The Retreat

I saw my doctor Friday morning for a sick note and left with a prescription for antidepressants and a heavy heart. I didn’t want to go to the retreat. I didn’t want to talk to anyone let alone strangers. ‘What if they’re a bunch of weirdos?’ I said to my daughter J. ‘Well you’ll fit right in then’ she replied. I was anxious about leaving C and J for the weekend. We had had our first family meeting Thursday night. It hadn’t gone well and part of me wanted to be here to do what I do; try to keep everyone happy. The knowledge that C wanted me to go and that how things are was beginning to impact on him got me out the door. On the way there if I’d hit traffic I’ve no doubt I would have turned round but I didn’t and I arrived. It was held at a homely country house in Warwickshire near where my mum and grandmother grew up. The area holds a lot of family history for me and I could sense that ancestral familiarity around me.

Of course no one was weird at all. A group of mainly middle aged women looking for some peace of mind in this crazy world we live in. We all gathered around the table in the conservatory and Rina, ( who led the retreat asked us to say a little about why we had come. I’d not intended to share too much but I had to go first. I burst into tears saying I was overwhelmed with loss and grief and couldn’t do my job. I was met with warmth, compassion and love. As we did the first yoga session that evening my body was resistive and sore; my mind distracted by physical discomforts. I went to bed early and slept lightly as my mind continued to spin.

The weekend was also a cleanse so we ate delicious organic vegetarian food, and Rina shared her wisdom in her very down to earth, very real no nonsense style. As my resistance started to lessen I set my intention for the weekend. I started with acceptance and then changed it to spiritual guidance. To reconnect with yoga to help me make the decisions I need to make. Rina spoke of self compassion and letting go. Also of how women need to slow down when they reach the menopause; become a source of wisdom rather than continuing to do things at the pace they have in the past. This really resonated with me. The workplace is unforgivingly relentless these days and one of my constant refrains is “I’m too fucking old for this”. I thought of my dear friend R, a teacher who is going through a similar crisis.

Saturday morning the yoga came more easily and my heart was beginning to open. With Rina was a massage therapist, Lena, a petite ethereally beautiful woman who worked tirelessly all weekend. I felt things release from my body as she kneaded my tight muscles intuitively, with strength and tenderness. In the evening we watched a film – Finding Joe. It was about the work of Joe Campbell, the professor who discovered that mythology in all cultures is one basic story – the Hero’s journey. From an ordinary unaware life, the hero has a calling or awakening (that he may keep ignoring until he can’t any longer). There is resistance and obstacles along his path; and he has to battle dragons and overcome quests to get to his enlightened return. Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, The Matrix are just a few examples – all movies I love. The film spoke of finding your bliss; your true path. All mythology representing the human struggle to find our true self.

I realised that the reason I keep getting stuck and depressed is I am not on my path. My fear is the dragon that keeps defeating me. Fear of failure, fear of judgement, of not doing the right thing. My fear uses many forms and guises to keep me stuck. Until I find the right path I will keep circling back to the same point psychologically; one of frustration and despair. It is at this point there’s a crossroads, a choice. If I let the fear get the better of me then I circle round again to it. It may not look the same and the fear may find a new form but it’s the same place. It’s easy to get stuck here. You drift along and manage for a while – there’s so much to distract yourself with; until something happens that brings the dilemma sharply into focus once more. For me it was the death of my patient last year. You can block it out; distract yourself fighting the dragons without and within, real and imagined; or lie down defeated in a depression. Many of us live out our lives stuck here, endlessly battling our dragons. When you can step back from it as I did this weekend you realise all of these things are there because you are scared to follow your true path. I almost didn’t go to the retreat. My resistance almost got the better of me as it so often does. One of its many forms is to pre -judge, make assumptions and dismiss in advance. I think it’s my love for C that got me there and what I’ve learnt so far on this journey. I knew I had to do something different. I’ve taken another step forward.

