I cannot make a statement that would adequately capture the level to which attending a Journey Free retreat with Dr. Marlene Winell helped me. I would highly recommend that anyone who is struggling with issues related to leaving their faith or the damage caused by religion consider attending one of these retreats. For me it was an insightful, therapeutic and challenging yet relaxing and much needed experience. There is great safety in exploring issues related to religious trauma with others who have shared similar experiences with the moderation and direction of an experience professional. It was a weekend I will never forget and will always have fond memories of.
“Early in my life I came to some sort of conclusion that if you were saved you would be happy. So if I wasn’t happy that meant something was wrong between me and God. I used to hear of people going to get counseling for depression, and I would be judgmental towards them thinking that they just needed to get things right between them and God. I carried this view for a long time. I realize now that the way I stayed happy wasn’t by seeking happiness but by suppressing any negative emotion. I wasn’t happy per say, I was just numb.
“When I lost my faith, music opportunities, etc, I broke down and started having lots of problems. Lots of anger, grief, panic attacks, it was really bad (starting May 2010). I think on an emotional level I still viewed all these feelings as wrong, which made it worse because I would beat myself up for feeling these things. The anger was the worst part, because I would take it out on my family.
“For the longest time I just thought there was something dreadfully wrong with me, and I continued to try to get rid of these feelings. Around October of 2010 I listened to an episode of the Atheist Experience in which someone called in saying he had PTSD from coming out of religion. After the call Matt Dillahunty started talking about Marlene Winell and how he heard her speak about RTS at a convention. Immediately I knew that I had RTS. This was good because I started to think of myself as having a condition that other people experienced also instead of believing that something was dreadfully wrong with only me.
“I soon found Marlene’s website and was immediately drawn to the idea of a weekend retreat. I had been living in isolation for so long with nobody to share my pain with. I longed for the chance to share my story, my troubles, and to get some tools for recovery. The retreat looked like it could offer this so after speaking with Marlene I signed up for the retreat. Just the step of signing up seemed to be helpful in my path to recovery. I felt like I was taking a courageous step forward for my own benefit. I started to feel the faintest shimmer of hope.
“The retreat proved to be far better than I expected. It was so amazing to speak openly about my struggles, fears, and baggage from the past. It provided a sense of community, acceptance, and I could feel the wall I had set up against the world was starting to come down. The retreat also offered practical tools and exercises that I could implement at home on my own.
“After coming home from the retreat I joined Marlene’s online support group. The best part of being in the group was I felt like I had people who were ready at a moments notice to listen, understand, and support me. I also felt empowered by the fact that I could be an encouragement to them, and it felt really good to find ways to lift up and respond to others in the group.
“It has been almost a year since I first fell apart emotionally. It is staggering to see how much growth I’ve experienced in that amount of time. I went from feeling my life was over to feeling that my life has just begun. I went from trying to shut out the world to wanting to welcome it back in. I have learned how to accept and listen to my feelings, both positive and negative, and to express them. I have learned to grieve what I have lost and to start dreaming again for the future. I still struggle at times, and I feel like I will always be on a path towards recovery. The difference now is that I have tools to deal with such episodes, and I am able to respond in much more effective and mature ways.”
“My biggest take away was the importance of not doing this work alone and remaining “in the moment”. It was so cool connecting with everyone there and each person brought their own unique gifts and attributes to the experience. I think you called one of our first exercises “Relational Presence” (where we looked intently at a partner’s face for several minutes). That was VERY powerful for me. In fact the whole progression of the sessions was expertly done.
“I also got a very refreshed sense of taking control of my own personal identity -something that gets “crucified when one endeavors to take up their cross and follow Jesus …”. It was wonderful to be in such a nonjudgemental environment where I could embrace and celebrate my true self. Of course this is “strictly off limits” in Fundamentalist groups and even in some forms of “detachment” taught by eastern religion and some new-agers.
“Upon returning to work, I felt “lighter” and although fatigued/jet lagged was very productive and had a new sense of TEMPORAL PURPOSE -that is to enjoy the incredible career that I have worked very hard to develop (even during the madness of over 10 years of my most recent intense adult Fundamentalist involvement).”
Other Comments from Journey Free Retreats
“My religion gave me a misguided perception about reality, my own existence and the meaning of life. Meeting other people who struggle with anxiety, depression, confusion from religious indoctrination, and their roles in life, reinforced to me that we are all just trying our best to figure things out. I’m not as worried as I was before I came to the retreat. It gave me greater awareness of what is and isn’t important for me to appreciate about people or religion.”
