When I walked into the session room to see a blanket-covered portable-massage bed laid out in the middle, I walked straight out again.
It was day six, the last day of The Bridge “emotional detox” retreat, and I could see what was coming next: some kind of communal touch, breaking down the barriers, bonding as a group – basically, my nightmare.
I’m not a natural hugger or emotional sharer. I happily do the social half-hug that’s largely replaced the double kiss in my friendship circle, sling an arm around the other person, a few seconds of a squeeze. But any kind of prolonged bodily contact? It’s reserved for my son, my husband, Adam, my BFFs and my dog, Polly. Emotional sharing with strangers? I’d find it easier to dive off the high board at my local pool. And I’m scared of heights.
So, it just shows how much my usual barriers had broken down, how much the 13 of us on the retreat had bonded, that, two minutes later, I did walk back into that room. And, while each person took turns to lie on the bed, the rest of us placed a hand on one part of their body for a full three minutes, to the sound of gentle music and encouraging words from one of the leaders. And, when it came to my turn, it was bearable. Maybe even sort of nice.
I had had no idea The Bridge was going to be this, well, personal, when I signed up. As an introvert who loves a chat but needs time alone, I’d asked for a single room
I had had no idea The Bridge was going to be this, well, personal, when I signed up. As an introvert who loves a chat but needs time alone, I’d asked for a single room. I’d read up about the venue – 42 Acres – a cosily decorated Somerset farmhouse and outbuildings, surrounded by woodland. I’d heard the food was delicious and it was (highlights were raw berry cashew cake, a fennel fish stew and daily bowls full of creative salads). But I hadn't fully engaged in the fact I’d be spending six days in the middle of nowhere, sharing and working on my emotions from 8am to 8pm. Which is probably a good thing because, if I had, I wouldn’t have gone.
The Bridge is based on the theory that current pain, even anxiety and depression, starts in childhood and, by “following the trail to the original source”, those wounds can be healed. Creators Donna Lancaster and Gabi Krueger created a programme from a mixture of therapeutic techniques and traditional rituals. It’s designed to take you on a personal journey, an “emotional detox” if you like. So, each day, there are difficult emotions and pain to be unearthed and processed. It’s beginning to sound like real fun, right?
Day two, we took it in turns to scream out our stuck anger in groups of three to a hard-beats soundtrack, curtains closed, lights low. I have gone full nuclear only a few times in my life (sorry, Adam; sorry, kind midwife) but, this time, I got stuck. With Donna’s help, I finally managed to unloose a massive tirade of swearing, screaming and shouting. The volume was high enough so you couldn’t hear the words the other people were shouting, but watching their faces as they let go, with the music playing in the background, was surprisingly beautiful, like watching a movie. Afterwards, I felt the same kind of high I get when I’ve laughed until my ribs hurt.
And so, each day, we did our emotional work and the ups and downs kept coming. Two days, we spent half the morning in silence, writing letters to significant others – parents, loved ones or lost ones – then read them in front of the group. We did crazy dancing and shaking to get our stuck emotions out of the body. One day, after an intense session, we all burst out of the dark room into the sunlight to dance on the wet grass. I felt self-conscious and free, ridiculous and also high.
A few times a day, we sat in our circle and shared how we felt with the group. “All emotions are welcome here,” Donna often said. And all emotions happened to me. I cried – which I rarely do in front of anyone. I screamed. Some nights, I laughed hysterically over supper. Some days, I danced as if I was three shots of tequila down. There was a lot of looking into other people’s eyes. It still felt weird, but it was strangely OK in the bubble of the retreat.
The emotional stuff was punctuated with lectures to teach us the theories behind what we were doing – what love is made of, our emotional inheritance from our family, how grief and pain come out sideways in passive-aggression, gossip, blame (guilty!). We were taught a technique to get to the root of emotions. My usual way to deal with strong emotion is to make a joke of it. I craved having someone in the retreat to say, “What the fuck are we doing?” I couldn’t; I didn’t want to take anyone else out of the spell it had cast. And, at some points, I felt so raw, as if my emotional skin had been removed, that I couldn’t even crack a joke. Thank goodness Donna has got a good line in quips or I think I might have lost the plot. The last time I’d felt that intense was after giving birth.
By now, you’re either thinking, “God, that sounds like a total nightmare,” or, “I need some of that.” I think The Bridge might be the beginning of being clear about how I’m feeling. I am so proud of myself for jumping off the emotional high board. Still, please don’t hug me unless I hug you first, though.
The Bridge Retreat costs from £2,650 for six days