This outlines the general plan for a 3-day Journey Free Recovery Retreat that begins 5 pm Friday and ends 3 pm Monday. The agenda is somewhat flexible depending on the needs of the group.
We begin with a welcoming check-in and delicious dinner. This sets the stage for a nurturing and relaxing weekend for everyone to share some healing and learning.
1. Overview and introductions. We explain the objectives of the weekend, the schedule, and answer any questions. Participants briefly introduce themselves and members of the Journey Free staff share who they are and why they do this work.
2. Getting the most out of being here. We ask about your hopes and fears for the weekend then address them. We deal with assumptions such as whether psychology is dangerous or problems getting help with religious recovery. We cover tips for maximizing your experience with the group. Confidentiality is emphasized and so is the concept of “a no judgment zone.” Retreat attendess (“retreaters”) are encouraged but not compelled to participate in activities.
3. The concept of empathy and multiple perspectives. Unlike fundamentalist notions of ultimate, unchanging “truth,” one correct way of thinking, and authority as the source of knowledge, we look at the importance of respecting each person’s perspective, and what that means for really listening to each other.
4. Story-telling, part 1. Participants use a process to tell each other in small groups about their experiences with religion.
Bountiful buffet breakfast.
Optional walk in surrounding natural environment.
1. Overview of “Steps in Recovery.” Letting go of religious indoctrination and rebuilding your life is a process with a number of parts. We go over the eight steps of this recovery and discuss in small groups. The first three are explained in more depth as the focus of this retreat. We explain the cycle of mental abuse that makes it so hard to leave an authoritarian religion.
2. Relational Presence. How we view each other and how we connect as real people can be very different from the religious way of seeing others as objects to be saved, judged, or feared. In order to communicate well with other retreaters for the rest of the weekend, we take you through an exercise to learn something about being present with another person.
3. Story-telling, Part 2. In pairs, participants share experiences with deciding to leave a religious group, and the issues they are finding most challenging now.
Break. Stretching, music, and dancing. Drinks and snacks.
4. The Construction of Reality. We look at how all of our experiences are mediated by the ideas we have, where they come from, and how they work to create feelings. As opposed to some agreed-upon “reality” handed to us by persons in authority, scripture, or group-think, we explain how our brains construct what we think is real, and can be powerfully influenced, especially while very young. Understanding this can be liberating because we can question what we’ve been taught and make new choices, based on new perceptions and rational thinking. Retreaters will go through an entertaining exercise to appreciate this.
…along with lazy lounging…and more dancing.
5. Rescuing Your “Self.” Religion does a good job of self-annihilation and people in recovery are often confused about who they are or how to have self-love. We confront the idea of original sin and the practice of codependency that keeps people childish in religion. We present a model for viewing oneself with love and compassion, as well as real skills for self-care. Taking this responsibility can seem intimidating but it is also exciting to stop outsourcing the job. Participants are guided through an imagery exercise to begin the process of connecting the parts of self needed.
6. Being in our Bodies. We are more than our thoughts and feelings; we are wonderfully physical beings who can move and dance and touch. The “flesh” is not bad like you’ve been taught. For this segment, we get you out of your heads and into your bodies for some gentle, fun movement exercises with inspiring music. The leader is trained in Interplay techniques and adds her own personality to create a truly enjoyable learning experience.
Relaxation options for the evening: Music, art, writing, walks, hot tub, dancing, video
7. Self-care. Writing exercises are suggested to be done independently to develop healthy internal dialogue.
We begin with a check in to find out how everybody is doing so far. Any concerns, questions, or suggestions about the retreat are invited. Comments and reactions to the writing exercises will be discussed.
8. Trust walk. This is a pleasant exercise we do in pairs to explore trust and sensory awareness.
9. Emotional do-overs. Past trauma can be lodged deep in our psyches where we’ve buried the hurt and anger. Yet we can sense it in our bodies and when we have intense emotions we don’t understand. Fortunately, the brain is not frozen and with relaxation and support from others, it is possible to return to earlier times, acknowledge the injury, and give the “child within” the needed love and healthy psychological messages to replace the toxic treatment and neglect. In this exercise, the group acts like a family, attending to one group member at a time to let you be a small child again and welcome you to the world, innocent and precious from birth. Born again, again?
