Self-Care with the Sisterhood at SWAT 2018
The last weekend in September posed a scheduling conundrum for me: do I celebrate my husband's birthday with him or do I pack my bags and head up north with 100 other police wives/partners/fiancees/girlfriends for the annual SWAT retreat? Like any strong, resourceful and adaptable police wife, I found a compromise.
I went to the retreat and we celebrated his birthday on a different day.
And I'm so glad that we found middle ground because SWAT 2018 was an AMAZING weekend and I walked away with renewed energy and some great tools to rock blue line life.
Like the other women who attended the retreat, I wear many hats - police wife, working mother to 3 kids, sister, daughter and friend. I have not been great about prioritizing self care - in part because when your other half is a police officer, life can be very unpredictable.
After this retreat, I have a much better understanding just how important it is. It was also helpful to experience and talk about the many kinds of self care activities there are and learn some of the science behind why it's key to mental health, family stability and quality of life. With the rising numbers of police suicides across the country and some very recent heartbreaking losses right here in Minnesota, this is a critical issue for law enforcement families.
The retreat was held again at Audubon Center of the North, non-profit environmental learning center on Grindstone Lake near Sandstone, MN. The property's 535 acres of beautiful woods, trails and shoreline with cabins and barns was truly a beautiful setting. The staff were very friendly, responsive and provided excellent hospitality.
FRIDAY Check in began at 4:00 p.m. Everyone received a tote full of swag, including a SWAT 2018 tee shirt, Backing the Blue Line headband, insulated wine tumbler, a Mic Tight mic clip to share with our Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) and several other goodies.
Special thanks to tee shirt sponsors:
Carrie Allen - Plexus
Dan Athmann - Thrivent Financial
Gretchen Gifford - Thirty One
After a casual pizza dinner, Kelly Sayre (of Diamond Arrow Group) provided Situational Awareness Training to our group to help us keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.
Whether we are new to the LEO lifestyle or a seasoned veteran of it, we walked away with great tips and simple solutions for being more aware of our surroundings as we go about our everyday life. Everyone could relate on some level to the personal stories she shared and several women opened up about similar experiences. She also had a selection of self defense items available for purchase, including some that I didn't even know existed.
Her key takeaways were very empowering to our group. The shared experience of her presentation and engaging discussion was a great way to kick off the weekend devoted to self care and celebrating our sisterhood.
Next up, we heard from Dan Athmann (of Thrivent Financial) about financial considerations in caring for ourselves and our loved ones. He provided worksheets and resources to help us identify our financial goals. As a retired Minnesota police officer, he had great insight about surviving a law enforcement career and how important it is to plan for the future and the unexpected. Everyone was provided with his contact information and were invited to follow up with a complimentary, no obligation consultation.
After Dan's presentation wrapped up, we had free time. There were many options - a bonfire outside, an impromptu dance party, catching up with friends, a bingo run to the casino, snapping some pics in the photo booth or going to bed early.
SATURDAY The agenda started with some icebreakers in the main Dining Hall. SWAT Bingo was a great way to get to know new people - it was fun to learn fun facts about others and figuring out who else you had something in common with.
Next up, Ryan Van Wyk, Psy.D., LP, a licensed clinical psychologist and Specialty Lead in the Mental Health Clinic at North Memorial Health and founder of the MN Trauma Project, spoke to our group about Post Traumatic Stress.
He shared some of the science behind how our brains are wired and what trauma does to the human brain. He shared some common signs of work related trauma and gave practical suggestions on what we can do if we see the warning signs.
He paired his presentation with a Yoga Shield instructor who spoke about self care of our nervous system and then led us in some down and up regulation strategies through deep breathing and body movement. It was interesting and exciting to hear about culturally informed and job specific protocols in the practice of yoga that are available to benefit our LEOs and ourselves.
Next up was brunch, prepared by ACN staff with locally sourced, organic ingredients.
Following that, we cycled through several pampering/wellness stations. At one, we got to make an essential oil diffuser necklace with doTerra products, courtesy of Dana Logick.
Along with the materials, she also helped us pick an oil or blend tailored to our own needs.
At another station, we met with Krystle Harrington who treated us to sample packets of Arbonne wellness products and great information about leading a healthier lifestyle.
The third station was hosted by Sue Palmer and featured Mary Kay Satin Hands pampering and cosmetic samples. It was fun to try some new things and get some wellness tips and tricks.
In between scheduled activities, there was a good chunk of free time before dinner.
Everyone took a break from their small group or solo pursuits to gather near the bonfire pit for a large group photo. So many FABULOUS women in one frame!
Some ladies opted to do the high ropes course. Three stories tall, it's an unforgettable experience. Everyone watched out for each other and cheered one another on. It was a great bonding experience and a sisterhood highlight of the weekend.
We gathered again in the Dining Hall to hear Amy Dingmann share 18 Things She's Learned Being a LEOW for 18 Years. Amy currently serves as Backing the Blue Line's Marketing Chair and had everyone laughing, nodding in agreement or pondering the wisdom she shared. She reminded us that there is a lot of really great aspects to this lifestyle and we don't ever have to be truly alone. Even though the consensus was we could have listened to Amy speak the rest of the evening, she wrapped up and we ate another fantastic meal of locally sourced food.
Once dinner was done, it was time to get our craft on! One of the things that is a SWAT tradition is crafting together. It's really fun to make something with our own hands that we can display in our homes as both a reminder of our time at SWAT and a way to honor the lifestyle we live. This year, the craft was string art. Prior to the weekend, we submitted our selections for a design and our vendor brought all the supplies we needed. She had helpers with her and they did demos as well as offered individual help to those of us (myself included) who seemed to have extra thumbs.
After crafting wrapped up, the crowd of ladies around the bonfire grew and grew. Some of my favorite memories of the weekend were from hanging out at the fire pit with the other LEOWs, getting to know each other better, sharing stories, laughing and bonding over shared love of different styles of music, favorite beverages and northwoods fashion choices. It was a night some of us didn't want to end!
The morning began with a bright and early worship service with favorite music and message. Afterwards, Brooke LeClaire, the current President of Backing the Blue Line, shared her perspective on self care and mental health issues from the hats she wears as a mother, LEOW, Law Enforcement Chaplain and therapist.
After brunch, there was still a bit of time to explore the grounds of the Audobon Center and wander some of the trails and cabins throughout the property.
A FEW MORE PHOTOS FROM THE RETREAT
A very special thanks to our Social Events Chair, Becca P., for all of her hard work, time and energy she put into creating a fun and memorable SWAT 2018 experience! From logistics, to set up, take down, coordinating sponsors and communicating with attendees to keeping the activities on track, and probably a few dozen other things behind the scenes I'm not privy to, she had an enormous responsibility and did it all while balancing family life, teaching and starting graduate school. The Blue Sisterhood is stronger when our other leaders and members work together to share experiences, teach and learn together.
The weekend would not have been possible without the support of our sponsors who invested in this retreat. Their contributions, prize donations, and support of self care for MN police wives/partners/fiancees/girlfriends helped us focus on learning how to better take care of ourselves and our loved ones.
Join Backing the Blue Line! We invite MN police wives/partners/fiancees/girlfriends/to become members of Backing the Blue Line to take advantage of all available membership benefits and have additional opportunities to give and receive support. It is also for raising awareness of the need to support our unique lives and share the bond that comes with being a law enforcement family.