Annette’s Retreat Yourself BC recap

October 1, 2014

By Annette Reilly

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I sat in the opening circle, filled with nerves. It was about to start. This weekend of talking about the worst part of my life. I was shifty, tired, unfocused. I didn’t want to be in that seat. The discussion card moved around the circle as each of us shared a brief version of our story. By the time we finished, I was emotionally exhausted. I could have gone to a corner and bawled my eyes out for an eternity. So much pain, hurt, frustration, suffering. Years of it. You could feel it in the room, thick in the air; a looming cloud overheard threatening to release a downpour of tears. But we all made it through. It was heavy and intense, but there was also great hope and resilience, calm and joy. More than any other room I’d ever been in. A room full of quiet warriors; none of whom would ever admit their courage. We were all simply doing our best to survive. I couldn’t help thinking as I looked around the room, “This weekend will be an amazing journey.”

I am a 33-year-old mother of a beautiful daughter, an actor, a director, a filmmaker, and a cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with stage 3b colon cancer in late 2011 when my daughter was not quite 18 months old. After surgeries and chemo, I was declared in remission and thankfully have stayed in that state since. I’ve been wanting to go on a retreat because I could sense an inner turmoil after my experience and really wanted to get back to myself and figure out who I had transformed into through my journey.  I thought a weekend away from my life would help me do just that.

We were kept fairly busy throughout the weekend with several small and large group chats, presentations, and arts and crafts.  And those were just the scheduled activities! We also had the opportunity to do healing Therapeutic Touch sessions, Yoga, swimming, camp fires, nature walks (or runs!), basketball, lawn games, or simply relax in our room or on the grounds. I took advantage of the decent weather to go running in the morning, something that I don’t do enough. I loved the Therapeutic Touch. It had been a while since I had last felt that deep of relaxation, my body almost didn’t know what to do with itself. The Yoga was extremely awakening and felt so incredibly good. The next day, when I could feel my sore muscles before I even rolled out of bed, I still felt amazing and well rested from the opportunity of relaxation I was given the previous day. Essentially, the weekend for me become about taking care of myself and doing things for myself that I had either forgotten that I could do or just didn’t have the time in my day to day life.

The weekend ended up being just as I had thought that first night. Amazing. We slowly started to get to know each other and one anothers’ stories. There were many different details, but our stories all somehow seemed the same. We understood each other in a way that no one could understand unless they had been diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t realize how isolated I had felt in my life since my diagnosis until I went on this retreat. I looked around and realized that I wasn’t the “cancer girl.” No one looked at me with pity. No one judged me when I needed to go lay down for a bit. They got me. They understood.

It was so incredibly freeing. We could laugh about things that some people would find disturbing to laugh at. There were many tears of pain throughout the weekend, but so many of joy as well. In fact, there was a heightened feeling of joy whenever we were together. Perhaps that is something we have all learned through our experience. We have felt so much sorrow, but that has opened our hearts to being able to feel great joy as well. What a gift!

When I look back on the retreat, I can’t help but smile as I think of all the amazing people I had the pleasure of meeting. I am incredibly grateful for the caring, supportive, non-judgmental, and just generally awesome friends that I have made. The facilitators and supporters were so open, kind, and gentle with us all. I never would have expected a group of complete strangers to feel as close as we did by the end of only a few days together. By the end, I was feeling so open, so able to connect and focus. I was content and was able to just be present in every situation. It was a joy and honour to spend a portion of my life and share a piece of my heart with these people.

I would highly recommend getting out to a YACC retreat, even if you have your doubts or if someone has to drag you kicking and screaming. It will be worth it.

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