We all know when the woman is out of the house – NOTHING works. We look after the kids, the household, the grandparents, do the washing, the grocery shopping, the gardening, the out of school activities, the cooking – and often we also work and make sure the lives of our partner isn’t too hard, as we keep EVERYTHING under control! Oh I almost forgot - we also manage all our appointments at the hospital, radiation centre, GPs, run to the pharmacy, blood test, physio and councillors – because besides all this – we have cancer.
This year, in early September, 12 women stepped outside of their comfort zone – leaving the husband, kids, grandparents and pets at home – and taking the risk of the company going under whilst we are not around to manage the day to day tasks, because we read about this retreat – this retreat which sounds a bit scary, a bit “not me” and a bit too "out there."
5 days with woman we don’t know, in a place where we have never been, doing things we’ve never done – and all this JUST for ourselves. What a risk to take!
But 12 of us were brave enough and I was one of them.
Luckily I knew 2 of the ladies travelling already, we had all convinced each other that this would be a good thing, after this year of treatment, exhaustion, worries, anxiety and stress. Why shouldn’t we try this and give us some “time out” to look after ourselves? For me personally the meditation, yoga and spa didn’t sound too interesting but I figured it was worth a try to see if my mind and body could spend some time with each other and get to know each other better.
We arrived late at the Brackenridge Retreat & Spa on the Wednesday night. We missed our flight from Auckland, but eventually made our way to Wellington, and from there caught caught a taxi and train to Featherston, where we got picked up – just in time for dinner at the retreat. What a start! But kind of cool as well – first train ride for some of us, lots of laughter and fun on the way and the excitement started to build. They will be fine at home…they will be just fine!
At the first dinner we got to know each other a little bit. Every single woman here had an open mind, an interesting personality (gosh, we were all soo different!), and a crazy story to tell. I have to say we really didn’t share a lot – but what we shared was the understanding for each other (you know – just people who “get it”), the will to LIVE and an open heart to make friends, help and support each other – and that was the biggest thing!
We got split into different houses, a good mixture of age, diagnose and home town…it worked out perfectly! The houses were awesome, with fire places and comfy couches in the lounge, 2 bedrooms, two bathrooms (the shower had the most amazing pressure EVER – full body massage every morning!) and a kitchen, with coffee, tea and breakfast for self catering. Great set up – a great place to feel at home for a few days.
The first day started with Yoga and Mindfulness – not my thing – but so much easier to concentrate on yourself when you are away from home. Are you a chest breather, a belly breather or even a reversed breather?? Well, here was the time to find out and think about it – and to practise if you always got it wrong…I know right? A fundamental thing like breathing, which you did wrong all your life, which may have helped causing all this anxiety and stress? Interesting that it needs a get away from home to find out that those things matter, and that they are important – for no one else – just you.
We also met Rebecca Fisher who shared her incredible journey of breast cancer with us and told us her story of becoming a Paramedical & Cosmetic Tattoo Artist.
After lunch we headed to the Spa to have a treatment – eye trio (lashes and brows) as well as a manicure. The waiting time was well spent in the 40 degree Spa pool or doing some laps in the salt water pool (I have to admit, most of us wanted more the hot water spa pool 😉). The day flew by with lots of chatter, great food (a big thumbs up for Providore, the Caterer who fed us the entire time) and lots of insights about ourselves. The nights are windy and cold – but luckily we have fires, warm blankets and peppermint tea.
The next day we travelled to Cape Palliser to see the seal colony and to climb the 251 stairs to the Lighthouse. What an amazing challenge for some of us. Bone pain, fear of altitude, lack of fitness – nothing could stop us – we became a team! We were friends now who encouraged and helped each other and knew that we could do ANYTHING – together! After conquering the top, we were proud to take pictures of our achievement, almost blown away from the strong winds up here – but we made it!! 251 little stairs, steep and challenging, step by step – but we made our way to the top to celebrate success.
On the way back we got to take some selfies with lazy, fat seals laying on the side of the road, one even blocking the road, until we arrived in Greytown to have lunch and a little browse through the shops – the “Lolly Jar” and the “Chocolate House?” were probably the most popular shops to visit – but hey, we really deserved a treat after this amazing hike this morning. After another yoga class and delicious dinner we finished another day at Brackenridge
Day 4 in the retreat was all about the Art Therapy in the afternoon. We got told, that this would be something life changing – so everyone was a bit nervous. After Yoga and Mindfulness (yes, I think I definitely got better at it!) we met the beautiful Rei, who introduced us to her style of Art Therapy. “Get around and take some pictures with your phone” was the only rule we had. So we went wild and took pictures – branches, candles, leaves, grass, flowers – whatever we could find. Then we had to choose 3 of those images and create art with them. We got all sorts of colours, feathers, glitter, crayons, paper, stickers – and just got to go with the flow – "Don’t think about the end result, just do what you feel like…"
And then after an hour – we looked at it. It was very surprising to look around and see what we had created. Our inner self was talking to us – and we had created a beautiful story, which we were able to share with our new friends. Some smiles, tears, laughter – lots of applause and lots of courage was involved in the presentation of our art. A new experience – another eye opener – a new experience about myself!
That night, realising it was our final dinner together, we definitely felt a bit sad. Tomorrow we would go home – back to our families, friends, pets, houses, gardens, work…
For the whole 5 days – I didn’t think about any of it …we were just here – in the moment, with our new like-minded friends, who we got to know so well in such a short time. All that mattered was US! An incredible time, which we all share and probably no one will understand. Our little “secret escape” which I still sometimes go to, when the stress is catching up with me again. I am so glad then I went, that I added this experience to my life and created more space for myself in my life.
I hope that we will all see each other again, for another time out, for another escape into our own little world – now knowing, that life didn’t collapse when we left home - and how important it is to look after ourselves.
Thanks Kristin and Hannah for organising – thanks Rei and Rebecca for some great insights! I am very happy that I had the privilege to meet you!