Sanctuary is not therapy or self-help wellness coaching. I believe that the vast majority of the "helping" industry has come to mean interference, utilizing oppressive authoritarian models and forms of saviorism that deny us our own knowing, body trust and integrity. Sanctuary is a space where you you are heard, believed, and companioned, without interference and assumption of superior insight. I believe you are allowed to have all of you, and the wholeness of your own lived experience, without being gaslit and told you ought to transform it, “reframe” or become a good survivor. I believe your own experience is trustworthy and your own human self worthy of honor and dignity, compassion and celebration.
What this means
In Sanctuary Sessions and Groups:
Much of what society defines as success and progress, as “making it” and “healing” from trauma and living with grief is merely the expectation of conformity and assimilation into oppressive systems. To become functioning is to achieve mastery within that which harms us. In this narrative, our role becomes that of the “good survivor.” Sanctuary is a refuge from this and actively dismantles this.
Sanctuary is not an escape from reality. It is rather a full immersion into what is and has always been real and yet denied you. Because this is where so much harm happens: in having our own lived experiences and truths taken from us, told us to be different than what we know, all while claiming another knows best. Here in sanctuary you will not be gaslit. There is no spiritual bypassing. No euphemism.. No superiority veiled in affirmations. No victim blaming. This is the Sanctuary for your full complexity and humanity. This is what I mean when I say reality. And that I will stay in reality, with you. Because yes, it really did happen. And yes, we really are that many ages inside, all of them alive in us.
Through paying attention (attention is a kind of love) and being in experiences as they are without forcing ourselves to change or be different or some notion of better, it can almost feel like tending for the plants in the greenhouse of the sanctuary and sometimes a kind of slow repair happens in knowing what it is to truly stay with ourselves moment by moment. To ally ourselves and cease the war inside. I don’t know that I can call it healing, as I am aware that word itself is so laden with implication and means so many things to different people, and itself can be a form of expectation and oppression. So I will say this. Sometimes, slowly, it’s almost as if there is this mending of the fragmentation. We find we are allowed to know and have all of ourselves, for ourselves. And this was the real Sanctuary.
I listen, deeply. We listen together. Not to come up with insight or know what to say next. But the listening that happens in slower time, when we aren’t forced into finding the solution. When you can be right where you are, and I will meet you there.
I bring my ethics of mitigating harm through acknowledgement of power differentials and non-interference, respect for your own sovereignty, and my commitment to stay and not look away.
Art matters. And art is not just one thing.
Accessibility and consent are anchoring values. Without them, a true sanctuary cannot exist.
We are not all having the same experience. The assumption that we are and therefore what works for one will then work for another is the source of much harm.
Nothing About Us Without Us is For Us
I do not have “the answers” and do not speak as “the expert.”
It is okay to not be okay.
It is okay to feel good and to experience pleasure and to swallow joy whole.
In Sanctuary we get to go as slowly as you want and need. There is no forced urgency. No rushing. No claim that there is an external standard we are striving toward which determines worth and value of your personhood.
I come from a midwifery model, meaning a non-pathology orientation. I don’t listen for things that are diseased as if you and your life are a problem in need of salvation. In Sanctuary you get to be a human having human experiences, naming yourself for yourself.
You might come in need of Sanctuary for the one thing: living with chronic illness, the book you want to write, the question that won’t leave you alone, the god you finally did leave, the need for the space to freely and fully be in your own sexuality for its own sake without the interference of other’s ideas of who you should or should not be and become.
And, it is also true that we as embodied humans are complex creatures with whole lives and don’t really fit into easily compartmentalized categories. Sanctuary is a place where you get to bring what you want and choose to bring, in our many intersections of identity and lived experience.
Some of the Many Human Experiences
in the Sanctuary Greenhouse
sanctuary in recovering from religious abuse and oppression, cult recovery, and existential spiritual direction for the secularists and seekers. honoring self and agency, learning to listen to ourselves and trust ourselves, exploring the meaning of consent and reclaiming sovereignty.
chronic illness and chronic pain, disability, medical advocacy and illness and deepening the relationship you want to have with your embodied self.
beginnings. endings. life transitions. birth and death. grief and bereavement.
slowing down to feel the full shape of your life: the art of care
the kind of trauma and/or early lived experience that mark you as other and outcast. the stories that make you not fit in and forever othered. the ones that mean being forever orphaned and in some ways alone, your lived experience so seemingly far away from what most seem to share.
embodiment, what it is to be human in bodies that break and bring pleasure both, in ambivalent bodies and oppressed bodies and hurting bodies and resilient bodies, bodies that tell and map our stories.
sexuality, non-monogamy, monogamy, gender identity, sexual orientation, oppression and religion and reclaiming your own body as belonging to you, sex workers, support after assault and abuse, the geography of pleasure and want, the honoring of consent and the power of intimacy in ways of relating.
art and creativity and resistance: a safe space to wander deep into the why of your creating, to ask questions of where the words and vision and uprising wants to take you.
there are not taboos and off limits here. no inconsequential or unimportant. this is your space. your body, your sexuality, your honoring of yourself and ways of relating, your life. I’m here, to be with you in all of it, the coming undone and not knowing and dying into life.
