MenHealing retreats are thoughtfully planned healing experiences designed to inform, inspire, and support men who have been sexually victimized as adults or children. No other organization offers this innovative healing resource. Eric Jennings, this edition’s contributor shares his experience of a Weekend of Recovery.  Please leave your comments, questions and words of encouragement below. You can reach me at mike@menhealing.org.  –Mike Davis

Like many male survivors of childhood sexual victimization lived in Like many male survivors of childhood sexual victimization I lived in denial much of my life. I first began to talk about my abuse in my forties and I didn’t tell the whole story to anyone until I was in my fifties. This is the story of how attending a Weekend of Recovery was integral to my healing. much of my life. I first began to talk about my abuse in my forties and I didn’t tell the whole story to anyone until I was in my fifties. This is the story of how MenHealing’s Weekend of Recovery were integral to my healing.

A labrynth sculpted out of grass in a green summer meadow.
Labyrinth sculpted from grass at Hope Springs Institute.

I arrived at Hope Springs in the afternoon. I had an odd mix of feelings as I approached: relief, sadness and anticipation. Also hope and terror.

During check-in I met Howard, one of the workshop founders. Howard is a large presence, physically and charismatically. He exudes happiness and joy. I’ve never seen a bigger smile, and he immediately put me at ease. After checking in I had just enough time to get my stuff settled in my room before dinner, which was to be the first time the workshop participants would meet each other.

The atmosphere at dinner, which was served buffet-style, was casual. The men who had arrived before me were making small talk. I was nervous and on high alert. It seemed remarkable that everyone was so calm but as I joined the chatter and introductions I began to relax. Everyone just seemed so … normal. I returned to my room after dinner feeling more hopeful than afraid.

The workshop began Saturday morning. There were approximately 30 people sitting in a large circle. The group included five moderators, three of whom were women. We were guided through a simple process of introductions where we gave our name and said a couple words about our hopes (and fears) for the weekend.

For the first time in my life, I felt that I belonged.

The youngest person appeared to be in his twenties and the oldest in his seventies. I would discover later that these men were teachers, police, military, therapists, professionals and a couple of artists. And however much we wouldn’t have chosen it, we all had something in common. Something that was integral to our identity. Something that we were ready to share.

I can’t provide details about what exactly transpired during the weekend but I will describe the format.

The full group gets together in the morning and afternoon for moderated discussions and exercises. The moderators are experts at making everyone feel safe and supported. There is no pressure from anyone about anything. Every participant is encouraged and trusted to know how much they are willing to share.

The group is also broken down into smaller groups of 4-5 people who meet a couple times a day. Each small group is moderated by two members of the therapist staff. (I believe most of the therapists are also survivors.) They are the very best of the best in this field, and many of them are widely recognized as such. The level of professionalism, empathy and compassion is a huge part of what makes these weekends so successful.

A key focus of the Level 1 workshop is learning how to tell your story. It’s challenging but extremely rewarding. In the small groups, we spend time with exercises designed to help us get to know each other and to feel safe. We practiced listening as much as we practiced talking.

I felt seen and accepted

There’s a wide variety of experiences among survivors, and everybody’s story isn’t the same. The ages at which we were abused and the ways in which we were abused varied widely. But we don’t compare, measure or minimize anyone’s experiences. One of the ways I felt most changed by the weekend was in how I felt seen and accepted when I let my guard down and allowed myself to be vulnerable in front of other men.

On Sunday, after the final group activity, I was sitting by myself crying. Bawling, actually. A therapist approached me and asked if I was OK. Did I need anything more in order to prepare for my return home? I told her I was fine. I was crying because I didn’t want to leave. I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to hold on to what I was feeling. I felt free for the first time in my life.

I went home to a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends who remarked on how at ease I seemed to be. I told them about my weekend and they all said I was glowing.

My story doesn’t end there. I had setbacks. My depression gradually returned. Some of my old demons continued to visit me. But through it all, I was stronger than I had ever been. I had more good days than bad days. I had a new confidence about the future.

Fast forward a few years. I have attended two more advanced workshops and one Day of Recovery. They have all been fantastic experiences. I’ve stayed in touch with some of the men I met at these workshops. I know of others who have done the same. I have a community that I belong to. It feels good.