First Sunlight Retreat Program for Survivors of Rape a Success

 Sunlight Retreats Founder Brittany Catton Kirk and Stella Stehly of Stehly Farms. 

Sunlight Retreats Founder Brittany Catton Kirk and Stella Stehly of Stehly Farms. 

I cannot thank you enough for your generous support sponsoring a survivor of rape for the first Sunlight Retreats. The weekend was a powerful healing experience for all of us. There were over ten volunteers who shared their talents, from healthy cooking with Stella Stehly from Stehly Farms, to restorative yoga with Christiana Donovan, to acupuncture with Dr. Catherine Austin of Living Stream Wellness for stress and anxiety, Darwin Vasay taught self-defense as an empowerment session, with the clear understanding that many rape victims are incapacitated, drugged, are children, or in otherwise vulnerable positions where self-defense would not apply. Love on an Leash-Central San Diego Chapter also visited with adorable therapy dogs. 

 Self-defense with Darwin Vasay

Self-defense with Darwin Vasay

I cannot say enough amazing things about Dr. Shiva Ghaed, who dedicated her whole weekend to support the survivors. Dr. G, as she is lovingly known, leads over 11 support groups at San Diego Naval Medical Center. As a survivor of the Route 91 massacre in Las Vegas, she stepped up a week after the attack and created and leads a weekly volunteer Route 91 Trauma Support Group at InCahoots. Needless to say, she has a heart of gold, and knows of what she preaches.

 Restorative, healing yoga with Christiana Donovan 

Restorative, healing yoga with Christiana Donovan 

 Dr. Shiva Ghaed at Sunlight Retreat San Diego

Dr. Shiva Ghaed at Sunlight Retreat San Diego

 During the retreat, Dr. Shiva Ghaed worked expertly to share the science of PTSD and trauma, a comprehensive approach to mental health and then finally, healing and growth beyond trauma. By all accounts, she is a complete rock star, able to get to the heart of the matter, and educate and empower us. I learned more from her in two days than I did in five years of weekly therapy. Another survivor mentioned she had a breakthrough after nine years, and that no one has been able to reach her like Dr. Shiva.

One very telling detail is that 60% reported major problems sleeping at night prior to the retreat, yet all fifteen of us slept through the night, and we were all shocked in the morning. We shared an immediate bond and connection led us to talks and walks outside in the sunlight, to late into the night. We shared some amazing breakthroughs with trauma specialist Dr. Shiva Ghaed, given her incredible talent to explain the science of PTSD and then how we can move beyond grief and trauma. By explaining the science behind trauma, we realized we were not crazy or sensitive or weak, and we all nodded and smiled and agreed as people shared their feelings, thoughts and reactions that mirrored our own.  

 Dr. Catherine Austin, L.A.c., DAOM, of Living Stream Wellness treated multiple groups for acupuncture for depression, anxiety, PTSD and other challenges.

Dr. Catherine Austin, L.A.c., DAOM, of Living Stream Wellness treated multiple groups for acupuncture for depression, anxiety, PTSD and other challenges.

It was a surprisingly upbeat weekend, filled with bright colors, a beautiful setting, delicious, nutritious food, laughter, healing tears and support.  The weekend was a reset, a call to action, a challenge to ourselves to move our own healing forward and empower others. We now continue to support each other in a private online group as we go back stronger to our daily lives and have to balance our work, family and life commitments. We hope to do another retreat in August, and/or potentially the fall in San Diego. We also have a strong interest list of survivors in the D.C. area, Austin and some other cities. We see what this meant and how it helped and now are motivated to do many more. Sunlight Retreats namesake is inspired by the Louis Brandeis quote, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” By coming out of the darkness and into the sun, we emerge stronger, more united, as fear, shame and pain slowly fade away during the long healing process of a rape survivor. I cannot thank you enough for sparking something that was so impactful and for being a difference maker to all of us.