It’s February and I am lucky enough to be sitting in the living room of Sol y Luna villa. There is a warm breeze floating through the open veranda doors. The kitchen staff are quietly prepping and the sound of voices rise and fall throughout the Villa. The crashing of the waves is a constant lull in the background. This is a retreat for recovering women, recovering from any, and all the things. There are sober woman here, there are women recovering from food and body issues, women recovering from grief and divorce, workaholism and love addiction.
Today is cross-over day. One group of women begin their journey to the nearby airport and another group begins their journey here from locations across North America. Last night we had our final dinner with group one which includes inviting the Villa staff to dine with us and then sending them home while we do the dishes. Tonight, we will have a whole different group of fresh faces to welcome to what we call a “sacred pause”.
I’ve been doing these retreats for five years now, multiple times per year. I think the retreat about to start will be my 20th. I acknowledge my privilege here. Traveling to gorgeous locations to gather with recovering women, sharing movement, ritual and connection is something I wish that everyone could experience. It’s changed my life in many ways. But I will say that one doesn’t need to travel to experience the power of a women’s circle. I host women’s circles weekly. Each one is different. Some of them involve movement and group meditation; some of them are simply for sharing experiences – the good and the bad. In some of them I offer coaching or guidance; in some I simply listen and hold space.
You may be wondering what exactly is so special and so powerful about women in recovery gathering.
First and foremost – it’s what we call it – a circle. Even if we are not physically sitting in a circle, every person is a part of each other’s experience. We create a container as we listen, share and pass. The energy moves in a sacred circle. We are all connected, and our connection grows stronger by the devotion to speaking and listening to each other’s stories and experiences.
Secondly, it’s the fact that we bring our challenges, our hurts, our frustrations – the hard stuff – with us into the circle. Instead of retreating away from others when shit gets hard (which has been my go-to response in past), we bring it. We speak it. We feel it. And by doing so, we find release and comfort. We find a tenderness for ourselves and solace in the reminder that we are not alone in these experiences. Being human is hard and separation is a pathway well-worn for most of us. A sharing circle can show us that there is a better way; that we can grow, expand, and create more resilience in our lives while being endlessly inspired by those around us.
When women share, we hear and connect with our similarities AND differences. We hear perspectives and reflections that may be vastly different from our own. We are witness to experiences that may be completely foreign. In a supportive circle, intimacy and vulnerability help us to open our hearts, and cultivate compassion and respect for these differences. This is so needed now, in our divided world. I have learned a lot about myself and my biases over the past few years by listening to and reflecting on other people’s experiences. My community has helped me to be more open-minded and willing to accept that my experience is only one of many.
I have learned how to be in circle from many different women: the SHE RECOVERS founders and community; my yoga teacher training instructor and cohort, my sponsor and the group of women I do 12-step work with, the strong circle of women I work and plan events with, coaches, mentors and their groups. Mostly though, I’ve learned how to be in circle from the courageous woman who step into the circle to share their hurts, their hopes and healing. We are sometimes messy and emotional, sometimes silent and slightly-uncomfortable, sometimes well-intentioned but guilty of a little cross-talk, many times we are loud and spilling over with laughter.
The circle I devote a large part of my time to these days is my Expand Beyond Recovery membership – an online circle consisting of 8 women. Each month we gather under the umbrella of a wellness or recovery theme. I curate resources (books, readings, podcasts, etc.) add my own musings and put everything into a workbook. We have four zoom sessions each month. At least two of them are movement classes – trauma-informed yoga, mindful movement, even dance. We share throughout the month and close our work together with an Integration Circle. Some of the women have been with me since I began a year ago. Some have recently joined. Others have come and gone. Everyone that is meant to be here, is. And I have faith that everyone that is meant for this circle, will find me.
As I finish writing this journal post, I am approaching February 15th which is my first anniversary of Expand Beyond Recovery. One year ago, with the help of a wonderful coach, I launched this membership. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t sure on exactly how it was going to roll out. I was scared! But I knew I had something to offer and I know I had a genuine passion and call to offer it. And so here I am, one year later. I’ve been divinely guided in this membership, creating my themes based on what I observed and what I felt called to create as the month came and went. It wasn’t always easy creating and showing up, but any resistance, uncertainty and insecurity was no match for all the goodness that came with creating and participating in Expand Beyond Recovery. It’s truly been a year of expansion and growth. I am creating a life, day by day, that I only used to dream of.
I’ll close by sharing a poem I wrote years ago about the inspiration that my community brings me. However, you might be connected to me in this life, thank you for growing my heart.
My heart has grown.
Into the hollows and the spaces,
The skin of my chest
stretches tight like a drum.
Absorbing and pulsing with unfamiliar rhythms,
the beating of wings.
Fresh grace is uncovered,
and underneath, an ancient love is remembered.
My heart has grown.