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My Experience at the Saprea Retreat: For Female Survivors of Incest and CSA

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

In May 2023, I attended the four-day Saprea Retreat in Utah for cisgendered women and nonbinary folks assigned female at birth who are survivors of incest and child sexual abuse. I felt totally safe and wonderfully cared for. Saprea has been offering these retreats three times a month for the past eight years in Utah. More recently they opened an additional retreat center in Georgia. Because the retreats are funded by a private foundation and other donors, food, board, and transport to the retreat center from the airport are free. Retreatants must pay their way to and from the local airport.

Participants who fly into the Utah location are picked up at the airport and driven to the retreat site, situated at the foot of snow-capped mountains. No photos are permitted of the retreat building to maintain the privacy of retreatants, all of whom have been interviewed and screened in advance.

On my retreat, there were 16 participants, often divided into two discussion groups of eight. All activities were optional. Talks were given on many topics — for example, understanding shame and resiliency, creating intentional behaviors, sexual health, and restorative sleep (the last was a presentation I very much needed). The focus was on how trauma affects each of these issues.

When we met in smaller groups, there were usually two leaders. One woman presented, while the other acted as a monitor of the group’s mood and safety. We never had to share anything at all about the abuse we had experienced, but if we did decide to, we were instructed to disclose “headlines” only, never graphic details.

To be with people who understood on some level the fundamental hurts I had endured was a relief, a gift, and sometimes an intense experience. Interesting, integrating activities included a fantastic drumming session, Muay Thai (Thai boxing with gloves), art journaling, yoga, mindfulness, tai chi, and Kintsugi. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of gluing broken pottery pieces back together with gold — a perfect metaphor for the healing process.

On the last day we were told about free online programs we could access at home.

Feedback was always encouraged, and I made several suggestions. For instance, during a talk about other traumatic physical and emotional experiences that can impact survivors — such as having parents who drank alcohol to excess — I suggested that systemic oppressions such as racism and poverty be mentioned, too.

Saprea is currently raising money and developing a curriculum for men's retreats. The first kosher retreat was just held and was at full capacity (26 participants). A woman I became friends with during my stay told me that she felt accepted both as a survivor and as a lesbian: “I could be fully myself, which filled my heart in ways that I didn't realize I needed.” She now attends Saprea’s online support group for survivors who are queer and transgender. It will be great when there are retreat opportunities for everyone, especially those within historically marginalized groups.

My retreat experience was wonderful. I felt profoundly given to. The activities were presented in diverse, informed, and creative ways. The staff was kind and thoughtful. Due to the beauty of the mountains, the healing tools offered, and newly formed friendships — and even after years of therapy — I came away with a deeper sense that I am worthy.

- Kesa Kivel

Kesa Kivel is a 72-year-old L.A.-based writer, activist, and incest survivor, currently finishing work on her book, Transforming the Way We Think About Incest: How Incest Intersects with Sexism and Anti-Black Racism. Please feel free to contact her.

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1 Comment

Nancy Matthews
Nancy Matthews
Nov 15, 2023

The Retreat sounded wonderful. Gratitude for sharing. 💖

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