I am not the “retreat kind” of woman. When I was invited to attend the Finding Peace retreat and blog about my experience, my first instinct was to say “no”. I am the kind of woman that makes fun of people that go on retreats to “find themselves”. My idea of “finding myself” is more of the Eat, Pray, Love Hollywood version of healing. I dream of going on a solo trip to Europe, eating and drinking my way through Italy, most definitely meeting a Javier Bardem look alike, falling in love, and healing my broken heart the Julia Roberts way. Because that is SO realistic, right? RIGHT?
In December 2021 I went through a painful breakup that set my “healing journey” in motion. I really dislike the phrase “healing journey” by the way. It’s as if I will reach a magical destination where I no longer feel pain. Either way, I decided to try to work on myself so that I could emotionally and spiritually get into an improved headspace. After a few failed romantic relationships I started to realize that I could be the problem. That was fun (sarcasm). I started reading all the self help books. I would call my best friend at 9 pm and ugly cry because I came to a stunning realization that I was, in fact, codependent (Sorry, Alyssa). I joined kickboxing so I could start punching things instead of crying on my couch and mindlessly watching tiktoks to disassociate from the pain. Through this process I met new friends, jump-started the healing process, and then Finding Peace found me.
I once attended a spiritual retreat with a church I was attending and was completely out of my comfort zone. There is just something about camp-culture that tells me to RUN. I had flashbacks of drawn-out lectures and singing….so much singing. And hugging. I am an affectionate woman, but I left that retreat never wanting to hug or sing again in my life. It was a 12-step program for Christianity, and as much as I appreciate what they were trying to do, I just could not buy into it. I call myself skeptical…my friend Jonathan says I am cynical. I claim to be “open-minded”, so I continued to ask myself “why I am feeling an overwhelming sense of anxiety about opening myself up to a new experience that could potentially aid in my healing”?
The two weeks leading up to the Finding Peace retreat, I found myself attempting to rationalize reasons to avoid attending. I did my research on the retreat, and knew that attending would mean participating in activities where I would have to be vulnerable. Vulnerability….ew. I don’t mind being vulnerable with the people closest to me…all three of them. But the idea of sharing intimate details of my life to overcome attachment wounds just doesn’t sound like a good time.
I brought myself back to my initial self-help book, ugly-crying on the phone with my best friend-realization. I have codependent tendencies, failed relationships, and a deep desire and motivation to heal. I knew I had to go, and so I went.
Me and my emotional support blanket
A few years ago my supervisor at work gifted me a blanket for Christmas. The blanket is soft, warm, and has baby sloths holding coffee cups, and it is one of my favorite possessions. This blanket has gone with me on business trips, has seen me through every breakup since my divorce, and sits at the foot of my sectional awaiting my next meltdown. So many days and nights crying on my couch, and baby sloth blanket was right there with me. If it could speak, I am sure it would tell me to get my butt up and go to a retreat to find some peace.
Without giving too many details away, I want to thoroughly explain what this retreat is, what my experience was, what I learned, and how it has contributed to my personal healing. For those reading this that are considering attending, I don’t want this to intimidate you. This is my experience. Your experience will be completely your own, and will be dependent on your level of participation and where you are at on your “journey”. I also do not want to give any details on the activities, so that you can be just as surprised and delighted as I was throughout my time there.
Prescott, Arizona is beautiful, and the Prescott Pines campgrounds are inviting. There is a sense of calm and peace, and there is just something about being immersed in nature that speaks to me. I have always been one to connect with nature, something I probably inherited from my father. We arrived around 3:00 pm, checked in, and the activities began at 5:00. Day One was a piece of cake. There were games, introductions, and the foundation of the Finding Peace workbook was laid by the facilitators. I met my three roommates, which also formed my “pod”. Your pod is comprised of the people you mainly participate and partner with throughout the retreat. We nicknamed our group the “pod squad”. While there are many activities for the entire group, your pod stays with you throughout the retreat. Your pod is your support system, your confidants, and for me, also my roommates. This was coincidental, yet, I believe also divine. My pod was everything.
By the evening of day two, my head was covered by my hoodie, I was wrapped in my emotional support baby sloth blanket, walking around in fuzzy socks, pajamas, and my daughter’s Champion slides. I looked like I had just checked into a mental hospital. I was Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook. I was coming face-to-face with some deep-rooted wounds of my past. Wounds that I didn’t even know were affecting me in my day-to-day life. Wounds that I absolutely did not want to address, but there I was, addressing them. For me, it felt messy, yet necessary. I was all in. I would look around….some people were crying, some dancing, some reading, some talking, some hugging. But one thing we were all doing was….processing.