10. The magic of getting real. It’s not easy to admit, but life isn’t easy. Religion claims to solve all the tough problems and sometimes it may seem to work. Yet the cost is very high. In this segment the group explores the positives of religion and what seem to be the losses endured when giving it up. We then look clearly at all the problems it created and appreciate the relief of being rid of these harmful elements and restrictions. However, we then face the reality of needing to take responsibility and reconstruct every aspect of life. Admitting the feelings about this is a useful part of clarifying these challenges. Finally, we notice and celebrate the great number of advantages to being free of a rigid religion. In the end, “real life” may still be hard, but waking up and rising to the task also opens us up to amazing things, and that kind of magic is better than trying to believe fairy tales.
11. A journey isn’t “right.” After a sheltered life in an authoritarian religion, you may feel ill-equipped to take the reins of your life and make your own decisions. Taught to look for God’s will, a divine plan, and higher purpose makes you think in black and white terms about decisions. This creates anxiety about choices being right or wrong. Yet in life many options are equally positive, and the skill of investing in one’s choices to make them right is crucial to peace of mind. Profoundly existential, each act of choice involves loss and letting go or other options, and thus requires courage. So as we recover from the dependency of religious faith, we must grow up and stop outsourcing responsibility to God or clergy. The outcome soon discovered is freedom and joy, much like the satisfaction of parenting.
We finish this segment with a guided visualization of traveling, as loving Adult taking care of Child. There are no “right” decisions because unlike before, you do not have a forced agenda with this journey of life. We draw pictures with crayons and share insights.
Non-demand “talent show.” We have fun and celebrate the many ways we can express ourselves. Contribute anything you like – music, story, poetry, art, drama, dance, comedy…or just do a hand stand. (Yes, it’s been done, with great applause). This is yet another “no-judgment zone” and it is okay to be silly. We also appreciate audience members!
We begin with stretches and movement, followed by a short writing prompt that is designed to help you notice your own “still small voice.”
12. Intimacy-Integrity tension. Now we’ll deal with the elephants in the room: your Family and Friends. It might be fine to redesign yourself and launch into a new direction but what about other people in your life who still believe? We’ll get into pairs and talk about what each person is finding most challenging, practicing the listening skill of “relational presence.” You might be facing damage to relationships, a loss of an entire social circle, fears about parental reactions, guilt about hurting them, anger and desire for retaliation, and so forth. When we regroup we will discuss the issues and various options for moving forward. This area of recovery is often painful and difficult, and perhaps the greatest tragedy of religion – the way it separates people. It is natural to want closeness with others, especially your family of origin, but as time goes on, it also feels necessary to be open and honest about who you really are now. This is a tension that is not entirely resolvable because it is not entirely up to you, but there are some important concepts to understand that can help. There are also many ways to approach the complexities and group members can share their experiences.
Last-chance Lunch and Laugh
Opportunities to make connections
13. Lay down new tracks. We are creatures of habit and this includes mental ones. In this exercise, everybody will identify their most problematic “Idea Monster” thoughts, learn about rebuttals, and create alternatives. In small groups, we’ll find ways of reinforcing the new assumptions and beliefs with choices of behavior and lifestyle.
14. You’re only human. We’re not the crown of God’s creation and the earth is not the center of the universe, despite what the church did to Galileo. We are animals! But that’s not so bad because just like the birds and squirrels, we are home and we don’t have to earn the right to be alive. We have very basic needs just like they do. In this final segment, we’ll take a fresh look at who we are, normal needs, and the developmental tasks involved with finding new ways to meet real needs. This means letting go of manufactured needs created by religion using fear, and embracing natural desires and normal feelings that were once repressed.
Farewells, program evaluations, sign-ups for online group. (Hugs available.)