After a rough couple of weeks, I decided I needed a retreat. But since I couldn’t find a retreat I wanted to go to on short notice, and I didn’t want to spend a fortune to go to one, I decided to host one myself. Here’s what happened.

I should start by saying that there are certain things I don’t talk about on my blog or on my social media accounts. Over the years, through trial and error, I have discovered what feels good and authentic to share (like lifestyle, self-development, & religion), and what feels just a little bit too personal to share (like my family, my marriage, and my relationship with God).

That being said, writing is how I process, and right now I have a whole lot of processing to do that I’m just not comfortable sharing online. What I can say is this: I have been doing some intense cleaning out in my life during this season of lent—what my husband would call “removing the negatives.” I’ve been doing this so that my life has room for any new positives God wants to bring into my life.

And though I think we’re almost getting to the “bringing more positives into my life” part, there were two things I had to clean out first that were rather difficult to let go of. And they were not by choice. Over a two week period of time, I felt as if God was completely emptying my life. Not just of the clutter and the little stuff, but of some of the bigger, more essential stuff. Stuff I knew I was going to get rid of eventually, but just wasn’t ready to get rid of. Not yet.

Here’s how I’ve been feeling lately

I know I’m being vague. Frustratingly so. But I think the crucial element of this story is that I felt like my life was emptied out and I was left standing in the middle of it. Sort of like when you’re moving out of your home, and you’ve packed all of your belongings into the moving truck, and you know that you’re moving on to bigger and better things, but right now you’re standing in your empty home for the very last time, and it’s kind of sad.

And you know what happens when your life starts cleaning itself out—your body does the same. No matter what I ate over a period of two weeks, my digestive system was determined to get rid of it. I skinnied right back down to the low-end of my weight range as my body remained completely cleaned out. When I decided to embark on a 40-day lenten fast, I had no idea God would take it this far. That he intended to give me a completely clean slate.

I know it’s for the best, and that I was always headed for bigger and better things. But right now there is some sadness in letting it all go. Because I just wasn’t ready. But here’s the thing about being ready: we’re always ready sooner than we think we are. That’s why sometimes God needs to give us a little nudge in the right direction. To say, “you’re ready for all those bigger and better things now, so get on with it!”

But even as I start to see the bigger and better things looming toward me like a ship on the horizon, I know that I won’t be able to receive it until I demo the old dock once and for all and build a sparkling new port in its stead. Which is to say: what’s done is done, it’s time to get over the emotional sadness that is lingering over me, and move on. Bigger and better things are here, it’s time to stop being sad and start being happy instead.

So how exactly do I do that? Well first I tried going for a run. This is actually a completely crazy response because I do n o t run. It’s just one of those things I don’t do. Like burpees or dairy. But this time I did. I just needed it. I got on a treadmill and started running and did not stop. And the whole time I felt like I was empowering myself. Like I was running from that old home to my new one and I was completely stoked about it.

But inevitably, a day later, the sadness returned, tinged with signs of anxiety and panic. Having been through the depths of depression before, I had once promised myself that I would never ever allow myself to return to that place. That I would always use all the tools at my disposal (therapy, community, church, yoga, meditation, the rosary, prayer, retreats) the second I saw even the slightest hint of its return.

So I decided to host a one-day retreat for myself

Instead of scheduling a retreat for far out in the future and paying a bunch of money for it, I followed my favorite teacher Sara Avant Stover’s advice and hosted my own private retreat at home (here’s part one and part two of how Sara recommends we do it). For my own retreat, I decided I would do it on a Thursday when I had no other plans. The night before, I made a list of the things I wanted to do. Here’s what it said:

  1. Sleep in.
  2. Meditate.
  3. Morning pages.
  4. Take a bath with epsom salts.
  5. Do my own olive oil manicure & pedicure.
  6. Do a face mask and drench my hair in hair oil.
  7. Journal using prompts I have written myself.
  8. Walk to the library to get inspiring books.

