GRASP Retreat Open Letter/in Editorial/by webguy
Hi GRASP supporters and friends,
With the Early Bird Registration ending in a little over two weeks, I wanted to share my story.
I joined GRASP shortly before the first retreat. I was new to my grief. It had been hard enough to face the reality of Chip’s (my son) death and my need for support — the thought of traveling somewhere to expose myself to people I was only just getting to know virtually was just too much.
However, when the second Retreat rolled around, the family was in such turmoil with our youngest son and finances were so strained that it didn’t seem like a good idea to leave. At least that’s what I told myself. What it really boiled down to was that I didn’t think I could survive, what I thought to be, a 3-day “pity party”. I’m an empath – and I didn’t think I could take everyone’s grief on top of my own. I was becoming comfortable in my physical isolation.
By the time of the second retreat, I had formed virtual bonds with some of our leaders and members. When they started posting pics and talking about their experiences, there were smiles and laughter! I realized there was much, much more to this thing. I made up my mind that I would not miss another.
Fast forward to the 2016 Retreat in Atlanta – my first. I was nearly six years into my grief. What an experience that first night’s meet and greet was! I was in the same physical space with people I considered my own, but had never had the pleasure to actually meet before! Our Facebook group had grown so, that there were many I had never interacted with. And yet, every.single.one of them *knew* There were no awkward questions. No downward glances. No explanations. No judgement. I was truly among friends. I would describe it as a family reunion – but those aren’t necessarily positive experiences 😉 It was more like the family reunions we have always fantasized about!
That Meet & Greet allowed me to get over the initial butterflies and “what have I gotten myself into” panic.During the next two day run of sessions and the closing dinner I formed amazing and healing bonds – that I *know* will last a lifetime. Holy moly, I have even worked and socialized with some of these incredible people in the years after!
Even after nearly six years, I learned still more about my grief experience – and strategies for coping. While I had already moved into some advocacy and had been asked to sit on the Grief to Advocacy Panel, I met more loved ones in arms and learned more and better(!) ways to make a difference and preserve Chip’s legacy.
And then it was time for the Science of Addiction Session, and I listened to Sam Snodgrass speak. This is not to be missed. Sam’s scientific expertise combined with his personal experience, genuine compassion and empathy, and huge heart was truly educational and healing.
In the years after Chip’s death, I had done my research. I knew something of the science – but Sam had a way of taking these biological and chemical processes and breaking it down so that even a geek like me “got it.” Because his presentation is interwoven with his personal story, he has a way of putting the scientific reason behind everything Chip had ever said to me about his addiction, multiple attempts at recovery, and his struggles. Sam even used many of the same words and phrases. It was almost eery.
I won’t kid you. It was hard. It triggered the “what if” guilt. If I had only known and understood these things … But that is where Sam’s compassion, empathy, and big heart come in. His message is delivered with kindness and gentleness – reinforcing what we tell each other – you could only know what you knew at the time and you did the best you could with that knowledge. Not just Sam, you are surrounded by a loving and caring tribe – some feeling the same, some who have come to grips with the feelings.
And, I will share that I had another child struggling. I credit the knowledge Sam and others shared with me for his current recovery. What Sam imparted to us, helped my family have many more years with Thomas – and it has helped me give more accurate guidance to others who have come to me for help.
By the time of the closing dinner, I was beyond grateful for the experience. I felt peace and comfort with this “new” change in my life and myself. I was “ok” with experiencing joy. I formed deeper bonds and gained a support system that will last a lifetime. I found my tribe.
I know this is scary. I know that travel to Tucson presents many challenges (I’m looking at a long day of flights getting there and home to Virginia.) I know it seems like a huge financial burden – registration, flights, and room. But it is an investment in your self-care and healing – something that you can’t put a price tag on. (I’ve spent far more than the registration fee on retail therapy, and got absolutely nothing for it.) And I know, for a fact, that much effort was put into keeping the cost of this event as affordable as possible. You couldn’t find a 3-day trip to Tucson at a better price.
In our losses, we have become expert at “sucking it up” for others. Do it one more time – this time for you. I promise you won’t regret it. I truly hope to see you there!
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