Recovery can begin the moment you choose it. Brookhaven Retreat® LLC, a unique residential treatment facility exclusively for women with mental health and/or substance abuse issues, provides the tools for recovery.
Alumnae of the program are welcomed back each year as a reminder that every day is a new opportunity to get out of your problem and into a solution. “We can choose how we define ourselves by our decisions and choices,” says Jacqueline Dawes, who experienced her own set of difficult circumstances and was inspired to offer life-altering support to others by creating the treatment center a decade ago.
Brookhaven Retreat celebrated their 10th year of service in recovery with the annual Alumnae Reunion at RT Lodge in Maryville, TN on Saturday, March 26, 2016. During her talk toward the end of the day-long event, Dawes said, “Recovery happens by being prepared. Over prepare all the time. The more you equip yourself, the more you will know how to use and understand the tools. When you do, then you can go with the flow of life.”
Each year, alumnae travel from all over the country to gather and celebrate their accomplishments and successful recovery since their time spent in The Lily Program®, a 90-day program for women offered exclusively at Brookhaven Retreat. As every year is marked by a new theme, this year was an invitation to “Explore. Expand. Embrace.”
The day began with guests and staff members greeting each other, in some cases introducing themselves for the first time, and receiving their name badges and handcrafted velvet quiver bags. After breakfast, they warmed up with “Ground Down,” a body and mind tuning exercise group, one of several experiential group activities held for the purpose of sharpening tools learned during treatment in The Lily Program.
Jessica King, alumnae coordinator for the third consecutive year, said, “The best part of seeing these ladies is to learn they are still committed to the program. It makes it all worthwhile. Jacqueline Dawes has a vision and creates a theme for the reunion that is unique and beautiful. She really cares how the alumnae feel about it and wants them to feel welcome at the reunion. She speaks from the heart, which makes the experience rewarding. She is the most passionate person I know. Everything she does is big and comes from the heart."
At different times during the day, each guest painted an original canvas to add to the six-panel mural of Brookhaven Retreat. The mural’s purpose is to give women who are new to the program hope that although it may be a difficult road to recovery, it has been traveled many times by others who made it through with nurturing and experiences rooted in mindfulness.
Megan Abbott, Brookhaven Retreat art therapist, enjoyed her first reunion. "It’s both rewarding and exciting,” she said. “I'm really impressed by the women. I was able to see the art projects of former clients. I recognized their stories and process as they are living out their lives now in wellness.”
It became clear to Abbott and the other therapists the importance of the work they do and how it translates to life after treatment. The group explored feelings and attitudes about healthy relationships in the programs, “It Takes Two” led by Primary Therapist Julia Wilson, MS, MFT.
Pam, an alumnae who graduated the program several years ago and has been to four reunions, said, “Coming to the reunion for the first time five years ago, I was amazed by those who had been successful (in their recovery), and I wondered how they did that. But this is my fourth reunion and I’m doing OK too.”
Primary therapists, Sharon Moore, LMSW, and Deby Torbett, MS, led a discussion on the topic of self-love in the program titled “Who Are You?” During the group the also created montages expressing their individuality.
The opportunity to explore and expand was presented in “Eat Live & Live,” a talk about fermented foods and taste testing of sauerkraut with Charity Coyle, Brookhaven Retreat’s on-staff Registered Dietician, and Stephanie Christian, LMT, CYT.
Entertainment offered another exciting component of the day with “Celtic Rhythms on Fire,” including Irish bagpipes and a team of Irish step dancers, who performed and taught guests a line dance.
After lunch was served, “Wrap, Wrap, Wrap” was designed as an expansive program designed to teach mindfulness as guests wrapped gifts for loved ones. In a room full of balloons with ribbons attached, each guest made a note on a balloon of something to be symbolically released as they let the balloons go outside.
“Trap Free,” a ropes course facilitated by Primary Therapist Lana Wilcox, LCP/MHSP, encouraged women to embrace each other both literally and figuratively. During the exercise, they made contact with various objects while blindfolded and experienced a range of emotions while learning the importance of trust.
Deb Tracy, Program Manager, said, “The reunion is truly a treat not just for clients, but for us as staff members. It gives me the encouragement of seeing the results of our labor. It’s very touching and I appreciate everything that goes into the preparation of the reunion.”
Fresh juices were served and other programs were offered, including a cooking session, “Eat Easy,” led by Primary Therapist Holly Moore, LMSW.
This was Holly’s first reunion experience, which she considered “a most amazing day and unique experience for both staff and alumnae,” she said. “I’m so very grateful for this experience and to Jacqueline for giving me this wonderful opportunity.”
After a break, a fun makeover session, a four-course dinner and the awards ceremony, each alumna was given a double heart Pandora charm to symbolize the act of embracing your own heart.
Dawes also spoke about how the process of recovery relies on preparedness. “Your own attitude about ‘self’ is everything,” she said. “Keep moving and be progressive. Surround yourself with inspired and grateful people while embracing those things that define what you need to do for yourself. The saying goes, ‘charity begins at home,’ and home is you. Expand by being more forgiving, which is a quality of strength, and explore new levels of that strength. Know that your most important possession is yourself. Also know that what defines you is your decisions and choices. Every day is a new opportunity to choose what you want to become.”
Dawes is famous for saying, "Getting well is hard, but staying well is harder.” The Aftercare Program, which includes the reunion, is in place to help women stay well and continue working with the tools acquired during The Lily Program.
Many alumnae consider Brookhaven Retreat a “home away from home.” One alumna in particular thanked Dawes for providing all alumnae the opportunity to “come home every year.”
Before departing, women were given a velvet bag containing sparklers and a tag that said, “Embrace Yourself. Love Sparkles.” The sparklers were used to light up the night to symbolize the light within and their power to keep it burning bright through potentially darker times.
Alumnae and staff members alike, claim the program has proven successful for many women. Wilcox, who attended her second reunion as an employee, said, “It’s such a joy to see former clients again and know how they’ve succeeded. It reinforces that the program really works. People are able to change their lives because of this program.”
Dawes told alumnae, “When we see you being joyful we are joyful. Often the best light is the burning bridge that you leave behind. Some bridges are fractured and sometimes people won't understand your journey.”
Dawes also spoke about her recent mission trip in the Philippines during typhoon season when she noticed all the happy people who no longer had homes. “One would think in light of the devastation and loss, they would be horrified. But they were happy because what they value most are their families and relationships with friends. Instead of wallowing in the state of loss, they began rebuilding with what they had left. Often all they had left was a hand to hold. And that was good enough.”
The story was a metaphor for each alumna, who will always have the shared experience of treatment with the friends they made during that time. So long as they choose to, they can lean on each other, as well as staff members, for continued support.