I think the term “life-changing moment” is woefully overused. Yet there is no other way to describe the events at the recent Latino Leadership Council Retiro (retreat), Mujer Sagrada (Sacred Woman). In fact, what I witnessed was life-changing moment after life-changing moment. Including changes in my own life.
More than 30 women from throughout Placer County gathered at the North Tahoe Family Resource Center in Kings Beach for a weekend late in May. Each faced life challenges and they were trying to deal with, overcome or make sense of their lives. Some struggled with relationship problems with their spouses, divorce, difficulty with their kids, conflicts with cultural or gender roles, grief over lost ones or even mental health issues like depression and suicidal thoughts. Each of the women was referred to the retreat by Latino Leadership Council promotoras, counselors and other providers. In fact, there were a number of participants whom I referred from my work as a social worker and therapist. They were there because they were women who desperately needed to make changes in their lives. And that’s exactly what many of them accomplished.
As Latina women, we all spiritually have a cross to bear. As we become wives, mothers and caretakers, we unknowingly pick up other people’s crosses and carry it for them. Culturally, our role is to carry other people’s burdens and sacrifice our own best interest for that of those for whom we care. This undoubtedly takes a tremendous toll on our physical, spiritual and mental well-being. The Mujer Sagrada retreat aimed at bringing this cultural dissonance to light, address it, challenge it and help make each individual responsible and accountable for creating a healthy balance in their lives.
One of the ladies I referred to the retreat, a woman who had been recently admitted to the emergency room on various occasions with headaches, pains and suicidal tendencies, transformed her life during that weekend. Through our therapy sessions, she had been unable or unwilling to really tap into the emotional pain that was consuming her on a daily basis, interfering with her daily tasks. At the retreat, with the support and camaraderie of the other women participants, she finally let go and connected mentally and spiritually with the issues that were weighing her down. She cried. She shared. And she healed.
The next morning when I saw her, she was a physical transformation. She had cut her hair, put on make-up, had a beaming smile on her face and was ready to take life head on, as an empowered, sacred woman. I recently met with her again at my office, following the retreat. I was eager to see if the effects of the weekend were temporary or if they would bring about permanent changes. I was overwhelmed with joy and emotion when she said that she has not experienced any headaches or other pains since the retreat and that the “heaviness” in her heart and chest has been lifted. More importantly, her daughter says that her mom now makes her laugh and is happy.
That was such a drastic change from the woman I knew before the retreat. In fact, instead of weekly sessions, we are now extending the frequency of those visits to every three weeks. That’s in large part to her new found attitude, strength and responsibility, but also to the new relationships and support system she built while at the retreat. The women are now there for each other helping one another through their individual journeys.
That’s just one of the many life-changing moments I experienced while at the MujerSagrada retreat. It was an experience replicated countless times amongst the participants.
This was the first of a series of retreats. We have another one coming up that’s for couples and a third that’s for fathers and their kids. I can’t wait to see the impacts these will have and the many life-changing moments they will produce. Like a pebble cast on the water, these retiros are creating waves that overlap and extend beyond anything we could imagine. My patient’s life is now changed. But so is her daughter’s. And so will their other family members and the people with whom they interact and so on. Ripples upon ripples.
I encourage other organizations to adopt a similar approach to helping our community. They will see the positive impacts it has on the families touched by their efforts, not to mention the reduction of resource costs caused by less ER visits, medical services rendered and other social costs. For our part, we will definitely be looking at acquiring further funding to hold more of these retiros. They have been more successful than I could have imagined and I can’t wait to be a part of more life-changing moments.