Rebuilding piece by piece- a reflection on the GWG Newbie Retreat


Broken. In disarray. Worthless.

These words whispered from the darkest of places during a horrendous flare. I knew knew so little while I sheepishly attempted my first enemas of mesalamine. I would cry quietly in the bathroom that nothing would stop the bleeding, the pain, and the accidents.

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It would take a year to find out that I actually had moderate Crohn’s disease and start the actual care I needed. It would take another year to be in deep remission. This all happened while I accepted, struggled, and resigned from a job that prevented me from remission. I was also a new mother and continue to struggle with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and OCD.

My body, heart, and soul laid before me in pieces on my bathroom floor. I was shattered in a way similar to the bowl I demolished while attending the 2019 Girls With Guts Newbie Retreat. One of our activities included Kintsugi pottery, a Japanese art where you not only put broken pieces back together, but you highlight the cracks with a precious metal.

Now, we used an epoxy mixed with gold dust, but it didn’t make the process any less meaningful. Believe it or not, It was quite therapeutic for thirty girls to smash bowls with a hammer. Many of us let out frustration we had been holding onto for weeks, months, even years.


What came after was unbelievable.

Each of us instinctively tried to move pieces for an idea of what the bowl should look like. Many women struggle to make themselves into what we “should” look or act like. Edges were sharp and cracked, giving a distorted look. Many tried to hold all the pieces together at once while quickly applying epoxy. While I fumbled to get a general look, I then focused on certain pieces while letting the rest fall. Looking back, I should have treated my flare that way; designate and focus on one priority at a time instead of frantically struggling to keep it all in place.

Many of the pieces would no longer fit right, a feeling than many have after surgery or therapy. My bowl had at least have one hole from the hammer that could not be repaired. While some would forfeit with despair, Girls With Guts encourages us to allow- even celebrate- holes, scars, and other marks.


This is where community becomes vital for healing. Many of us have overcome excruciating battles that left behind physical and emotional scars. It often takes someone to remind us how beautiful we are with those “flaws.” Stretch marks, along with scars from surgery or therapy, should be embraced because are the result of us overcoming an obstacle that once appeared impossible.

I personally have cracks and scars along my soul from trauma and IBD. Finding friends, sisters really, among GWG allowed me to accept my faults and identify what wounds still need to heal. There is one piece of this bowl that did not come from the original, but instead a beloved friend. Like most friendships, I had to pay a lot of attention to get the piece to hold but it created something to behold.

I often see the epoxy as other people in my life. I’m lucky enough to have friends that encourage me to shine like the gold in the cracks. Since IBD runs in my family, I have parents who often hold me together and even go to appointments with me. And this bowl (or me) would not exist without my husband and son motivating me to find the help and support I need.


In the safe place provided by this retreat, I miraculously assembled a bowl. It doesn’t look at all like the original, but it is unique and lovely, much like every woman I met in this group. It can no longer hold liquid or small items, but it still has an essential role that is actually more valuable than when it sat on a store shelf.

The past two years have been by far the hardest point in my life. It took me laying on on my bathroom floor on the darkest of nights to collect the pieces I needed to put myself back together. It took the frustration of pain and bleeding to do what I needed to do: get the help I really needed and reach out to find beloved friends I would have never met.

And now, like my bowl, I can stand with my own grace and allow my scars to shine.


Manda Barger has been an IBD warrior since 2013. She was eventually diagnosed with Crohn's disease and put on a biologic treatment, but that hasn't stopped her from being a media mama! Manda is an award-winning journalist, artist, wife, and mother.

When she is not working or tied to an IV line, Manda loves reading, painting, singing, gardening, and taking adventures with her husband and son. She's also an avid animal lover and devoted to her cat and dog.

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