I was assisting Aryn Sylvester in a homeschool co-op when she brought up Restore Dignity. Their mission peaked my interest. At first, I thought maybe I could volunteer in some way to help others.
When I first heard about Grief to Grace, I didn’t think I fell into the category of people who could benefit from the retreat. I didn’t believe that the abuse from my childhood had affected me as much as it really did. It wasn’t until I was encouraged to write a timeline of my life that I could see clearly that I needed to address my past. By this time, after years of suffering, I was also very willing to try whatever it took to get the help I needed.
Before coming on the first Grief to Grace retreat in Phoenix, I had been in cognitive therapy counseling for about 5 years. I appreciate the time I spent with my counselor because she helped me gain a proper perspective on the things with which I was struggling. I believe those years were needed since they laid the groundwork necessary to look at and work through my past. However, cognitive therapy didn’t heal the underlying issues; it only helped me cope with the symptoms.
The most powerful memory for me during the retreat was writing a letter to myself as a child – the child who survived. It touched me so profoundly, so deeply, that I felt a tenderness towards myself I had never experienced before. I realized all these years that I had been rejecting this little girl, myself, over things that were not my fault.
Almost everyone, with a couple exceptions, seemed very self-aware and confident about the abuse they had endured. This was not the case for me. I was still unsure what exactly was causing my symptoms. During one of the first exercises, I learned that there was never a point in my life when I didn’t feel some effect of abuse. When asked to draw a picture of myself before the abuse, nothing was coming to me, even drawing a baby didn’t seem like it fit. That’s why I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what had happened because abuse had plagued my life from the very beginning to the point that it seemed normal. When writing my letter to myself as a child, I learned that all my negative behaviors and feelings were stemming from abuse and that it was not my fault. Even subsequent negative behaviors in adolescence and adulthood could be tied back to the abuse. This was the fabric that allowed me to forgive and accept myself. Huge walls were torn down that would later allow me to grieve.
The fact that this was a Catholic Christian retreat had a profound impact. We had Mass every day, Confession, Adoration, and Anointing of the Sick. There were priests and religious sisters on the retreat. The Catholic teaching regarding suffering is unique and gave me the proper framework to make sense of who I am. As Christians, we are called to enter fully into our suffering, being completely real and authentic, and finding the truth of who we are in the midst of it all. In the midst of working through our suffering, we can untangle the lies and find the Source of our hope and our joy. Aside from that, because this was a Catholic retreat, it allowed me to feel more comfortable and more vulnerable. Having Mass every day showered the experience with grace. Confession and Anointing of the Sick also imparted healing, where without those, may have been incomplete.
So You Know that You Should Attend the Retreat, But It’s Difficult to Say “Yes”…
That’s completely understandable. With the length and cost of the retreat, I can clearly see how that might be a deterrent. Even just the fear of the unknown can cause us to hesitate. Many people who have suffered abuse have similar symptoms. If that’s the case, then I know that many of you reading this, wondering if this retreat is right for you, have spent way more than 6 days of your life suffering from the consequences and the symptoms of abuse. You may have even spent more than the cost of the retreat on self-help books, talk therapy, addictions, etc. Every person who is in a relationship with someone who has been abused is also directly and indirectly affected. The brain patterns and cycles that abuse creates in our lives are not something that is easily broken and never something we can do on our own. The Grief to Grace program offers us what we need in order to break through the walls, the patterns, the lies, the shame… to uncover the gift that you are, the gift you were made to be. We owe it to ourselves and our families to receive the gift of healing that God is eagerly waiting to give. This retreat puts it all in one place, so all we have to do is show up and say, “Yes, Lord”.