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Heal your Aching Heart!

April 1, 2019

Recently we were joined on The Bridge Retreat by Mental Health Activist and Author, Bryony Gordon. Bryony joined us to process her own personal losses and in support of her own mental health. Below she writes about her experience of ‘crossing The Bridge’.

“Everyone should be made to go to The Bridge Retreat. It should be a statutory requirement, a sort of modern day version of National Service – before you are allowed to leave school, you must be packed off for a week to The Bridge, where you will experience the mental health equivalent of earning a Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award. The stuff you do here is that good, that mind- blowing, and yes, that life-changing. But life-changing in a practical way.

I was sceptical before I arrived. I am a cynical old hack who has been taught to question everything. I had first heard about The Bridge Retreat last summer, after I burst into tears on a magazine editor when she asked me how I was. ‘I’m… fine’, I wept, but of course I wasn’t. I was having another one of my depressions, one so furious that on several occasions I contemplated suicide over getting up.

This isn’t me making a joke – as a mental health campaigner, I am not the kind of person to make jokes about suicide. It was awful. Today, I am astonished that it even happened. It seems barely possible that any of it was real. But it was. And it had bedded in so absolutely that on this particular day, I had absolutely no idea how I had managed to get out of the house.

I am thankful I did. The magazine editor, seeing my tears, told me about The Bridge. She had been on it a year before, and it had changed her life. Magazine editors are always saying things have changed their lives, but there was something about the way she looked into me that told me she meant it. So I got in touch with The Bridge, to find out what it was.
In a nutshell: it is a six-day retreat in the middle of nowhere in Somerset, where you are stripped of all gadgets and made to do a hell of a lot of work on yourself.

My magazine editor friend wouldn’t tell me what this entailed, and in every review I read about it, the details were similarly sketchy. I now know why. Taken out of context, some of this stuff would terrify even the most enlightened person. So I won’t go into the specifics here: I really wouldn’t want to scare you off, or – more importantly – send you in there with any preconceptions. It is important to have as few as possible.

The Bridge describes itself as ‘an exceptional healing experience’. You are told that you will be doing a lot of ‘grief work’, and I wondered if I would fit in given I was fortunate enough to not have experienced any major losses in my life. But Donna Lancaster, the marvellous, magnificently funny, magical woman who set up The Bridge, told me that losses did not have to involve death. Our hearts did not break purely because of romantic relationships. It was a place for anyone feeling at odds with their life – and just over a year after getting sober, that seemed to be me. And I didn’t want to keep feeling like this – the sense of utter confusion at the crashing depressions I get every year for at least a month or two. I had done so much to try and banish them – going to rehab, and regular therapy. What was missing? What was I not getting?

I arrived at The Bridge feeling scared, and angry that my phone and laptop were going to be taken away. They had given us an emergency number for our families should they need to get hold of us, but that didn’t do much to relax me, addicted as I am to social media and scrolling. Still, I was there now, there being a place called 42 Acres, a space that has been specially – and lovingly – created to host healing retreats. The house is beautifully designed, everything created with sustainability in mind, from the interiors through to the organic soaps and shampoos made by a local company.

There were 13 of us on the retreat, covering a range of ages, professions and experiences, though mostly female (only three were men). The bedrooms were beautiful and calming, my bed exceptionally comfortable, and I replaced my addiction to social media with an addiction to salt lamps, which were placed in each room, calming us as we got to grips with nights without phones or books. The food was incredible, plentiful, and mostly sourced locally. Donna wants guests to feel as safe as possible – and for six days, I felt as if I was in a womb. It was incredible how quickly I stopped worrying about the outside world. I threw myself into the retreat, helped massively by the amazing people I was sharing it with. We were all there for different reasons, but we were all after the same thing – that elusive sense of peace. It was clear that if we wanted to get anywhere near it, we were going to have to be very, very open with one another. And I mean very.

Things happened that I cannot do justice to here. I can’t explain them in any medium, at all. What I will say is that I did a lot of crying. So much crying, that I kept thinking I had no tears left in me – only for my body to surprise me with more. Together, we took part in ‘rituals’ that enabled us to confront the ghosts of our pasts. Strangely, given I hadn’t known these people a couple of days previously, I was relieved to be shedding this stuff in their company. It seemed safer. I felt hysterical; calm; elated; despairing; terrified; loved; and often all of these things within moments of each other. It was bonkers. It was brilliant. It is expensive – but I’m not sure what price you can put on finally being able to make sense of yourself. In terms of an investment, it is one that will pay off for the rest of your life.

I do not want to promise that you will come to The Bridge and be cured of all your problems. But what you will do is find tools to help you deal with life; you will start to understand why you do what you do, and why you feel the way you do. I always hear people talk about feeling as if a piece of their puzzle is missing. What The Bridge does is give you the faith and the patience to find that missing piece. It lets you know if you lose it once more, you can find it again.

I loved The Bridge Retreat with every bit of my broken, bruised heart – a heart I would now not swap for anything. And that is something. In fact, it is everything.”

Bryony Gordon
(This article was originally featured in The Telegraph, February 2019)

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