“I want to say that I immensely enjoyed the retreat, and was so grateful to meet you and the other participants. I think the movement exercise showed me how I can connect with another human in a physical yet non-sexual way (religion made me think of any contact as sexual). Also, it allowed me to realize that I can have that connection with anybody, and I’ve been experimenting with feeling connected to random strangers (on the bus, for example), recognizing their humanity, their feelings, their history, and being ready to be a resource to anybody if they need it. I’ve realized that I not only received a lot of judgment from religion, but it also taught me how to judge, a “trait” that I’m trying now to let go of.”
“I felt a lot of release with the exercises, and it also showed me that I still am holding to a lot of grief and anger. I’ve continued to feel bits of release in the days since the retreat, as if the weekend helped to get a ball rolling. It was also wonderful just to meet all the other participants and to hear their stories.”
“When I attended the retreat, I had been doing a lot of reading. Intellectually, I felt sure of myself. Emotionally, I was a real mess. I felt a bit like Neo in the Matrix — everything I had been taught to believe was wrong. The retreat gave me the courage to trust myself.”
“Wonderful weekend! I enjoyed being with such a talented, loving, real, and compassionate group of people…I have been enriched.”
“I found friends and became a friend during a difficult transition. And now the world is re-ordered to a large degree. Tomorrows look brighter.”
“I will never be the same. I began to deal with the aftermath of my experiences on an emotional level which was what I needed after working through everything intellectually.”
“A new wave of strength has come over me. My life is filled with promise and potential and I feel I have the necessary resources to make it happen.”
“I experienced a tremendous amount of growth, for which I am very grateful. I am able to understand myself, the trauma, and feel able to release it, protect, and parent my child against the idea monster.”
“I did REALLY like the location/house of the retreat we just did. Simply superb!
I think the effect of “place” on the work done in these retreats is really incalculable.”
“Working with Marlene has been a wonderful experience in many ways. Her experience and background offers a huge wealth of information and resources for those coming out of religion. She is also someone with a huge amount of compassion and sensitivity. Her approach is very gentle, never judgmental or critical. Yet she still has the ability to call someone out if they are talking nonsense, especially if doing so allows the person some space and opportunity for growth.”
“Enjoyed your sense of humor. Really felt your connection with us. You created a safe, nurturing environment for healing work with your unassuming approach and kind demeanor.”
“Loving, accepting, healing, a great model of how to be alive in the world as a human. Love you!”
“Marlene provides a supportive, nurturing environment to validate and affirm each participant, regardless of their stage in religious recovery.”
“You understand. You love us through it. You give us real tools to use. You accept us non-judgmentally. Thank you!”
“Marlene has such a loving presence and approach. She is so wise, insightful, and fun!
“Marlene is skilled, intuitive and informed. She has a gentle but firm way of guiding a person through the healing steps and skill building needed for coping with the negative aspects of religious upbringing.”
“Take the risk. . . it’s worth it.”
“Invest in yourself. Healing will happen if you just get yourself to the retreat. Find some inner courage … so many things will fall into place.”
“This retreat is crucial to recognizing the religious trauma that has occurred and expediting the healing process. . . no matter how long you’ve been de-converted.”
“Come! You’ll learn how to relax and how to deal with that nagging inner voice – the idea monster.”
“Attending a retreat will be one of the smartest things you ever do. I was *very* scared to attend. I am so, so, so glad I went and got help.”
“I HIGHLY recommend attending…you will not regret it.”
“A Release and Reclaim retreat is a great way to connect with others and reaffirm that you are not alone in your healing process.”
“Loved it! The exercises combined with the discussions created a dynamic experience for me.”
“I would come again without hesitation.”
“You will benefit in so many ways. Take this important step for yourself.”
“You’ll be surrounded by people that care and know where you are and what you’re feeling inside.”
By all means do it! … you’ll have great potential for real progress in embracing your ‘true self”.”
“I wish someone was doing your work and making fundamentalism recovery known in every city in the country! I would love to see you training therapists around these issues.”
– Dr. Valerie Tarico, author of Trusting Doubt
“I recommend this workshop to anyone who may be feeling alone in their struggle to sort out the religious abuses and indoctrinations of their life experiences. You’ll find here a great community of support for your process.”
– Debra Thornley, M.A., certified applied poetry facilitator
“If you were once serious about your faith, but felt betrayed and left desolate by its empty claims, this is the retreat for you. We’ve all been there too.”
– Michele Lyerly, author of From Rapture to Revelation
“I have known many people who attended Dr. Winell’s retreats, and all have spoken highly of the healing and creatively liberating approach she uses. Her ideas around religious trauma are unique and right on target.”
— Dr. Darrel Ray, author of The God Virus