Please help us welcome Erin W. who will be writing for and managing our She Recovers blog. She is amazing. Read on and see for yourself. ~Dawn~
It started with Baby #1.
I like a routine; a schedule. And I read that babies do, too. So every night at 6:30 p.m. I bathed him in Johnson & Johnson’s lavender foaming soap, toweled him off, placed him in footed pajamas and headed down to the kitchen.
I prepared our nightcaps while holding him, carefully balancing his body and my bottle of Chardonnay. By 7 p.m. we settled onto the couch with reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Baby with his bottle, me with my glass, Buffy with her Big Bad.
You know how this goes. You know what happened next.
Routine became habit. Habit became dependency. Dependency became addiction.
It took a decade, but it definitely took.
The baby became a teenager. Buffy became The Crown. And still I sat on my couch, glass in hand. I shocked myself with my inability to get a handle on it.
I must have looked at the retreat page on the She Recovers website dozens of times. Reasons not to go: time away, money, fear of people, fear of looking too closely at myself. Reasons to go: I can’t stop wanting sobriety. I can’t stop needing clarity. I can’t stop drinking.
Last spring, after yet another night of broken promises to myself, I booked a spot at the Salt Spring Island retreat. I did this and did not overthink it. I did this and surprised myself. I did this and went back to the couch.
The first thing that happens after you book a She Recovers retreat is you get a very warm email welcome from Dawn Nickel, founder of She Recovers and the mother/aunt/sister/friend you’ve been looking for. The second thing that happens is, if you have a Facebook account, you receive an invite to the secret She Recovers retreat group. The community you find there will finally make Facebook worth your time.
A few weeks before the retreat, She Recovers sent me a “What to Expect” informational packet. Along with the daily schedule and a list of what to bring/not to bring was the Retreat Intention Questionnaire. I had seen this type of thing before and had always quickly discounted the importance of “setting my intentions.” But not this time. I filled that bitch out. The entire thing. Every single question in Calibri red bold.
I was not fucking around.
Canadians really are as nice as you’ve heard. Victoria, British Columbia, is gorgeous. Salt Spring Island is magical.
The farm where the retreat was held reminded me of a Napa Valley vineyard I visited years ago. (Apologies for this limited frame of reference.) Lush and green with flowers everywhere, the farm is run as a cooperative, primarily by women who are raising their families there. You want to meet them. I want to be them.
Liz is a kayak-tour-guide-turned-farmer whose love for her land is contagious. Haidee is the genius behind the retreat menu, which is almost entirely local, wholly delicious and beautifully accommodating to various diets.
We arrived at the farm in various states of awkwardness. (Many of us later admitted to last minute doubts and thoughts of “what was I thinking?”) We were each different and we were each exactly the same.
We wore tee-shirts and jeans, faded khakis and loose blouses, yoga pants and workout tops. We were all sizes. We had chipped nails and perfect pedicures. We had no children and we had grandchildren. We were young and middle aged and graying.
Our shared commonalities were honesty and openness. Over the course of the next four days, I was continually stunned by how those two ingredients created instant connection and friendship. We expressed our struggles to one another without shame: addiction, grief, trauma, loss, loneliness. Throw in some of Haidee’s gluten-free dark chocolate chip and lavender cookies, and my entire world cracked open.
Each day was loosely structured around two yoga classes, which took place in a large, light-filled studio. Taryn Strong, Dawn’s She Recovers partner and daughter, wrapped her long red hair in a loose bun and gently led us back to ourselves. Her classes were unlike anything I had ever encountered, inside or outside of a yoga studio. It was yoga mixed with music and poetry and essays and visualizations – all infused with the feminine.
I came to love my yoga mat like I love my bed at home. I stared up at the high, high studio ceiling made of clean wooden slats and thought of … nothing. I was wide open. I don’t know what day it was or if it was the morning or afternoon session, but somewhere right in the middle of one of Taryn’s classes I received what I had come for. The other women did, too. Our arms were up. Our arms were out. We threw down our struggles and let them go. Again and again and again and again.
We moved to child’s pose and I heard tears hitting yoga mats all around me. “Raise your fingers if you need a tissue,” Taryn said. I raised my hand.
The vulnerability was palpable, a little unnerving and a physical relief. Something had shifted. I felt very raw and tender after that class and it left me wanting to speak in soft tones to the other women, who now seemed like dear, heart friends.
Dear, heart friends. I thought back to my retreat intention questionnaire where I had written: “Cement my sobriety through relationships. Make a sober friend or two to help keep me accountable.”
This was my stated intention and this was the gift She Recovers gave to me. I would not have to do this alone. In the months to come these women – these new, dear, heart friends – would save me. They would call me and message me and meet me. They were not going to let me go back to my couch. The shifting I had felt was a new/old/fragile space opening within me. These heart friends had helped me find that opening and now they are helping me find the courage to widen and grow into it.
There is uncertainty and fear and hope and dreams in this new space. And the couch is always there; a Big Bad that is never quite dead. But for me, the She Recovers retreat was a gateway. A gateway to recovery. A gateway to all the things I’ve been waiting for.
A gateway back to myself.
Erin W. lives in Virginia where she has been working on and blogging about recovery since 2013. After years of trying to do recovery alone, she discovered the beauty of connection and friendship through She Recovers in 2017.
Erin is the new managing editor and primary contributor for the She Recovers blog.