The Endless Possibilities Initiative held our inaugural EPIc Women’s Retreat last month and it exceeded all of our expectations. It was a truly remarkable experience. We are so grateful to have shared the weekend with such amazing, courageous, resilient women.
In the words of one attendee, it is intensely relaxing to be surrounded by other women who understand what it is like to live with pain. To be around people who just get it. To be able to nod your head and say ‘me too’ and to be floored that someone else has dealt with something so similar to what you’ve gone through.
That was what we were hoping to achieve. We knew there would be power in just being together sharing stories and learning from one another.
Women’s Retreat Recap ~ it was about connection
Human connection is something we all strive for, something we all need, and living with ongoing pain can lead us to feel a bit disconnected, a bit other, a bit separate from the world. We can feel so alone with our pain, like no one could possibly understand all of the complexities, all of the weirdness, all of the suck.
But there are people who understand all of that, and coming together is a powerful thing!
We started the Endless Possibilities Initiative because we recognized how important it was for us to realize we were not alone. To have someone, or better yet a community, with whom we can express ourselves fully, without judgement, without exhausting explanations, without worry. It’s a huge relief.
We also recognized the need to feel connected to the world again, and to nature in particular. Being in the great outdoors offers us moments of awe and peace, it can help change our perspective and help us feel more calm, more at peace.
Snow Mountain Ranch ~ EPIc Women’s Retreat 2017
Couple that with being in a group of people with whom you feel heard and understood, supported and encouraged – an environment of comfort and ease – it’s pretty dang wonderful. And it makes exploring new things is that much easier.
So that is what we did.
And making sense of pain together
At the EPIc Women’s Retreat we explored the science of pain, as well as stress biology, through a lived experience lens. We used our own stories to make sense our pain, together.
Using our new knowledge, our new understandings of pain and of bioplasticity, we then crafted living well strategies that we could each take back into our real lives to move forward. Strategies we can use to change our experience, and our lives.
It was pretty empowering stuff! There was such wisdom in the room, in each other, that we all could learn from. These were some fantastically awesome, amazing, strong, courageous, adventurous women.
It was a huge victory that they were even there to begin with. That they took this incredible chance to travel to a retreat where they didn’t know anybody and that wasn’t all that easy to get to.
Snow Mountain Ranch is in a high mountain valley in the Colorado Rockies. The nearest airport is a two-hour drive away over a windy mountain pass.
Traveling with pain can be scary and difficult. It is often one of the things that gets thrown out the window first, it can seem unmanageable and untenable. So the fact that these women all made it to the retreat was a huge win! It was a success for them to walk through the door of our cabin.
The EPIc women
These brave women come from all over North America, not just Colorado. The came from British Columbia, New Hampshire, Arizona, Montana, and Chicago. They ranged in age from 22 to 68 years and had pain anywhere from a few years to a few decades.
Diagnoses ranged from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome to pudendal nerve pain, fibromyalgia to neuropathic pain, chronic fatigue syndrome to pelvic pain post-cancer surgery, to no clear diagnosis at all.
And it all worked beautifully. It exceeded expectations. There was so much to learn from one another, so many stories to share, so many differences but also so many similarities. We were not alone, none of us are alone. That is healing in and of itself.
The EPIc Experience
And the setting! Oh, the setting was magnificent. Our cabin had floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the Continental Divide and surrounding meadows and mountains. We had delicious catered meals delivered and ate family style in our large dining room.
We’d built in downtime for socializing and solitude, reflection and relaxation. Time to just hang out and let all the seeds planted throughout the day have some time to settle in without us paying too much attention to them! And we had nooks and crannies – and of course the great outdoors – to escape to when needed or desired.
The sessions were informal, with us all spread out across the great room in whatever way felt comfortable. There were couches and chairs, yoga mats and plenty of space to stand and pace.
DIMs and SIMs
We framed both the science and our living well strategies in terms of DIMs and SIMs to help change our understandings of pain and identify ways we can each change our experience.
We identified DIMs and how we could make space for the ones we cannot change, reframe those that could be conceptualized differently, and minimize or do away with others altogether that were serving no purpose and that we have some control over.
We drew out how DIMs can contribute to a cycle of pain and distress that can start to spiral downward, dragging us along with it, and identified ways we could stick a wedge in at some point along that cycle to stop it in it’s tracks.
And we talked about SIMs and ways we can engage with them more often. How we can use those SIMs as the wedge to stop the pain cycle from spiraling out of control. How, perhaps, we could even reverse that pain cycle into an upward cycle of living well. A cycle of engaging with things that we value and are meaningful to us.
We also discussed how we can shift from pain-centered thinking and pain-centered living, to just plain old glorious living.
And we didn’t just talk about this stuff! We engaged in SIMs and minimized and reframed DIMs throughout the weekend.
We moved our bodies under the direction of Tami Link. We explored body awareness and sensation and played with movement and doing things a bit differently. Tami also guided us in a variety of mindfulness, self-kindness and self-compassion practices, so we could each choose those that resonated with us the most.
We practiced skills to calm down our edgy systems, lower anxiety, and manage stress. And we reinforced the value of self-care, and that we are all worthy of it. We expressed and acknowledged frustrations and sadness, and also shared gratitude and happiness, as we discussed the reality of humans falling along a spectrum of emotions and traits and health measures.
We explored acceptance and nonjudgment, doodled and colored, hiked (in a surprise snowstorm!) and rested. And we shared meals and stories together, laughed and sometimes cried together. And perhaps most importantly, we had time to breathe and just be ourselves.
Some of the amazing women at the October EPIc Retreat ~ hiking in a snowstorm!
We stress at the Endless Possibilities Initiative that we are not treatment. EPIc is about peer-to-peer education, empowerment, and support. We explore the science of pain and living well strategies through a lived experience lens as well as learn from the wisdom of each other. We’re all in this together, and we’ll figure it out together.
In words of Professor Lorimer Moseley, it takes patience, persistence, and courage to change our experience of pain. To be open to new ways of thinking about our pain and ourselves and to finding new ways of moving forward.
Pain changes us. But we are also strong, adaptable, resilient beings. We can influence how pain changes us, we can change our experience, and we can get back to living – truly living – without having to wait anymore.
And we are not alone.