Healing through Sisterhood: Break the Silence Women’s Survivor Retreat

By: Meghan Mausteller

From Thursday, May 18 through Sunday the 21, a new class of women experienced Break the Silence’s 2017 Survivor Sister Retreat. This retreat, which has been offered annually since 2013, gives survivors of domestic violence the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of activities and workshops and meet with women from across the country who have experienced domestic violence.

The purpose of the Survivor Retreat is to “educate, empower, and connect survivors” and encourage them to “step outside of their comfort zone to truly experience healing like never before.”


This year’s agenda included a day in Old Town San Diego, CA, workshops and speakers, a “Burn Night,” where attendees wrote letters to themselves and others and burnt them as an act of rebirth, a belly dancing lesson, an art therapy session and much more.

Each of these sessions were designed to provide attendees with the tools they need to make progress in their healing. Kathy Serenko, BTS’ marketing team lead and one of this year’s team captains, describes herself as “a few more years removed” from her abuse than most of the other women at the retreat, but she said that she “was never really fully equipped to deal with [her] wounds” before attending this year’s Survivor Retreat. The retreat gave her the tools to deal with both her old and new wounds.

Kyra Burke, one of the attendees, had a similar experience. Burke, who is finishing up a bachelor’s degree in social work, looked to the retreat to help her deal with her history of abuse before beginning an internship where she will work with other survivors. During the retreat, she learned about PTSD, how it affects her emotions and what her triggers are. As a graduate of the Survivor Sister Retreat, she now feels more comfortable dealing with her past and helping others move to a place of healing.

But across the board, the women at this year’s retreat came away with much more than these tools, they came away with a sisterhood of 40 women who they can rely on for support, comfort and understanding. Not only were the ordinary interactions with the other women and friendships that formed from these moments their favorite memories, but they continue to stay in contact with one another through social media.

On FaceBook, the women share photos of the retreat, inspirational quotes, and gratitude for how each attendee touched the lives of every other woman there. For Burke, this was an important part of the retreat. Coming from the “standoffish” state of New York, she was shocked that it was so easy to bond and make connections with a group of women she had never met before.

After spending only four days together, she said, “All of these girls . . . I’m sure we will still talk.”

The FaceBook group allows them to keep in touch with each other and help each other through difficult times.

Cassi Cain, a team captain and BTS volunteer coordinator, summed it up when she said, “When you make connections with other people, it makes you feel not so alone.”

This summer, BTS is expanding its retreat program and hosting the very first Angel Family Retreat in Colorado Springs, CO from July 19 to the 22. While the Survivor Sister Retreat focuses on domestic violence survivors, the Angel Family Retreat will be for families who lost their daughters to domestic violence. The program will connect Angel Families and allow them to “come together and share their pain and memories.”

If you are interested in attending the 2018 Survivor Sister Retreat or 2018 Angel Family Retreat, be sure to keep an eye on the BTS website and follow us on FaceBook. Applications for the 2018 Survivor Sister Retreat will be available beginning in August 2017.

In the words of Serenko, “it is a must-do experience.”

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