NEW YORK CITY (SBG) - As a relationship comes to a close, it inevitably leaves behind the question of, “Where do I go from here?” Whether the breakup came as a complete surprise or the ending was more expected, it likely signifies a certain amount of significant changes in your path ahead. Navigating that adjustment isn’t always simple, which is why listicles on how to recover after a breakup are a dime a dozen. And with suggestions ranging anywhere from getting back out there and having yourself a #HotGirlSummer to letting yourself grieve over a pint of ice cream, there’s sure to be something that works for you, right?
But what if it doesn’t actually seem to be working? What if you’ve eaten all the ice cream, sipped on all the rosé, listened to “thank u, next” a million times, cried, posted bikini pics on Instagram, deleted your Instagram, did all the yoga, wrote in your journal, went on a few terrible dates, let three months go by, and cried some more, but nothing has really changed? If you’re starting to feel like you’re broken beyond repair, the good news is that you’re not, because this is all very normal. You may just need an experience beyond what Ben & Jerry’s can offer you.
Luckily for you, breakup retreats are very much a thing right now.
Nikki Carter, founder of We Are Self-Centered, held the company’s first breakup retreat on Valentine’s Day in 2019, turning a holiday that can be a strong source of sadness into an opportunity for healing and personal growth. Her retreats welcome a maximum of 12 women to a private estate in New York’s Hudson Valley for a few days of workshops, reflection, and transformation.
“What I specifically created the retreats to address are the feelings of shame and isolation,” said Carter. Through her retreats, she seeks to normalize the experience of grief associated with a breakup. Carter emphasizes that, although society may make you feel otherwise, there’s no right or wrong time frame for continuing to feel the effects of heartbreak or for mourning a past relationship. The situation is rarely so black-and-white; even when there’s a level of understanding that a given relationship needed to end, it’s natural to have to work through feelings of missing and loving a person who once played such an important role in your life.
“Often, our head and our heart are telling us very different things,” Carter said.
As a retreat attendee, you can expect the usage of a variety of tools, ranging from modern psychology to ancient meditations, that are primarily geared toward helping you learn to put yourself first.
“On the psychology side, we teach skills from CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, to start to improve patterns of self-regulation and self-care. We delve into some positive psychology to learn how to balance negative and positive emotions in our day. And we use attachment theory to better understand our patterns and triggers in romantic relationships,” explained Carter.
Carter discovered positive psychology after living most of her life with periods of depression and anxiety. Fueled by a desire to learn more about why yoga and meditation were so beneficial to her during the darker times, Carter sold her wellness business to pursue her Masters in Psychology at Columbia University. Through her studies of positive psychology, she was able to gain knowledge of the day-to-day rituals that enabled her to raise her happiness levels and improve her relationships.
With We Are Self-Centered, Carter is sharing that expertise with others. “The idea is to provide a lot of information that is really proven to work and then empower our women to use these tools as they return back to their lives,” she said.
The meditation side covers mindfulness and metta, or "loving-kindness," meditations. While meditation is often found on those aforementioned listicles of post-split advice, it can be daunting to jump into a meditation practice on your own. But even if you have prior practice or utilize a guided meditation app, meditating in a group of women connected by a common experience can have a much more profound impact than attempting it on your own.
“Community is at the absolute center of what we do,” said Carter.
One of the reasons that her retreats are capped at 12 attendees is to better foster a sense of connection amongst the participants. “I've been to so many functions where, by the end of our time together, there are some people whose names I don't even know,” she said. “That's not what we're about. We're not a linked chain; we're more like a web. The strength of the web is held together by each woman's connection to each of the other women.”
“I put the ‘We’ at the front [of the retreat name] rather than just calling it ‘Self-Centered Retreats,’ because first and foremost, we're a gathering,” she added.
If the idea of a breakup retreat sounds like something from which your life could benefit, you have a multitude of options available to you. We Are Self-Centered’s next event takes place in late October over the course of a long weekend; those interested must apply on their website to attend the retreat. There’s also a fall retreat with Renew Breakup Bootcamp, a program that helps guests “gain their personal power back,” using both science and spirituality. And Soul Nourish Retreats in the Blue Ridge Mountains holds weekend retreats for women that are based on finding yourself through the Enneagram system, a questionnaire that identifies nine distinct personality types.
Regina, a Brooklyn-based breathwork healer, Ayurvedic practitioner, and yoga teacher, led a retreat in early July that focused on releasing relationships that were no longer serving you. The retreat was named after the Ariana Grande breakup anthem “thank u next” and emphasized the usage of breathwork in the healing process associated with those toxic ties.
“I think the number one difficulty [post-breakup] is getting through all of the pain, grief, sadness and longing,” said Regina.
Breathwork, she believes, is one of the most effective methods to assist in that challenging process.
“Breathwork is coming home to self. Breathwork is a chance to get out of your head and connect to your body. It's the most powerful healing tool I've ever experienced, because of its ability to move energy within the body. It allows your heart to speak and be seen, rather than your mind. Any pain or sadness you are experiencing can be examined, released, and healed,” she said.
Regina first discovered breathwork as a senior in high school in 2000, during a field trip for an elective class that she was taking. “I saw lots of colors and my entire body was vibrating,” she said of her first experience. It wasn’t until 2016, however, that she began to explore the practice consistently seriously. She then completed training with healer David Elliott to start sharing her passion with others.
“I use breathwork to let go of the stresses that occupy my mind from day-to-day living and get back to the true source of who I am,” said Regina of her personal practice.
Her retreat, held at Catskills retreat center Maha Rose North, was born out of her own experiences of attempting to heal from difficult relationships and a desire to expose the potential benefits of breathwork to those going through something similar. The weekend also included candle magic, a process that involves the carving of runes and other powerful, significant symbols into a candle, followed by the burning of the marked candle.
Beyond breathwork, Regina offered up additional advice for anyone going through a split: “I'm also a fan of cutting off all contact with your ex for a period of longer than a year. I don't contact anyone I've dated. It helps to have space to work through the pain.”
But for Regina, even the most difficult relationships can help to facilitate healing. “I believe everyone is in your life acting as a helper in your healing,” she said.
And Carter sees things similarly.
“I really believe that there are no mistakes, only lessons, so maybe it's less about letting go and more about sifting through all the mud of a breakup to find those gold nugget lessons,” Carter said.