We took frequent breaks, and were given alone time. While some choose to socialize, go on walks, and meditate, I chose to go to my bunk bed and hide under the covers and ask myself what the hell I was doing. I am a strong, independent woman that has handled everything that has been thrown at me. My parents’ divorce, my own divorce, the death of my father, failed relationships. Why was I being SO EMOTIONAL? I was beating myself up for being….vulnerable. I did not want people to see this “weak” side of me. I have told myself since the age of 15 years old that the only person I can count on in this world is me. I tuck away this pain and only allow it to surface when I am alone. There was a time in my life when I worked two jobs to support my children while attending college full time. If I could handle that, why couldn’t I handle this?
The girl that knows she’s not good enough.
If I had to describe how I felt about myself as a child, I would use words such as “inadequate, mediocre, and talentless”. Let me preface this with the fact that I place no blame on my parents for my lack of self esteem as a child. But this is the truth. I felt as though I always paled in comparison to my older sister. The smart one. The beautiful one. I felt invisible. This could be a classic case of “middle child syndrome”…who knows? I do know that my parents love me and did not purposely favor my sister. But somewhere inside of me lies a false core belief that I am not good enough, that my existence on this earth will be a perpetual cycle of wondering why I cannot be more like her.
When I was 15 years old I was absolutely in love with a boy named Brad. We dated for 4 months, which is, like, five years in adult dating time. My best friend at the time called me one afternoon and told me that Brad was breaking up with me. Total devastation. The day after our breakup, my phone rang. I saw his number on my caller ID, and felt excitement and hope rush through my body. I just knew he was calling to tell me he made a mistake and still loved me. I answered the phone and he asked to speak to my sister. I felt so confused, but I went into my sister’s room and told her that Brad was on the phone. Minutes later, she walked into my room, arms crossed in front of chest, leaning against my dresser. Her exact words to me were “You know, Mary Helen. It is not my fault or Brad’s fault that I am more mature than you. I wear makeup, fix my hair, and we are the same age. We have a lot in common. You are going to have to get over it”. Smug. Condescending. Careless with her words. I was confused. What is she saying? It wasn’t until that evening that Brad picked her up for a date that I realized what had happened. Brad broke up with me to date my sister. Inadequacy. Mediocrity. Worthlessness. Fear. Sadness. Anger. Embarrassment. SHAME.
It wasn’t more than 6-8 months after this incident that my parents chose to end their marriage. I was told I had to start working because my father left me. The responsibility of caring for myself was left up to me, because my father “didn’t want to do it anymore”. I was told “Never depend on a man”….just in case he decides after 23 years of marriage to leave. “I guess he just didn’t want to be a dad anymore” were the words that were repeated over…and over..and over. And those words stuck. That was my truth. I didn’t want any of my friends to know what was going on at home, but they could see me. They would see me rush home after school because I only had 15 minutes to get to my job. I would see my friends and schoolmates shopping at the grocery store on the weekend with their parents while I was working. My teachers would make remarks about how tired I looked in class, not knowing that I worked until 10:00 pm the night before, and stayed up until midnight to get my homework done. Humiliation. Inadequacy. Mediocrity. Worthlessness. Fear. Sadness. Anger. Embarrassment. SHAME.
The girl that made a choice
Finding Peace has given a name to my pain. It is a process for identifying our attachment wounds, our negative core beliefs, the feelings associated with those beliefs, and the inevitable feelings of shame felt when the wound is activated. Shame shadows are like defense mechanisms designed to protect us from future pain. They are the lies we tell ourselves to avoid situations that mirror past disappointments.
My own rejection and abandonment wounds were triggered in December 2021 when my then boyfriend and I broke up just four days before Christmas. Let me tell you, I was IN LOVE with this man. This one hurt. I was that 15 year old all over again. This breakup was a reminder that every man in my life has rejected and abandoned me at some point. Every negative core belief I felt about myself instantly came to the surface. My shame felt nearly unbearable. Feelings of anger, sadness, and fear completely overwhelmed me. At first, I hid and attempted to disassociate from the pain. (sound familiar?) I went to work, came home, and sat on my couch, crying my eyes out, asking myself “why does every man that I Iove leave”? Am I that unloveable? Am I so flawed that I do not deserve a love that is permanent?
The worst part of this particular break up was the fact that I felt…ashamed. How could I let this happen? How did I allow this man to come into myself and make me “messy”? Christmas morning I was laying on the floor of my mom’s spare bedroom, crying my eyes out on the phone with Alyssa. Christmas was ruined. I failed in ANOTHER relationship and allowed another man to break my heart. It didn’t take long for my self-pity to dissolve and for my ego to appear. I reminded myself that I am a strong, independent woman that does not need love and cannot depend on anyone in the first place. Are you seeing a trend?
