Note: The follow is an essay written by Marina from Denver about her experience with ISP. This is her story in her words, and quite an inspiration.
When was your first retreat?
I attended my first ISP retreat in April of 2011. It was several months after having had my 3rd heart attack in 3 month’s time. I had gone to live in women’s shelter to get off the streets and drugs I was grateful this agency had a place for women to go and get help to get back on their feet.
Some friends I made in the shelter raved about the retreat, so of course I was very excited to get to go. I had a preconceived notion that this was a retreat introducing us to God. I was so worried I wouldn’t be allowed to go because I felt I had a good connection with Jesus! (Laughing out loud) I found out how silly that was because each person came with a different level of spirituality and through our sharing of experiences and stories I believe we each came away with a stronger relationship with our Lord. My anxieties dissipated instantly with the genuine love and acceptance by the women of ISP. The location was amazing; I felt a sense of peace and tranquility that was so foreign to me. I had never been on a retreat before but it was everything I had needed. It was life-changing!
What do you remember about that first retreat?
The first thing I remember was how welcome I felt. Walking into the room there was a circle of chairs with a pretty neat and serene centerpiece. There were women of all ages with beautiful inviting smiles on their faces, and arms out-stretched for a warm embrace. I have always had a real issue with hugs but I have learned through these special women not only how to receive a hug but I now on occasion give hugs! That is huge for me.
I really enjoyed the interaction of course I knew I would be able to relate to my peers but what helped to break down some of my barriers was the women of ISP opening up and sharing why they are involved in this ministry. I know a lot of times we as addicts wonder what could people who are not addicts be able to understand or teach us. Addiction does not just affect the addicts it affects all those around us just as much. I came to a better understanding of how selfish I could be without accepting how much my suffering had caused my loved ones too.
How was the retreat helpful for you?
The retreat was helpful in a multitude of ways; I feel like I’m still to this day reaping the benefits of that retreat! I would say a lot of the walls I had put up to keep people out had come down as a result of that retreat. I’m not saying it was all at once but gradually over time my light shone brighter as my armor came off.
I came to learn I didn’t have to do the whole A.A. or N.A. which for me often left me wanting to use. I learned that The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius and the Twelve Steps were very similar. I cannot even tell you how many times during times of struggle I have reflected back to a spiritual exercise and came to realize dang that’s just like in A.A… Things are not always crystal clear to me the first time I hear it or experience it, so when I end up hearing from two different sources I am pretty sure it is something I really need to consider.
What happened for you after the retreat?
I mentioned earlier that the retreat was life-changing and I can tell you I am a better person because of my continuing relationship with the Ignatian Spirituality Project. I was a woman coming out of a 25 year addiction to alcohol and crack. I had spent ten long, lonely, traumatic years living on the streets of Denver, Co. surviving the best way I knew how…as a prostitute. A lot of baggage came with that lifestyle. I had spent so many years trying to stay away from people. I had it in my mind if I reject them first they can’t reject me. I did not go to the follow up retreat for several reasons, all having to do with my own low self-esteem. Each month I received a call inviting me to attend their Friday night gathering on the third Friday of every month. I eventually gave in and started attending, and it is still something I look forward to. I have learned to build up some incredible friendships with the women of ISP. I became more involved and with that I became aware of my self-worth. I have been transformed! I attend college, I became a witness. I have spoken at a few fund raising events. I attended the National Witness Retreat held in Pa. where I became a certified team member of ISP. I just facilitated our October retreat with some incredible women I have much admiration and affection for. I have an office job on campus that I enjoy tremendously. Would I have all this if I had not gone on that first retreat? I doubt it very much because for the first time in my life I had people who genuinely cared about me and my feelings. I had people that really listened to what I was not saying. I began to feel comfortable in calling for support, I had people to pray for me at times I could not pray for myself.
Of course the retreat has helped my relationship with God enormously. The exercises from the retreat were a huge blessing and still are. I remember sitting in that circle where we heard the scripture of the woman accused of adultery and the rowdy crowd itching to dole out punishment while Jesus is writing in the sand suggesting anyone without sin could cast the first stone and they disappear one by one. We were asked to share who we could relate to in the story. I was fascinated with all of the answers because they were not necessarily right or wrong they were our interpretation to our level of understanding. I have come to realize I do not always see the big picture my vision has been clouded over at times by my own pain and suffering it’s refreshing to get the perspective of other spiritual people to help discern the present situation. Sometimes I fall back to doubting myself but I have living testimonies of God’s love for me through all the wonderful friends He brought into my life to help lift me up!