“Isabel and Sanctuary are both incredibly precious to me. I have shared my heart, my mind, and my soul in Sanctuary, and Isabel and holds such a beautiful container for our work together. I feel truly heard, understood, and supported. It is with immense gratitude that I recommend Isabel, Sanctuary, and her writing groups. She has changed my life in the most beautiful ways”
- Carla Matthews
Details: What happens in a Sanctuary Session
As a contemplative non-theistic (secular) Quaker, I sit in the sublime silence of meetings, alone while with others. The Quaker tradition from which the silence rests, is in many ways the safe landing of Sanctuary. Listen to your Life they will often say. And this is what, together, we do. The art of listening is the foundation from which we begin to be in the complexity and wholeness of your own humanity.
We meet in person, via live Video (skype or zoom), or phone for fifty minute sessions.
These times involve listening together, and each Sanctuary Session arises from the source of your own lived experience and knowing. We explore and ask questions, sit in the spaces between and feel the full range of motion in the feelings and need that accompany being human and alive. We seek to listen to the voice of your own innate instinct, to honor your own agency and to find sanctuary in the solid ground of full presence. And in all of it, I will stay.
I work with individuals for months and even years, and sometimes for brief periods of time, offering support in a life transition.
Sanctuary Sessions are $75USD for a 50 minute session.
If you are unable to make a session, you can reschedule 48 hours before we are scheduled to meet. Cancellations or reschedules less than 48 hours before the scheduled sessions are charged at full payment, and I will work to find another time with you as soon as possible.
By registering for Sanctuary sessions you understand that this is not psychotherapy or medical treatment, nor is it a substitute for medical treatment of any kind.
Sessions are scheduled upon payment. If this is your first time scheduling, feel free to reach out and connect first and let me know what it is you would like to explore before we begin .
WHO I AM
I tend to Sanctuary for humans,
and what that really means is, I show up and meet you and I’m here, keeping this a space and place of refuge for all that is real.
What I bring into this work is my full presence and my capacity to hold the complexities of our humanity and not look away.
And I also have a body of work that came before that informs the creation of the Sanctuary itself.
I have eighteen years of professional experience companioning humans in life transitions and liminal spaces, including that of a birth doula, an abortion doula, and a death midwife, a sex and intimate justice educator, sexual assault and domestic violence community based work, dance and movement workshop facilitation, medical anthropology and hospice work, community organizing + art + advocacy, and deconversion and religious abuse recovery support.
If you know you would like to begin, you can sign up here:
If you would like to connect and talk further, you can reach me here
Sanctuary Sessions are a safe place. You are safe to be fully human. You are safe to come as you are. you are safe to sit beside Isabel with whatever it is that brought you here. If you are crawling, crawl to these sanctuary session. If you are falling, fall, even if it is a crash landing into the sanctuary sessions. If your heart is hurting and you are weighted from so much grief and loss that you can barely move, barely get out of bed, come to the sanctuary sessions. If you are confused and you are exhausted, come to the sanctuary sessions. If you don't know and you aren't sure, come to the sanctuary sessions. If you are on fire and burning with strength and passion, or heartache and pain, come to the sanctuary sessions. However you come, come. Just as you are. You will be met, held, loved and welcomed by Isabel. You will experience the softest place to fall, the safest place to land, the safest place to come apart, come undone, the safest place to mend, the safest place to have all of what brought you here and all of you held. Isabel offers all of this in a way that feels like being held by love and healed by love and made alive again by love.
- Ashley Hoffman
A note on language and trauma
I used to use words like trauma informed and theory and praxis and feminist pedagogy and anti-oppression framework. Though I want to honor my own lineage and the origins of my orientation as well as those from whom I have been taught and learned from, I have come to experience such language as a kind of gatekeeping which I do not want or choose to participate in as I believe it can cause its own kind of harm, and I have found that in my own life such language has also ceased to have the meaning it once did.
That the idea that we resolve all our traumas (that sustained states of trauma are even an experience that can be resolved) is a narrative worth interrogating, and that the story we tell about how enlightenment means working through all our shit or that the goal is to come to our death with nothing left unfinished is not always the one that will help us to live or be whole. We are complete and complicated creatures, capable of doing the unthinkable and knowing the unthinkable upon our own bodies and years later falling into bed with a lover or walking down the street in the very early morning with a cup of coffee and thinking, "none of what I have known will ever be okay and it is also true that this is here and real and alive and I am saying yes.”
We are allowed to never have meaning for things and never manage to integrate what was only ever horror, and to still be restored to a life of relationship with ourselves and this bent world and never to come again day we woke to.
You are not required to "get over it" because there are things we never get over but rather simply learn to live with, to carry. We will all leave this earth with things we did not resolve, work through, reconcile, figure out. We are human. Gloriously and achingly human. And this is why I love us.
Religious Abuse Recovery Sanctuary
There are also times for specific healing spaces that are all about our humanity in the context of religion and spirituality .
For some humans religion and spirituality is where they know great meaning in their lives. And, for some humans, religion and spirituality is where they have known the greatest violence and harm and abuse, and having specific spaces to heal with others who have left and are beginning to break free is one way of being with the trauma that shapes our very cells as we begin to reclaim our own agency and humanity
I hold these sanctuary spaces in person, both for those in cult recovery and those healing after spiritual abuse.