I think all of us who are consciously trying to be sober are heros on a quest to find our true selves, the real meaning of why we are here, what makes us truly content. C has told me that in AA they talk of alcoholics choosing the wrong kind of spirit. Even if we keep getting knocked back whilst battling the demon alcohol we have started the journey; there’s no going back to life as it was; we have to keep going through the forest or get stuck in it. The alcohol won’t do it for us now no matter how much we drink though our fears may keep taking us back to it. If we make it through then we can live as our true authentic selves.

Sunday was a beautiful day. I felt strong but light doing the yoga. We walked in the crisp countryside, frost glistening and mud squelching underfoot. We hugged and shared and others cried this time. The power of the female energy was palpable. I shared that I am quitting my job to follow my own path. Also that I need to get closer to my resistance, to be curious and try to understand it and recognise it’s many forms. I’ve removed the blanket anaesthetic resistance of alcohol but that was just a start. To do this I need to keep up my yoga practice and stay connected to communities I can share with and learn from like this one. No one can do it alone. I need to put in the training like all heroes have to so my other pledge from the weekend is to do yoga or meditate every day for 40 days, even if just for 10 minutes to firmly establish the habit. I’ve no idea how far into the forest I have gone yet or what other trials are going to come my way. Some will be from within and some will be what life throws at me. I know others have much harder lives to battle with than I do. Much of my suffering comes from myself. This weekend I ended up exactly where I needed to be at exactly the time I needed to be there but I had the choice to go or not. I won that battle. I may yet lose many. Where are you up to on your Hero’s Journey? Are you ready to break out of your matrix? Follow your yellow brick road? May the force be with us all.

Photo by Tom Swinnen on

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  1. Sounds like a wonderful weekend in so many ways. You’ll have to let me have the details. I love fairly near Warwickshire and I think it’s something I’d benefit from at some point. I’m so glad you forced yourself to go. Very brave and strong of you especially considering how you were feeling. It sounds like it was exactly where you needed to be at that time.
    Love and hugs
    Claire xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so happy to hear your retreat went so well! It seems overcoming your nerves, getting away and attending really has helped start you on a healing path. There’s so much wisdom in this post as well, I read it twice! I love this part: “I think all of us who are consciously trying to be sober are heros on a quest to find our true selves, the real meaning of why we are here, what makes us truly content. ”
    I really related to that and it hit home!
    Thank you for this post and I am excited to continue hearing how you are doing on your own, new path! 😀 ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  3. it’s sooooo great to hear you taking care of yourself <3, you sound so different than last week! There is no struggle, just calmly looking inwards and forward 🙂 So happy for you !!!!! xxx ps. and yes, daily yoga and meditation for 40 days sounds like a wonderful plan !!!! even if it's for a minute. It makes a huge difference xxx Anne ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Interesting- was diagnosed with depression this very morning from my GP. Now in a dilemma about whether or not to take anti depressants or DIY. Came as a shock. Good luck with your s and keep up the blog 👍

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Andy
      I felt shock too when I was diagnosed and it took me another 6 months to make the decision to take antidepressants. I came off them after 6 months (far too soon) and was back on them again less than 6 months later. I’m really glad I did take them. I had counselling too. Then I gave up alcohol and the combination of those three things has helped me make some better decisions and given me motivation and energy for life again. I don’t know your situation but be kind to yourself. Sometimes the medication just helps us pause and ‘reset’.
      Good luck whatever you decide
      Claire x

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Good point Claire! I think probably because while Diabetes is so clearly proven to be effectively treated by insulin, depression has not only a multitude of meds that don’t definitively work, but also a huge cultural bias against it being a definitive dis-ease. That puts doubt in our minds about not only the efficacy of whatever med we’re on, with it’s concomittant side effects, but also whether we need to take a med for our depression at all!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi Andy
        I’m still on the second lot of antidepressants. The first lot I took for 6 mths but I didn’t really like the side effects (mostly night sweats!) and because I was still in denial really. So I stopped, far too early and I wasn’t ready. Sure enough 5 months later I was back to square one. That is because I hadn’t changed anything, the issues were still there. I felt better but hadn’t looked at what the root cause might be. This time round I feel so much better but that is not just because of the meds. They stopped the downward spiral, then I could really make changes that made a difference. Like no booze! Plus ridding myself of relationships that were unhelpful. These SSRIs don’t give me any side effects, it’s a very low dose and I’ve started to not fear them like I used to.

