About 10 years ago, on a late Friday afternoon, after a long day of work, and a long week of life as a working mom with two small (at the time 5 and 2), I wearily drove myself out to Lumsden to attend a my first in-person overnight retreat, at a beautiful retreat space in the Qu’Appelle Valley.
It was all I could do to not burst into tears as I checked in with the assistant who was helping run the retreat, assign rooms and hand out keys.
With a choked voice, barely holding back my fragility, I asked him if it would be ok if I skipped the first session, hoping to get some extra time all alone in my room. I knew I could not interact with anyone in those first few hours, I was just so depleted from life. And if I did, I would either be snappy and irritated, phony and forcing myself to be upbeat and cheery, or just a blubbering mess.
I stumbled over the threshold of my simple and humble room, collapsed onto the small twin bed, felt grateful for the unadorned nature of this basic room. Desk, chair, bed, beside table and table lamp. A shelf and a few hooks for clothing. A stand for a suitcase. An adjoining small private bathroom. Nothing but the basics. And everything I needed.
You see, I was so exhausted from working so hard. Trying to please everyone: my at the time husband, my kids, my friends, my patients, my staff, my community. I thought I engaged in self-care, I exercised every day. It really was the only way I maintained my mood and sanity through all the busyness, I am sure. And I am grateful and proud that I had this strategy. I also ate well, for the most part. Nourishing smoothies and salads. But not always enough.
I have since come up with a simple equation for health.
Health = Deposits > Withdrawals.
And it really is that simple. We can regain, and sustain health provided we constantly have more deposits going into our health ‘account’ than we have withdrawals being made. Our system can only handle so much.
For me I was making some really great deposits back then: movement, nature and nutrition. They kept me going for sure. However I wasn’t as good at getting the “soul care” time that I have since learned is also vital for my well-being.
The quiet times, the naps, meditation, breath work, collapsing into tears, asking for help, letting someone else take care of something! anything!… taking off my super-heroine cape of “doing”, and being all things to everyone.
When I collapsed onto this small simple bed, in this small simple room, I vowed to do more collapsing in my life. Setting it all down, so I wouldn’t be so exhausted from retreat to retreat (as I simultaneously vowed to do this again within the year!! within an hour of being away from my life, I already felt a million times better!).
I vowed to refill my bucket more often, doing things that gave me great joy and were also nourishing. Simple things, like a nap in the sun; resting with a cup of tea in the mid-afternoon; having a good cry on a good friend’s shoulder; more time in the bathtub.
I realized that so many of what I did I could argue did bring me joy: taking my kids to the park; doing crafts with them; sitting with patients; going for a run; hosting a workshop… which is incredible to live life doing things that one loved!
However I also needed to appreciate that all of these things TAKE energy, and were for others as much as they were for me (aside from the run).
I also needed to appreciate that not everything I did brought me joy all the time.
If my intentions were ‘off’ and I was coming from a place of martyrdom, vs. service, I would be more depleted, as I was likely falling into a people-pleasing, tending to others at my own expense sort of patterning.
These lines are all so fine, and it is not always easy to determine where we are leading from when we are taking action. Hence another reason why my soul-time, particularly spent journaling, in meditation or in prayer is so helpful.
It helps me distinguish the subtle differences.
In any case, this retreat provided me with such an opportunity for clarity, renewal, connection, sleep, rest, insight, safety, and feeling heard/ held and loved.
I left feeling so restored, lighter, more connected to my Soul Self than I had felt for a long, long time. And that was only two night away!
I missed my family, but in a different way, a less responsible and guilt-ridden way.. more in a simply missing them way.
I made some commitments to myself to maintain several of the practices I had connected with over the weekend, in order to fill my buckets on a daily and weekly basis.
And so it was, my journey to shifting the balance on my own deposits/ vs withdrawals, and it didn’t take long, a few years, of attending retreats as a participant, before I felt resourced enough to consider actually holding space and offering my own.
I knew the gift that all of the retreat leaders I had had the pleasure of connecting with had given me: comfort, safety, compassion, and the opportunity for renewal and awareness.
It became my honour and pleasure to hold space for others when I started leading my own retreats in 2015. I have since hosted dozens of women on multiple occasions, and have been witness to some incredible transformation, in only days. One woman truthfully, unbeknownst to me at the start of the retreat, had been actively making plans to end her life, as life all felt way too much for her, came on the retreat as it was paid for by someone else and guilt wouldn’t let her cancel – and thank God it didn’t – as by the end she was hopeful, reinspired, she had found her laughter again, her lightheartedness, her ability to connect with others and be held.
Stories like that are numerous, and are oxygen that fans my flames of wanting to create these opportunities that can save so many of us.
I know my first retreat did that for me, I was on a fast track to burnout before falling into that weekend.
As such, I remain committed to hosting regular retreats in convenient, close-to-home locations so they are affordable, and accessible, and women just like myself can take advantage of the restorative opportunities to be with like-minded and like-hearted individuals, finding themselves again.
If you are a healthcare professional, or someone working in a helping profession of any sort, you know what it is like to pour forth your energies onto others, and perhaps it is time to be on the receiving end of healing energies for an entire weekend!
If this resonates with you, do consider checking out my upcoming retreat:
To be held in Canmore Alberta this October, from the 20 – 22nd. Myself and three colleagues are hosting this event, the second annual such gathering, and we hope you can join us!