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  • The retreat at Senexet House on the lake in Woodstock, far exceeded my expectations. Despite the long drive up (8 ½ hours total, including the 45 minutes or so after I picked brother Jim up at Uconn, where he teaches), and maybe 4 hours sleep if I was lucky Friday night, I was up early as usual on Saturday, at 5 a.m., a good hour and a half before anyone but the wonderful ladies who took care of us all weekend were up. I could hear them stirring around in the kitchen, preparing breakfast for 25, by around 6. I tried being quiet as I moved about the ancient house in the wee hours, but every other step was accompanied by a “cr-r-r-e-e-a-a-k-k!” - fortunately, it didn’t sound like my noisiness awoke anyone else.

    In a place like this, so early in the morning, you could really feel the history, and the sense of ghosts past who’d creaked along these same hallways and staircases over the past 100 – 150 years. Lord, if these walls could talk! I thoroughly enjoyed this sensation. The place had a deep sense that it had been part of a lot of healing through the years – with all those retreats held there, not to mention the possible underground railroad activity the house was involved in way back in the early and mid 19th century, I’m sure it probably had been.

    There was an old Italian Grotto-styled chapel room located in a little nook between the main entrance way and the huge, fireplaced living room. This was a good place for morning quiet time, which I took full advantage of both mornings while there, reading, meditating and journaling some.

    On Saturday morning, one of the kitchen ladies mentioned that it was snowing out – I hadn’t noticed – so, I pulled my boots on and threw on a jacket, and went out for a walk in the slowly dawning overcast morning, enjoying the snow falling and trudging through the snow, walking on a path along the ridge of a hill, well above the large ice and snow covered lake below. They’d just had 2 ½ feet of snow fall up here last week, and a lot of it hadn’t melted away, yet. I was definitely getting my winter “snow-fix” in. As I trudged through about a foot deep of snow, getting a good workout for my legs, I came upon what looked like a little outdoor chapel or theater area (pictured below). There was a little lecturn, that I set my mug of coffee on, and checking the snow, it was perfect snowball-making snow. So, I decided to get my first Spring throwing workout in for softball season. I made a bunch of softball sized snowballs, and started flinging them at the trees over by the lake. I got a good half hour workout in this way, then trudged back through the snow to the Retreat House.

    By now, there was much stirring around, and the magnificent smells of breakfast filled the air. I had about 20 minutes before breakfast started, just enough time to shower up. The breakfast was, as the food would be the entire weekend, simply unbelievable. If you got nothing else out of the retreat, you would at least walk away saying you ate like a king. Man, those ladies could cook!
  • The way the meetings ran throughout the day was, one person would speak on a topic in the big living room with all 25 people present, then you’d count off around the room, 1 through 5, and break off into 5 groups of 5 in various rooms around the house to have smaller meetings based on the same topic, where everyone would have a chance to share about the topic. There were 3 such topic meetings through the day, with nice, long breaks in between each, where you got a chance to talk to and get to know people in a more informal manner.

    Between the opening Round Robin meeting, “The Bullshit Stops Here” Friday night, a great game of poker (which I wound up doing quite well in), the meetings Saturday, and the chances to meet and get to know people in between all the scheduled activities, by Saturday evening, I felt like I’d gotten to know quite a few of the men of the “10th Leper” Group of AA, and that they’d gotten to know me. The format of the weekend proved to be ideal for being able to share, openly, honestly, and intimately, with others in a safe and supportive environment, while having a lot of fun and just relaxing while you’re at it.

    During a nice, 3 ½ hour break in the schedule late in the afternoon, I went out for a long walk partway around the big lake, with “Chimney Bob” and Young Dave, that turned out to be really memorable. We all felt like we were best of friends by the end of that long walk in the cold and the snow. Bob’s just a really great guy, very inquisitive, always asking a lot of questions, but as a result, he gets to know you real well and vice versa. Young Dave mentioned that one of his sponsors has him using the N.A. guide to the 12 steps to work through some of his steps – clearly, not everyone in the group does the steps the way I was shown – with the AA Big Book – although, as the weekend progressed, I would learn that most of them did. It really did fit brother Jim’s description as an “old school” type of AA Group. I apologized to Young Dave about that guide – I probably had something to do with developing it, way back when. Back when I thought the steps were something you worked at, as opposed to something you experience. Through Bob’s many questions, my early involvement in the N.A. literature movement came out, as did my more recent experience speaking at the White House, and playing softball in my White House suit pants! They loved that story!

    I managed to squeeze a nice 45 minute nap in before dinner. After dinner, there was a 2 Speaker meeting in the living room, and both speakers were really good, and both of their stories really resonated with me. One fellow had been in the Navy, and the other had gotten a job with an insurance company in the I.T. Department. I had interviewed for the same type of job, around the same time, but didn’t get it and joined the Navy, instead.
  • Of course, after everything else, there was another game of poker in the dining room, like Friday night. I started out just as luckily as I had finished Friday night’s game, then cooled off, and lost back about half of what I’d won the night before. I still wound up winning about $10. As I wondered into the living room, where a number of guys were sitting around in front of the fireplace telling the kind of jokes you’ll only hear in a room full of men, I recalled a few from long ago, that still had the ability to bring tears of laughter, when told right.

    Sunday morning was more of the same – I added a little yoga into the morning routine, in the odd little chapel, another great breakfast, and a final couple of good meetings, including a “check-out”, a final great meal for lunch, and then we were out of there.

    I was reminded of the retreats I’d attended during the year and couple months I lived in Connecticut, 40 years ago. I met and connected with people at those retreats on such a level that they would become my closest friends over the next 6 or 7 years. You can really get to know a person well in a setting like this. The folks that I managed to make a solid connection with this weekend, I do hope will continue to be a part of my life for some time to come.

    There are times where I am really glad I had the problem of addiction, so that I would have the opportunity to have the experiences that I’ve had in recovery, and to be in a position to help others find their way out of the hell that is addiction. This weekend was certainly one of those times. It was a special weekend, and like I told my brother – I was deeply honored that he invited me to spend it with him and his group. I do plan to go back again next year.
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