The night before I made myself some food so I wouldn’t have to cook—I made a nourishing chicken soup with bone broth for lunch and baked some sweet potatoes that I could top with lemony kale and Kite Hill almond milk ricotta for dinner. Then I exfoliated my face with my favorite exfoliant and drenched my hair with hair oil.

First I meditated and stretched (and the fact that I actually did that proves how hard-core I am)

The next morning, I slept in until 7:30 then I went about my normal morning ritual (which I look forward to every morning). I made avocado toast with lemony kale and a matcha latte, and sat down to read theSkimm. After that, I started my retreat. I did a fifteen-minute meditation in which I relaxed each and every part of my body from head to toe, and took note of which parts felt particularly tight or difficult to relax.

After the meditation, I took a look at my list and realized that my heart felt tight, my hips felt tight, and my legs felt achy. In order to further investigate what was going on, I stretched out each of these body parts—paying close attention to my thoughts as I did so. I rolled out my legs with a foam roller, then I did this yoga pose supported by a yoga block under my back to open up my heart and stretch out my hips. I held this pose for ten minutes—and it was really hard.

The entire time I was stretching out my heart all of these thoughts kept coming up. I labeled them with categories as they came in and found that most of them fell into two categories: hurt feelings and worry. Both of which made sense considering what I’m currently going through in life. But with that came a realization: neither of those were things I could do anything about. Yes my feelings were hurt in the past, and yes I was worried about things that could happen in the future, but neither of those were things I could change.

Having gotten to the bottom of it, I decided the rest of the day would be devoted to acceptance of what was and what was to come, so that I could go on enjoying my life unplagued by the things I couldn’t change in it. And I knew just what to do for that: journaling (to shake everything up) and then a nice long epsom salt bath (to let it all go).

Then I journaled and took a bath (and got really bored)

I started journaling, but then I got bored. If we’re being real honest here, the first thing I wrote in my journal was “this day is turning out much too serious. I need to do something that brings me love and joy.” I totally relate to myself there. I’m one of those people that always thinks a yoga retreat would be a great idea until I get there and wish I had spent my money on a weekend getaway with my girlfriends (much more my kind of “recharge”).

Still, my heart was tight and I could still feel panic welling in my chest so I took the bath anyway. I poured lots of salts into it (the good ones from the dead sea—figured I could use some spiritual support while I was at it) and some Ylang Ylang (for some sensuality). Then I lit a candle, put on my favorite face mask, and turned on on Tony Robbins’ new audiobook Unshakeable. After about 40 minutes, I got hungry and bored so I got out, but truth be told I felt A LOT better. I guess it’s true what they say about those salts, they truly are miracle workers.

Then I did some journaling and things got real. The sadness was there hiding underneath all my “being strong” that I had been doing. It came pouring out on the pages, but with them, came the realization (once again) that there was nothing I could do about the circumstances that were making me sad. So I decided I would be happy even if things were sad. After all, even if my very worst fears became realized, what was to keep me from being happy during all of it? Not just to be strong, but because being happy is important.

I was not going to waste days, months, or years of my life being sad. I simply don’t have that kind of free time. The last time I went through depression it lasted for years—and those are years that I will never get back. In my short thirty-two years on this planet I spent at least 2-3 of them crying, sad, anxious, and panicked. And I was not about to do that again. This time, I refused to let depression so much as stop by for a visit.

So I broke my retreat and made plans for my own happiness

Once I came to that realization I wrote down all of the things that made me happy: rosé drenched picnics with my friends, cafés with croissants (really anything with an accented “é”), chick-flicks and rom-coms, seriously cheesy young adult fiction novels, taking trips in our camper van with my husband, and going on vacation with my family. Retreating was good, but it was only there to make me realize that what I really needed to do was keep on living.

So I broke my retreat, turned my phone back on, and texted all my favorite people and made plans to do just that. I planned a picnic, scheduled a girls weekend, and planned a one-month van trip with my husband for May (and I will definitely Instagram all of that if you want to follow along). Because I wasn’t going to stop being sad by journaling. For me, the real therapy is in doing the things I enjoy.

Have any of you ever done a stay at home retreat? How did it go?