We all have a ‘comfort zone’, a place where we feel secure, at ease, with no stress. Our comfort zone feels safe because it’s familiar; it’s what we’re used to. It’s reliable as well, because we know that the comfort zone never fails to make us feel better.
I get to enter my comfort zone once a year, at the end of June. What else could I be talking about but the annual CCA Cher’s Family Retreat? This is the place where I feel the safest, most loved and most accepted. These feelings will never change, no matter how old I get.
The comfort sets in when I arrive at the hotel where the retreat is held. I immediately become on the ‘lookout’ for other CCA families. This year, my mom and I landed in Arizona early, so I was on the ‘lookout’ for a few days! The excitement rises when I spot the first CCA family; I get the biggest smile on my face and say “look Mom! There’s so and so!” For some, it’s only been a year since we last saw each other, but since not everyone attends every retreat, then it can become years before we see each other again.
We all have that desire to ‘fit in’ and to be accepted. We strive to find our place in the world. I am so thankful to have that; a place where I feel confident and not scared to be myself. Having been born with a craniofacial syndrome, I constantly have to deal with judgement and stares from the public. It’s not easy to fit into a world where society is so focused on ‘outer beauty’ and having the ‘perfect image’. This is one of the reasons why the retreat is my comfort zone. For a few days, I have a chance to get away from the negativity and just feel comfortable in my own skin. When I’m with my CCA family, I just block out everyone else. For instance, in Arizona, when we were hanging out by the pool, I did not even look up once to see if anyone was staring at us, because frankly, I didn’t care. The retreat is my escape. I get to hang out with friends and just have fun, without worrying about anything else.
This year was deemed as one of the BEST retreats ever and I could see why. Even on the first night, where we have an ‘ice cream social’, you could feel all the positive energy in the air. Everyone was talking up a storm, laughing and joining in on the activities. If an ‘outsider’ came in and saw us, they’d look and think that we’ve all been close friends for years, but in reality, we may have only just met for the first time! No matter what, we welcome everyone with open arms. I know how overwhelming it can be at the first retreat, therefore I always try my best to make new families feel at ease.
Not only is this an annual retreat that happens every year, but also; a family reunion! I can hear people saying “but wait, they’re not your ‘actual’ family, so you can’t say it’s a family reunion". That’s where they’re wrong. I strongly believe that family does not only include ‘blood relatives’. There’s so much more to it than that. A family is based on unconditional love, support, and encouragement -which is exactly what I feel when I’m surrounded by my CCA friends. Every year at the dinner and dance, there’s always one very important song that plays; ‘We are family’, which couldn’t be more accurate. After studying Psychology of Music last semester, I could feel the power of this song bringing everyone together. We all sing it, loud and proud “we are family!”
The ‘dinner and dance’ has always been my favourite part of the retreat. We all have the biggest smiles on our faces while dancing away, without a care in the world. Sometimes I wish I could pause the time, so the night could last longer. This year, they played the song “Born this way” by Lady Gaga. I was with my friend Casey when it started playing and we instantly got on the dance floor. For anyone, this song has a lot of meaning, but in the CCA world... this song means everything to us. It’s the phrase we have used countless times growing up, answering to questions from strangers “I was born this way”. Therefore, I don’t have to tell you how amazing it felt to dance to that song at the retreat. Being with my CCA friends and singing “born this way” is a memory I’ll always cherish.
Once we’re in our ‘comfort zone’, it can be difficult to get out of it, which is why the ‘goodbye breakfast’ is always the most dreaded part of the retreat. No one likes goodbyes. Even though we’ve only spent a few days together, we have already become so emotionally attached. We form an unbreakable bond. The sense of security from this comfort zone is so powerful that when I got to the airport to return back home, I immediately felt out of my element. When I was waiting in line and noticed people staring at me, part of me wanted to jump back in my comfort zone. I actually found myself looking around, hoping to see a CCA friend nearby.
At the retreat this year, a very wise friend said “this is our normal”, meaning that everything we go through, is just a part of OUR life. All of our CCA families have been through similar surgeries and we’ve all faced criticism and judgement from the outside world. Does that mean our lives are worse? No. We may have to face difficult challenges, but that’s only one part of our lives. The other part is filled with love, happiness and moments of incredible achievement. What makes our CCA bond so strong is that we can all relate to each other. We don’t have to explain how we feel because the person we’re talking to has gone through the exact same thing. The retreat gives us a chance to all be ‘normal’ together, a chance to meet new people without the fear of rejection.
Even though I can only physically be in this comfort zone once a year, I can feel it emotionally when I communicate with others online. The comfort zone doesn’t disappear just because the retreat ends. I have to take those feelings that I get during the retreat and keep them with me as I go off into the real world. The confidence that I feel when I’m surrounded by my CCA family, should also be there when I’m surrounded by strangers. It is easier said than done, but by taking one step at a time, I know I can gain that confidence to face the world and not feel afraid to be myself.
“Beyond the face is a heart” – Children’s Craniofacial Association