How has ISP continued to help you?
I can definitely give a lot of credit for my continued sobriety to my ISP connections, because feeling connected has always been a big issue for me. I have found calling on my friends from ISP has always been exactly what I needed. The fact that I even feel comfortable in reaching out now is truly a miracle. I am amazed that I have the understanding and presence of mind to know not to succumb to the impulses or urges that come out of nowhere occasionally. I feel the presence of my angels of ISP when I am fighting my inner battles. I feel like I walk with an army now even when I am alone and have feelings of not feeling safe or strong.
I have grown so much over the years because of the relationships I have built with ISP team members as well as the former retreatants. I have come to know what healthy relationships look and feel like. I feel it has helped me be able to build and maintain all of my relationships past and present.
It is really hard to say if anyone has noticed the change in me or has connected the change in me to my first retreat. I know my boyfriend Mike has commented more than a few times how good my involvement with ISP has been for me. When he sees me going through things he encourages me to call on my good friends Theresa or Sister Liz. What is even more impressive to me is the effect of my involvement with ISP that has happened to my boyfriend Mike! He has been a part of our annual picnic and even cooked one year. He even gets involved with helping me pick music to play on the retreats and suggested I burn CDs of the music so the women can have a reminder of their experiences on the retreat.
I think I have learned to make a lot of positive changes in my life. Choosing to go to school was the best thing I ever did for myself. I was so emotional walking on campus the first day just tearing up wishing my mom was there to see me. I choose who to be friends with and make sure I don’t allow myself to be taken advantage of. I realize now that saying no is ok. I know I can’t possibly please everyone but living my life so that it pleases our Father really brings me the most happiness and peace in my life.
What is your spiritual life like now?
I never in my life expected to live to be the age of 46; I honestly didn’t expect to see 21. I have always struggled with the spirit of depression and thoughts that the world would be better off without me. I now come to see those times as God wanting me to get closer to Him and to lean on Him, to the world I am one, but to ONE I am the world!!! Personally I get to listening to some of my favorite Gospel songs and start praising God! It is true when praises go up blessings come down! A woman shared at a recent retreat “Pain and misery are inevitable but misery is optional” I don’t let my emotions determine my next move I ask guide to guide my steps to what He has for me.
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience”
I love this quote by the French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who was a Jesuit priest. I fell in love with this quote after one of my many stints in jail! It was during that time so much was revealed to me. I realized sometimes good people do bad things it does not make them bad people! If it was true for me then it was also true for all those that had hurt me intentionally or without knowing. I learned for me to be forgiven it’s just as important for me to forgive. It’s not where or how I grew up but more about how I chose to fill the voids in my heart.
What was your life like before the retreat?
I grew up in a great neighborhood. I had great neighbors who were affluent; lawyers, anchor men, doctors, even a couple of mayors. I went from a Catholic schoolgirl involved in girl scouts, sports, cheerleading, drama and book clubs to a teenager on the honor roll.
So far so good right? I had parents that made sure I didn’t miss out as so many children do today. I was surrounded by awesome people. What went wrong many have asked? In hindsight I lacked for nothing physical. My pain was more emotional. I suffered from low self-esteem. It was instilled in me that I was a nobody. I was told all I inherited the worst traits of both my parents.
My answer to trying to fill the huge void left in my heart was to fill it with spirits. I filled it with drugs and alcohol. Alcohol is still often referred to as spirits which I find fascinating. I preferred to associate with people who were for a lack of a better word “beneath me”. This opened me up to spirits they had. When you allow one spirit in seven more follow, as described in Matthew 12 verses 43-45.
Looking back I could go on and on seeing with vivid clarity how I could have avoided so much of the pain and suffering that I caused not only me, but to all those around me that caused us all to become miserable.
Presently my spiritual eyes are open. I recognize that there are spirits all around us and in us; spirits of confusion, loneliness, fear, self-hatred…. The list goes on and on. Presently I have a relationship my family. I recognize that he did the best he knew how to do. I recognize I allowed the demons to enter my body and wreak havoc in and through me. Presently I can move forward in my life and encourage others because I learned to forgive. I forgive others very easily, but I have to constantly work on forgiving myself.
What hopes do you have now?
My plans for the future are to continue to let God guide my footsteps as well as open the doors that He wants me to go through! In conclusion my belief that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but that we are spiritual beings having a human experience has freed me from all the things that kept me in the bondage of my addictions. I believe in second and third and fourth chances because sometimes good people do bad things and it does not make them bad people!!!