I want to tell you about all the incredible experiences we had at our Montana retreat, but where do I start?
From the very beginning, even on the drive to the retreat location, the beauty of western Montana is hard to put into words. Every direction, every mile of the drive — the mountains, the rivers, the trees — all beautiful. Amazing. Majestic. I took dozens upon dozens of pictures. And even with a nice camera, I struggled to capture the depth of what I was seeing. There was just so much to see — everywhere I looked it was pretty. Every direction, all day long. How inspirational was that?!
See. The location mattered. I had searched for weeks to find the right place — a location that brought peace, rest, and respite, just by the very nature of the nature itself. Montana did not disappoint.
Most of us who attended the P4 Retreat: MONTANA 2022 came there, leaving our very busy, overwhelming lives behind. We each had long lists of headaches and hassles at home, more going on than we wanted. The retreat was meant to be exactly that — a retreat, a respite, a time of healing and recovery from the worries of the world where we sit most of the time.
So location mattered. Having space to breathe. Enough room and time to truly get away from the troubles. A place to just be… where we could enjoy the company, companionship, and community of being together with like-minded people. OR … where there was enough space to tuck away for a few minutes, enjoying some private space and time away from everyone else, whether it be outdoors under the trees, down by the river, or in a quiet corner of the cabin. Everyone needed a place to be, a place to be themselves.
Lots of thought and planning went into this retreat!
The exciting part about creating a retreat — a unique retreat that is yours to build, different from all other retreats — is that we got to bring in very creative and interesting elements. This retreat was specifically for trauma survivors with Dissociative Identity Disorder. This was not just any retreat out in the mountains. This was a retreat designed with layers of dissociative insiders in mind.
Do you think it’s possible to have a 10-day retreat with DID folks and not see switching? Oh, of course not! There were going to be insiders there from all ages, coming out from all different directions.
- What did the older adult parts need during their time away from the stresses of life?
- What about the teenagers? Obviously, the teenaged girls were going to be there chatting up a storm!
- What did the little ones need during their time out?
- What about the little boy insiders vs the little girl insiders. What would they each want to do for fun?
- What would be interesting and entertaining for the older ones?
- What would be appropriate activities for each grouping of insiders?
- What would create comfort and safety?
- What would be interesting, helpful, educational, and even enlightening?
- What safety issues, boundaries, guidelines, and limits would need to be addressed?
- What did attendees need to experience for this retreat to have meaning and significance for them?
Each day was filled with activity after activity. We were not bored. And there were options — we had more to do than we could get done. Sometimes we did activities together, and sometimes we divided up into smaller groups. Add in three wonderful buffet meals a day, and yep, our days, and our tummies, were very full!
Our schedule included:
- Daily discussion groups — we talked and talked about all things DID-related. We could have talked forever….
- Questions! Q&A from Kathy to the group, and Q&A from the group to Kathy.
- Writing exercises. Write to your insiders, work with each other with your words, listen to each other, let them write their own words (no editing!), read their words, say their words.
- DID System communication exercises. We all learned more about what works, vs what doesn’t work so well!
- Music for fun — the littles got to sing, and sing, and sing, and Kathy got to play the piano.
- Art projects — puzzle pieces to color, wood cookies to paint, collage to create, and more.
- Emotional support animals. Two dogs who provided comfort and companionship, entertainment, fun and safety checks.
- Outdoor activities — let the inside go outside! We had games to play, adventures walks, a conversation-central fire pit, canoes, and that clay board.
- More tasty good food than you could eat in a month. We were NOT hungry.
- But also, plenty of down time where everyone could take time for themselves, or chatter with someone nearby
So what did we do? To put all that in a single article would be impossible — you’d be reading for hours! But… the important feature of this experience is that the entire retreat was loaded full with DID-inspired activities. Yep. DID-inspired. DID-related. DID-designed.
What’s a DID-inspired activity?
This means that as I was planning the activity list, and creating the schedule, I kept in mind what the different insiders might need to learn, or what different insiders would be able to do, or need to do. Every dissociative system has many different needs, pulls, interests, likes, dislikes all at the same time. Our activities needed to be creative — to reach layers of insiders and to teach educational, helpful hints for how to improve and enhance life experiences and system cooperation. What could be learned from each activity? What could be experienced at the retreat that would teach a dissociative system how to improve system communication, system awareness, and internal cohesion? What insight could be gained, and what skills could be taken back home with the attendees afterwards?
We did activities that lead to very long discussions. How did your insiders relate to that? Who in your system was participating in that situation? What do your people think now, after writing that acronym? Are your littles getting enough time and attention this week? Are your older ones getting a break, or do they need to talk more? Do you remember what your teenagers said at the clay board?
We did our best to meet the needs of each individual retreat attendee, but also, to address a variety of interests from each dissociative system. Someone suddenly found a wooly caterpillar or a weird looking mushroom? Oh, gotta make sure that all the littles get to see!
We saw DID-ers start talking with insiders who had been previously blocked off, getting through blockages that had previously created impasses in healing. We gently surrounded and supported people who were experiencing painful losses or intense family conflict. We listened to each other, gaining a better understanding of each other’s strengths and struggles. We encouraged dissociative people who had upcoming public speaking engagements, exploring concepts their audience needed to hear. We saw friendships develop, relationships deepen, people becoming real to each other. We spent quality time together, staying connected on one large beautiful property, not getting distracted or bombarded by the outside world.
For that matter, being in a safe, comfortable environment where every dissociative system could just BE was massive. Being where systems could be whoever they were at that moment, without needing to hide or worry about switching, experiencing comfortable freedom to be themselves — THAT was priceless. There was no pretending that there wouldn’t be switching from person to person to person, from part to part to part. Someone needed to switch? That was allowed. Of course, it was going to happen naturally! Dissociative people switch! They really do. And to be in an environment where that was accepted, recognized, and treated kindly was enormously powerful. How would you feel if you were finally not judged for being dissociative?
Also, being able to see DID from the outside perspective was a new experience for many of the retreat attendees. This is super familiar for me, but not for everyone. Huge amounts of learning happened as dissociative retreat attendees became the outside person watching someone else switch — experiencing their insiders, seeing the differences in their littles from their bigs, noticing when time loss / amnesia happened for others. Seeing other people be DID helped acknowledge the reality that DID is a genuine way of life. THAT experience challenged a lot of denial issues, there’s no doubt about that. Learning from other systems what it’s like to be a system — see. You just can’t read about that. Experiencing that makes an impact, that’s what.
Will there be another retreat?
OH for sure. I’ve already been making some plans. Not to worry, if you didn’t get a chance to join us in Montana, there will be more retreats to come. This experience was such an inspiring week. Well, 10-days for most of us, so even longer than a week.
I saw people make gains in so many different areas of their life. It was an honor to be part of this experience, and yes, we’ll definitely be doing this again.
I’m looking at summer 2023. Start planning for it.
Please contact me if you would like early bird information about next year’s retreat.
I hope to see you there!
Copyright © 2008-2022 Kathy Broady MSW and Discussing Dissociation