joyous, too. I laughed and cried with those 23 people as a unique bond formed between us. Nearly three years after we headed off in different directions after ‘graduation’, I’m still in touch with some of my Hoffies. There’s no pressure to keep in touch – some of us just do. When we get together, there’s a unique connection, understanding and trust between us. Laughter is always guaranteed, too, no matter what we’re each experiencing in our lives.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that Hoffman helped me to slay my biggest demons. I feel happier and calmer than I can ever remember being. I’m more accepting and less fearful. So what if I say something stupid or look the fool? The sky won’t fall in. It really is no big deal.
I’m no longer immobilised by inhibition. I can be the first on the dance floor stone cold sober, for example, and I often am. In fact, despite having spent my adult life relying on Dutch courage, I’ve barely touched alcohol in three years. As recommended, I laid off the hooch for two weeks before starting the Process, then for a month afterwards. Since then, I’ve rarely felt the desire to imbibe and feel much better, physically and emotionally, for my abstinence.
I still get irritated, but less often. Instead of holding in my emotions, I feel better equipped to say the things I need to say when I need to say them and – and I’m more likely to be calm and measured when I do. I still have resentments, but they’re less intense. My relationships have improved and my life feels better in every way. I also have some wonderful people in my life that I would never otherwise have met.
Was it worth the discomfort? You bet!
Trish Lesslie is a freelance journalist and copywriter. Find out more at trish-lesslie.com