        That said I am determined I want to try again without them. They were what I needed but I don’t want it to be a permanent thing. That’s just me. You have to give them at least 6 mths because anything less does lead to bouncing on and off them. Plus, they make you feel weird initially but stick with it and you do start to feel human again. Then you can begin to help yourself.

        Hope that helps
        Bit long winded I know.
        Claire x

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Really interesting discussion about depression. It was only last week I admitted to myself that the way I have been these last few months meets criteria for depression. As I had good days and was still enjoying family time at times I thought I was just changing with no drinking. It helped to acknowledge it and I think gave me permission to stop and take this time for myself. I feel so much better now and I haven’t started the meds but I will monitor myself and if I slip back then I probably will. Depression can take many forms and impact us all differently, meds definitely have a place as they can get you to a place where you can help yourself more and stop spiralling down. I’m hoping the retreat and keeping up the yoga will do the same job for me. I’ve taken them before though and they helped a lot. Good luck Andy and let us know how you get on xxx

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Glad you were able to get away, and that you made yourself do it. I’m the same way with prejudging and making assumptions. And I too am searching for my “true calling” now that I have the heavy fog of alcohol out of my life. It’s there… we just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Xx

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Lovely post, I wonder why more men don’t go on those retreats? The discussion about antidepressants was interesting but I think the problem with medication in relation to depression is that unlike say diabetes which is a wholly medical condition, depression is often a combination of physical, social and psychological factors and it’s the use of medication when for some people changing their social and emotional circumstances could be the answer is what is sometimes problematic. If antidepressants are part of the solution for some people that’s obviously a good thing but I have seen too many people given antidepressants and left to carry on in situations where the causes of the depression are left unattended. Then the antidepressants just become a crutch to get people through unaddressed issues. Bit like the function of alcohol for some people. This is not a criticism of antidepressants, they can be crucial as part of an integrated care package, but a criticism of their indiscriminate use.
    I look forward to seeing where your change of direction takes you, sounds exciting. Jim x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree Jim. They can be useful to hit the ‘pause’ button and stop the spiral but only if you address the root problem and work on things in other ways. I never wanted to ‘rely’ on medication to get me through and I still don’t now. Even with antidepressants I never felt as calm and ‘well’ as I feel now I’ve made other changes in my life. X


      1. That’s good to hear Claire, I hope the calmness and feeling “well” continue. I’m guessing giving up the booze has been a big factor? You’ve done brilliantly in what i believe is about 3 months? Well done Jim x

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Not quite 3 months .. just over two … and yes, giving up alcohol has turned it around for me. The antidepressants alone would not have been the answer. Now I feel ready to give life a ‘go’ without them. It’s a great feeling xx


      3. Consider staying on the meds longer. 3 months of sobriety is still very early and fragile. The entire first year is full of firsts. Managing through that all, while also developing self awareness and compassion, is complicated.

        Work with your therapist before deciding anything.

        I always expected my own antidepressant use to be short term, but like has taught me otherwise. My depressions are severe. I used to have terrible pmdd. I cannot go back to that.

        I take cymbalta daily and it helps me find the place where all the yoga, 6 years of sobriety, self love and acceptance bring me joy. I want like to be good. I don’t want to struggle to stay mentally stable.

        Tread carefully.


        Liked by 1 person

      4. Very wise advice. I agree. I’m not going to change anything at the moment. I realised this past week that I need some stability mentally and to just experience calm for a while. Then hopefully it will be the norm rather than than the exception! Xxx


  7. Well said Jim though I would argue that diabetes isn’t a wholly medical condition either – very little is. Type 2 DM was unheard of in children when I trained but is now quite common due to poor diet, the sugar added to cheap foods and lack of exercise. Type 1 is an autoimmune condition and they are related to chronic stress and trauma. What you say about how antidepressants used is spot on – they should be part of a treatment package not the only treatment offered – there was supposed to be a man but he cancelled! I like the all women part but it is strange as men do yoga! Fancy coming to Norfolk at Easter? Xxx

    Liked by 1 person

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