Alumni (includes alumnae) retreats and seminars are offered throughout the year, and our most recent ones were in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, just last month in January. The winter alumni (men) seminar was January 8-11, and the winter alumnae retreat was January 18-21. When the attendees were asked why they attend the seminars and retreats, the responses were resoundingly unanimous. They attend to (simply and powerfully) be together in mutual support with one another. Camaraderie is number one! One priest declared, “I am confident that I will find understanding among the group and, therefore, feel open to take part in discussions.” Another priest added, “We need each other, and new faces are as important as familiar faces!” Meeting new people widens their support groups. “The value is being able to speak honestly of our brokenness and vulnerability,” shared one Sister. They feel secure and safe in the environment, and many call it the “best week of the year.” These weeks are definitely “best weeks” for Guest House as we are able to witness many healthy lives in recovery.
A group of priests/men religious or a group of women religious in one room is powerful in itself, but a group of priests/men religious or a group of women religious in recovery, bringing their authentic selves and sharing details of their journeys with one another is deeply moving. Collectively, at the Florida winter alumni seminar, the 50 men had nearly 700 years of sobriety! At the winter alumnae retreat, the 25 women described their gathering as “a compelling reminder that we are not alone.” Their speaker, Avis Clendenen, returned for her second year much to the pleasure of the attendees, and one Sister shared a thought that resonated with her from Avis: “There is in every wound a jewel.”
A prevalent theme throughout homilies offered during a retreat week is that gratitude is a necessary element on the journey of recovery. There is a strong feeling of gratitude to Guest House among every group. “My 90 days in treatment was a time when I learned and unlearned more than any other time in my life,” explains one priest. Of course, there is also profound gratitude extended to God. He walks the journey with each person in recovery. Heartfelt words in one of the homilies included, “I am grateful for where He has brought me.”
The men’s winter alumni seminar speaker, Fr. Phil Feltman, said, “Breaking any addiction is difficult…we need others. Though everyone may be at a different place in his (her) recovery, the common starting line is abstinence and the ability to have a happy life is tied into the journey.” He added, “While all our journeys are the same, they are also all different.” The journey is about trying to align our will to the will of God, and progress is different for each person. Addiction does not happen overnight; recovery does not happen overnight either. Reflecting on some wise words from Vince Lombardi, Fr. Feltman shared, “If we take care of the inches, we won’t have to worry about the miles,” and added, “Recovery comes on its own timeline, not ours.”
The take away is difficult to put into words. This year’s winter programs were gatherings of like-minded people with shared/common experiences, which provided them with a safety net and source of strength. It was like coming home for some of them, and that is an incredible thing to witness. Perhaps two Sisters sum it up best for everyone: “There are no words to adequately express the many blessings of these days. … The retreat is a treasure dropped into the middle of a cold, dreary month that provides the comfort, warmth and (attainable) challenge of connecting with others in recovery. It strengthens and deepens our own recovery.”
Written by Guest House Staff Writer