Views from the retreat walk, Melbourne. Photo by Anna Krjatian
"A women who knows what she brings to the table is not afraid to eat alone."
A few months ago, I was helping out at a retreat in Melbourne.
Except I had absolutely no direction, no idea what I had to do, no idea what was expected of me.
The organiser was not organised at all.
So I did what I do best and helped to host, prepped breakfast, cleaned up after everyone.
That particular week I was extremely exhausted. To be really honest, I probably should have pulled out from helping but I had already given my word and for me, a writer, my word is my everything.
So another attendee and I drove in late on the Friday. I waited for her to land from her business trip. The night was quite intense actually and the organiser phoned us to ask our ETA because it had been raining and hailing heavily at our destination.
We had a two hour drive ahead of us.
We arrived, safely. The accommodation host waited for us. The event organiser, had gone to bed.
It was 11:30pm.
Everyone was exhausted.
The next morning most of the attendees were up at 5:30am to go for a run.
I slept - too tired. And let everyone know that I would prep breakfast and to let me know if they wanted anything in particular.
When everyone returned from the run, the organiser went to the two girls who arrived late the night before, to give them a hug and say hello. They also didn't go to the run. She completely ignored me.
From that moment, I felt a strain from her towards me but I decided to put on a brave face and pretend everything was A-OK. There were people who had paid to be at this retreat and I was there to help. As a volunteer.
So I carried on being helpful, wearing a mask and doing my best to create a warm and welcoming environment for everyone.
Unfortunately, something was really, really wrong and one of the nights, the organiser completely lashed out at me. While many of her abusive comments like calling me an 'asshole' were indirect, she directly questioned my work as a speaker and workshop facilitator. I felt very uncomfortable, so much so that I escaped to the kitchen to make an eggplant dish that she flicked at me and one of the other participants earlier that night.
But I couldn't contain my pain anymore and escaped to my room to cry. A few of the other girls noticed this attack and one tried to comfort me. I spent a good deal of time texting my girlfriends to get another perspective: "Did I do something wrong?" Kept looping over and over in my mind. "Maybe it's because I asked for some help with fuel to drive to the event? Or maybe it's because I couldn't help her with the food prep that week when she contacted me last minute?"
I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I guess that's why you have friends, because one of my girlfriends instantly saw what was going on. "She's threatened by you because she knows you would be able to hold space for the participants a lot better than she could." (Mind you, it was an exercise retreat and I was meant to be helping hold space for the participants for any emotional work that they were going through).
Understanding the psychology behind the attacks made it slightly easier to digest them. But only just so.
The next morning I decided to put the events of the previous night behind me and go to bed, get up early, meditate, and go for a morning stroll with whoever was going and be my happy self. The thing was, I didn't have enough sleep because I was so emotionally on edge, it was tough to fall asleep.
After the walk, a few girls and the event organiser were standing in the kitchen, making breakfast. One of the girls had a cut and they were tending to it. Meanwhile, I was singing a song to myself and dancing along to it. At this point the organiser looked at me and said: "Anna's delusional."
Now, I've learnt to let go of many things in life. But this, I decided, I wouldn't. "Sorry (person's name), did you say I'm delusional?" I asked. To which she replied: "Well yeah! You only had three hours of sleep." To which I replied "Actually I'm fine." The organiser then told me to speak to one of the other girls at the retreat who has read up a lot about sleep and that why we need it. Her tone was quite defensive and I just looked at one of the other girls, smiled and said: "I'm only delusional if I don't meditate first thing in the morning."
You would think that would be the end of that.
No, it wasn't.
Because at this point, the organiser raised her hand at me in the form of a stop sign, raised her voice and said: "OK OK STOOOOOOP, there is no need to take it personally." Or something along those lines. I don't remember the second part of that sentence because I was triggered. Here was a professional Personal Trainer hosting a retreat, speaking to me in a very rude manner in front of three other participants.
The other three girls, clearly embarrassed, turned their gaze to the ground.
No one said anything.
Neither did I.
I just walked away, to my room and cried.
It was the last day of the retreat and I decided that enough is enough. It was time to disconnect until I could go home.
So I disconnected from the toxicity and reconnected with myself.
This meant sitting with my diary and transforming this ugly experience into something powerful.
Something that others could also use as inspiration.
Something to empower other strong women who find themselves surrounded by women who feel threatened by their strength, beauty and sheer existence.
I share the above story for context, not sympathy. You see, without the story above, the passage below would lose its impact.
This story and the excerpt below which is word-for-word what I wrote in my diary after this experience, shows how I transform every single painful experience into something empowering.
And if I can do it, you can too!
Beautiful, they feel threatened because they have not grown. They have not yet realised what they need to do. They have not realised that a diamond and ruby still shine beautifully, irregardless of their differences.
Beautiful girl, so many women felt inadequate standing next to you or being surrounded by your brightness and yet…yet so many others are inspired by it.
Beautiful girl, remember what someone once said? You’re a soul. And it so easily shines through. So much so that it petrifies some people who so readily divulge their biggest secrets and darkest thoughts. And yet this simple act, where they feel so safely held and not judged for their experiences and pain, helps others still, move past it.
Beautiful girl, I want you to remember that this too shall pass and that all those worst moments will become the raw materials for your future success.
Every single moment, my dear beautiful girl, every single one, will lead you where you need to be.
Trust and have faith that you will, and that you are, creating an impact. I know it hurts now, I know it hurts so so much. I know you feel unfairly treated and abused, just know this, that what happened isn’t yours.
What is yours is what you bring to the table: your light, your love, your joy, your understanding, your beauty, your pleasure. You bring your radiance, your smile, your skills and your experience.
Baby girl, beautiful girl, you have been misunderstood since you were a child and yet look at you. Look, just look at how much you have accomplished. Look at the woman you’ve become. Look at how you’re changing lives. Look at you!
Woman have felt threatened and jealous of you since you were in high school because you’re strong, you’re powerful and you are full of joy, even if all around you, there is darkness. And you don’t rely on anyone. And you create your own opportunities without waiting for anybody to do that for you. You put your head down and you work.
You, my beautiful girl, you work hard. You get your hands dirty. You help lift others up. You participate and through all of that, you manage to smile, giggle, and spread so much light and joy. And that, that is beautiful. Through all of that, you stay beautiful.
So beautiful girl, I want you to remember that when someone tries to dump something on you, down catch it. Let them throw and let them miss.
And when they put you down, it’s only because they feel that you’ve above them (which you’re not). And if they feel threatened by you, it’s only because you have so much love and light and beauty and empathy and knowledge to bring to other people’s lives.
Beautiful girl, I want you to remember that your big heart, needs hands big enough to hold it. So please, don’t settle for people who have small palms. You give a lot of support, so you need the same strength and space and support offered to you.
Because beautiful girl, the love you so readily give out, you also deserve to receive.
And do not for one second settle for anyone who does not give it to you: whether in love, friendships or work relationships.