Throughout Halloween week, I was checking the weather report watching snow dump on Colorado. People were being stranded in the Denver Airport, and frankly, by Friday, I was getting pretty anxious about my trip to Deckers, Colorado for the annual Girls with Guts retreat.
I set out to the airport and boarded my morning flight from sunny San Diego to snowy Denver. As the plane approached Denver, I saw a beautiful white blanket across the scenery below and beautiful blue skies. I began to feel hopeful. Clear weather was forecasted for the weekend!
|Once I landed and picked up my all-wheel drive SUV, I set off for YMCA Camp Shady Brook in Deckers, Colorado. The drive was scenic and beautiful, though I almost hit a deer as I navigated snow-packed dirt roads along the South Platte River. I felt a bit afraid, but also bravely empowered that I was on this adventure on my own.|
I arrived at camp and was greeted by the Girls with Guts board members. I dropped off my suitcase and joined the group in the camp dining hall. I received a swag bag with great gifts from sponsors and was sent into the cold mountain air to tie-dye a Girls with Guts t-shirts that we would all wear for our group photo. We spent the afternoon doing arts and crafts, chatting with old friends and meeting new ones.
The beautiful thing about being surrounded by women from all walks of life, but with similar medical issues, is that you can skip over small talk. We could immediately go into deeper conversations, because we share that bond, connection and shared experience.
After dinner, we did a form of ‘speed dating’; basically a quick-paced question and answer getting-to-know-you game in the dance hall. It was lovely sitting by a roaring fire with an elk head mounted on the mantle. We also created bunk flags with our bunk mates; my bunk had about 15 girls.
Saturday morning began with a gorgeous sunrise over snowy mountains, while the smell of bacon and local coffee brewing led us to the dining hall to start our day. The theme of the weekend was intimacy and sexuality, and our first speaker was Dr. Leslie Fuchs, MD. She is an IBD patient and ostomate and was very knowledgeable and informative. Our second speaker of the day was Elaine O’Rourke who also shared her story of living with an ostomy.
The Girls with Guts Retreat kept a steady pace! The afternoon was filled with more fun activities. We hiked up the hill to try archery and axe-throwing. Followed by a hike around the frozen lake to take in the picturesque winter wonderland, all while happily chatting and bonding with my fellow Girls with Guts.
After dinner, I changed hats from Sarah the attendee to Sarah from Ostomysecrets® to discuss intimacy, sharing the stage with Tory Johnson and Rose Kalasz from The Awakening Boutique, a sex and wellness boutique. Sexual health is so important and is often a taboo subject that people are ashamed or embarrassed to discuss. This was not the case at the retreat! I discussed Ostomysecrets® beautiful line of size-inclusive intimacy apparel, along with body positivity, confidence and self-love after ostomy surgery. The ladies from Awakenings educated us on anatomy and safe-to-use sexual health and pleasure products. It was a wonderful and open discussion that was much needed.
Sunday morning after breakfast brought yoga with Elaine and group photos in our tie-dye Girls with Guts t-shirts. It was really fun seeing how everyone’s shirts came out, as they were as beautiful and individual as their owners. We were asked to sit by the fire and reflect by writing letters to “ourselves”. These letters were then shared with the whole group, as we sent them anonymously. The early afternoon brought free time, which I spent cozy by the fire chatting, laughing and sharing. Other ladies rested, hiked, completed a high ropes course or the zip line.
The afternoon presenters were Dr. Liesel Jay & Dr. Molly Barfield, who run a pelvic floor specialty clinic and see many IBD patients. For many women with IBD, pelvic floor issues are a concern. They taught us about our anatomy, that closed with a very informative discussion.
The theme of the weekend, Sexuality and Intimacy, allowed us to let our guard down. We felt so comfortable with each other, and this led to honest conversations, giggles and laughter too! When you are dealing with a body that has, in essence, failed you, self-love is more important than ever and harder to find. When you are being supported by other women who understand on a deeper level what your body has gone through, and they are telling you that you are worthy and deserving of love, you believe them.
After dinner, we all went back to our bunks to prepare for our final night together and our Halloween Costume Party! It was so fun dressing up, helping each other with make-up and costumes, laughing and cheering as each costume was unveiled. We danced and laughed well into the night, I don’t think any of us wanted this magical time to end.
Monday morning, we packed up, we all said tearful goodbyes, and set out back to homes all across the US and Canada. Each of us had our tanks filled with love, support, gratitude and the knowledge that we have a beautiful sisterhood to call on whenever we need to.
If you have ever considered attending the Girls with Guts Retreat, but aren’t sure if it’s for you, trust me – it is! Click here to learn more about Girls with Guts.