Today, I am blogging from the friendly skies – on a flight from Connecticut to DC and then on to Phoenix with a final destination of San Luis Obispo, California. While it will be a long day (week!) of travel, it has been worth every moment as I am coming off of one of those “life-changing” experiences that I wish for everyone. I am thankful for today’s travel time and I plan to make the most of it by reflecting on and absorbing how much the past few days has enriched my life.
I grew up without my biological mother in my life. Her brief and sporadic appearances throughout my childhood never left warm and fuzzy feelings but instead left me feeling confused, scared and saddened. Most likely due to my own early experiences, my greatest fear in life was the mere thought of becoming a mother. That all changed (thankfully) at the age of 30 when I discovered that I was pregnant with my first child. For my entire childhood, it was my dad and I. There were many periods of time when others became part of the picture like my early years when my grandmother and Aunt Bev helped to raise me (age 0-2 years) or when my father remarried (age 2- 9) and then the times when his girlfriends lived with us. Aside from the stable role that my Aunt has played in my life since day one, female relationships have not proven to be longstanding sources of strength or guidance for me. In fact, female relationships are something that often feels forced and unnatural to me which may explain why most of my very best friends have always been men.
Several years ago, I read Lundy Bancroft’s book, “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men” and that book showed me that my relationship with Seth was incredibly abusive despite the fact that my relationship lacked physical abuse which is the standard that society seems to cling to. After reading the book, I felt validated and clear. I felt as though Lundy had secretly crawled into my home, installed a hidden camera and then wrote about my life. I was riveted as Lundy broke down the different personality types of abusive men such as “Mr. Right” and “The Water Torturer.” I remember sending him an email to thank him for his work – I did not need a reply back…I simply wanted him to know that his words had an impact on my life and my path to healing.
Each year, Lundy holds a retreat and each year since reading his book, I have received notifications of the retreat. A variety of factors have prevented my attendance at the retreats in the past however, this year when the notification came through, I jumped at the opportunity and filled out the application at record speed. Because enrollment for the retreat was limited to 20 people and registration was done by mail, I drove my registration form straight to the post office. Then, I decided to bypass the anxiety that would normally come while waiting to be notified if I was “in” and I bought a plane ticket! Something just felt right about this and I knew that this was the year I needed to be at “The Life That Awaits You” retreat. (Thankfully, the notification came a few weeks later!)
As the calendar pages were flipped and the retreat was fast approaching, I began to panic a bit. I was so far along in my healing – was I going to take a spot that someone else really needed? What if I were the only one who had not endured physical abuse in past relationships? What if I didn’t fit in with the other women? Coming off a recent experience with a female friendship that completely knocked the wind out of me; you could say I was feeling anxious about being at a retreat so far away from home….with a bunch of women. Deep breath. It’s only 2 days I reminded myself repeatedly.
I arrived in Connecticut a day early and a group text message ensued between four of the women who were attending the retreat. After a series of text messages, I could tell that I was going to fit right in with this group. I met up with one of the attendees for a glass of wine the night before the retreat and felt even more at ease. The next day, I made the 90-minute commute to the retreat with four women who will now hold a place in my heart for life…and that was just the beginning of the weekend.
The retreat was held in Plainfield, Massachusetts – a gorgeous, snow-covered area which was quite a ways off the beaten path and the perfect spot for bonds to form and for broken hearts and tattered souls to heal. Everyone was there for the same reason regardless of the form of abuse they endured, duration of abuse or the severity of abuse. Everyone was united by an experience that only someone who has endured abuse can understand – there was power and comfort in knowing that everyone was there for the same reason. Within minutes of entering the retreat, I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
I express myself best by using words however; I am left with few words that could properly describe how healing and powerful this retreat was for me…and for the women who surrounded me. There was deep laughter and deep tears – all of the emotions, good and bad were healing in their own right. There were unbreakable bonds formed and lifelong memories made. For me, the realness and rawness of the experience was intense. Everyone showed up and was present in the moment. They were all open and willing. There was no judgment – only love. These women were inspiring regardless of where they were on their journey – from those who were just leaving an abusive relationship to those who had 10 years of healing under their belt. These women came together through unfortunate circumstances and supported each other 100%. They listened. They comforted. They all worked together to heal.
As we pulled away from the retreat and made our way to the airport, I noticed that it was International Women’s Day. I now understand the importance of bonding with incredible women and my life is so much richer for this experience. I came to the retreat to work through some lingering issues from the past and while my goal was accomplished, I left with so much more than I ever imagined. I am forever thankful to Lundy Bancroft for what he has done and what he continues to do in this world. I truly believe that he is an angel among us. While gratitude is a daily practice for me, the gratitude that I feel today is circulating through every cell in my body. Thank you, Lundy…for all you do.
Seeking insight, encouragement and advice while divorcing a narcissist? Tina Swithin’s books, “Divorcing a Narcissist: One Mom’s Battle” and her new book “Divorcing a Narcissist: Advice from the Battlefield” are available on Amazon or through Barnes & Noble. Learn how to set boundaries, navigate your way through the divorce and see the narcissist for who he/she really is. You will learn to forgive yourself and you will begin to heal.