My name is Mary Anne S. and I attended the first Phoenix Grief to Grace retreat in 2015.
I had been suffering for over 40 years with the after-effects of long-term childhood physical, sexual, and ritual abuse, such as: depression, guilt, shame, anxiety, sadness, grief, suicide attempts, low self-esteem, promiscuity, failed relationships, multiple phobias, flashbacks, and nightmares.
Although I had been in out-patient and in-patient individual and group therapy treatment programs for many of those years, I was still hurting deeply. Throughout all my therapy, no one ever addressed the spiritual side of the healing process.
I heard about the retreat through a Rachel’s Vineyard newsletter. Then I went on the Internet to the Grief to Grace website to get more information. I quickly discovered this was the exact retreat for which I had been searching.
I didn’t know what to expect on the retreat. I was anxious about opening up deep wounds and fearful of what trauma might surface. However, I knew that the Grief to Grace retreat was a spiritual process deeply rooted in my Catholic faith, so I was hopeful that God would be working a miracle in me during that time.
Before attending the retreat, I had support. My support system was my individual psychotherapist, who just happens to be a Catholic; my husband, who does not understand everything I’m going through, but is very supportive of the work I’m doing to get whole; and my sisters who are survivors too. I also had a group of women from my church who were praying for my healing every day of the retreat. All of this support created a hedge of protection around me during the retreat and continued to be a great support system afterward.
There was one point on the retreat that changed everything. The exercise “Breaking Soul Ties.” It was a process of releasing my connection to things and people of the past that kept me tied to feelings such as bitterness and anger, past hurts, and a preoccupation with negative thoughts. The soul ties needed to be broken so I could hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. I named all the ties I could think of from my past, asked God’s forgiveness from having created those ties, and through Christ, claimed that the soul ties no longer had a right to control me. God really did a work in me during that process—totally freeing.
I experienced tremendous freedom in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and power in the sacrifice of the Mass. I also realized that God has been with me all along my journey and was just waiting for this retreat time when I would be open to receive his healing graces.
The Catholic perspective of the retreat made all the difference. Jesus is the Divine Physician. Who better to treat me than my Lord who knows all about suffering? Who better to heal me than the God of Miracles? And Grief to Grace was exactly the safe place I needed to open up about the ritual abuse I experienced as a child.
What advice would you give to people who know they should attend the retreat, but it’s hard to make the commitment?
My heartfelt advice is to not wait any longer. Make your recovery a priority. Set everything else aside and go. It will be the fresh start you desire and the transformation you hunger for. Although there may still be some work you’ll want to continue after the retreat with an individual therapist, you will have the firm foundation you need to continue the healing process.