All of these behaviors and coping mechanisms boil down to shame. The victim mentality. The self-pity. The ego. They all co-exist in my mind to protect me from FUTURE pain. If I continue to isolate myself, tell myself I don’t need anyone, and wear this continuous “strong independent woman” mask, I will never have to feel like that 15 year old girl ever again. But what do these behaviors really do? They continue to isolate me from the one thing I desire more than anything in this world….to be loved and accepted for who I am at my very core. The desire for human connection.
So now that you have read about my existential crisis, let’s talk about what this means. Really, what all of this comes down to is a choice. I can choose to continue doing things the way I have always done them, which obviously has not worked in my favor. I can continue telling myself that I am not good enough. I can continue saying “no” to new opportunities, and hiding on my couch with my emotional support blanket to avoid ever being hurt. Or, I can choose to step into my new truth. And what is my new truth? I am open to receiving the love that I give to others. I deserve love. Not just romantic love – all love. I am worthy of respect, love, and all the desires of my heart. Adequacy. Excellence. Hope. Excitement. Happiness. Laughter. Love. TRUST.
The girl that goes on retreats
I could sit here and write a book about every activity, every meditation, the breathwork, my pod squad, and everything in between. While all of those things are essential to the Finding Peace retreat, I don’t think giving every detail is going to inspire the people in my life to attend in pursuit of their own peace. What is going to inspire people, is knowing that the only reason Finding Peace exists is because Troy Love….loves. Troy loves BIG. His love is so big that he wrote an entire book to help other people find peace. Finding Peace evolved into a retreat, and that retreat convinced this skeptical, analytical, cynical, avoidant woman that it is okay to love again.
You know that other retreat I went on? It had an agenda. Make me a better Christian, right? I will give more time, more energy, and more money to the church. I couldn’t buy into it because it felt disingenuous. Troy Love has no agenda, except to help us all live more peaceful, abundant, and happy lives. His agenda is to heal our hearts, our minds, and to learn to love ourselves, wounds and all. You know all that hugging…and singing? I came home from Finding Peace MISSING the hugging. The affection. The dancing. The togetherness of it all. Because it was real.
Our wounds aren’t something to be ashamed of. We all have them. Pain is inevitable. I have said for years that my trauma has made me funny, but the truth is, my trauma and pain have made me who I am. A 39 year-old strong, independent woman, who desires human connection and companionship, and is finally not afraid to open herself up to it. Vulnerability is beautiful. Writing this blog is a testament to the work that I have done on myself at this retreat. There is nothing more vulnerable than sharing this with all of you.
I no longer feel ashamed to admit that I do not want to be alone. I no longer feel ashamed that my ex-romantic partners have hurt me. Their actions are a reflection of them, and I no longer need to blame myself for someone else’s behavior. Will there be more breakups? Probably. Will my baby sloth blanket and best friend Alyssa be there for it? Absolutely. But now, I have the Finding Peace tools to help me process all of it. I have my pod squad to walk me through my pain, identify my negative core beliefs, and help tell my shame shadows to SHUT UP.
If I could describe Finding Peace in one word, it would be transformative. I have formed new connections and friendships with my fellow retreat attendees. We stay in contact almost daily, and I am now a member of a Finding Peace book club. We meet weekly via ZOOM to stay engaged and offer support to one another. I am more vulnerable, honest, and show more grace to others and myself. I have a new-found awareness of the behaviors of the people around me. Knowing that we are all walking around with attachment wounds is enough to make me forgive every single person that has hurt me in the past. I am no longer a victim. I am not that 15 year old girl anymore. Adequacy. Excellence. Hope. Excitement. Happiness. Laughter. Love. TRUST.
Healing is not linear, this I know. There is not a destination you arrive at where the pain is suddenly diminished and you know how to meditate and the birds are singing and life is perfect and Javier Bardem shows up on your doorstep. Finding Peace goes far beyond a 4 ½ day retreat in the woods of Prescott, Arizona. It takes consistency. Determination. Focus. Discipline. Finding Peace is a beautiful, sometimes messy, but effective process for moving beyond our shame. When I started my healing process on my own many months ago, Finding Peace found me. My heart is healing, forgiveness and grace are overflowing. I am inspired, and I am living my new truth. I hope that one day, you can do that, too. I promise you, this is SO much better than the Julia Roberts Hollywood version of healing, anyway. Why? Because this is real life. You are a real person. And you deserve peace, too.
Mary Douglass, Contributing Blogger