Participants listen to founder Amy Chan speak at Renew Breakup Bootcamp in Saugerties. Picture: New York Times

My five-year relationship with my live-in boyfriend ended like this: I had an abortion and he had an emotional affair with an Instagram model. Then I lost my mind.

Among other attempts at self-healing, I have tried casual sex, dating apps, uppers, downers, day drinking and sobriety. I also tried somatic healing, boxing, Buddhist meditation, ayahuasca and, finally, because it was offered to me for free by a publicist, Botox. “A few pricks may ease your blues,” she wrote in an email last March. Well, I thought, at least I wouldn’t look so sad.

So when I saw an ad for something called “breakup boot camp,” I knew I wanted in.

Held at a luxurious log mansion on 14 rolling acres in Saugerties, New York, Renew Breakup Bootcamp offered a chance to reset. Over a weekend in April, I joined 13 other participants for a series of yoga classes, therapeutic workshops and meditative sessions. All meals were prepared by an on-site nutritionist.

Yes, this weekend was bougie. But bougie felt nice.

Friday: Filling Our ‘Hungry Ghosts’

I was the first participant to arrive, and after hugs of greeting from Chan and Trish Barillas, a life coach who helped facilitate the retreat, I was shown across the lawn to my lavender tepee.

A braided rainbow rug was stretched across the tent’s hardwood floors, and in between two warmly made beds there was a propane heater and a mini fridge stocked with SmartWater for me and my roommate. Roughing it, we were not.

Naomi Arbit, a behavioral scientist who developed much of the Renew curriculum, told me that many heartbroken people used their former partners “to fill their feelings of emptiness or loneliness.” Before they enter into new relationships, she said, “people need to learn how to fill their own hungry ghosts.”

Founder Amy Chan hugs a participant at Renew Breakup Bootcamp.

Although I realize she was talking about spirituality, at Renew we ate well too. Everything was gluten-free and mostly meatless. Our first lunch was a Thai-inspired shiitake mushroom and rice noodle soup with a vegan niçoise salad.

Saturday: ‘Feelings Aren’t Facts’

After breakfast - which in my case, consisted of more of last night’s cake - we had our first session of the day with Elaina Zendegui, a clinical psychologist from Rutgers who came to speak about emotional regulation and self-compassion.

She encouraged us to seek our own forms of validation as a tool for self-soothing. There was validation in seeing themes from our own lives in the stories of strangers, she said, and also in labeling our feelings.

Zendegui asked us to pick a painful thought (“I’m too much” - there, I’ve said it) and then walk backward through the framework of it: I’m aware/that I’m noticing/that I’m having the thought that/I’m too much.

That afternoon, we were given several hours of free time to process our thoughts, write in our journals, walk about the grounds, relax in the sauna or meet for elective one-on-one sessions.

Sunday: ‘To Be Seen and Heard’

Things got much more intimate on our last day at boot camp.

Sunday morning was dedicated to tantric energy movement and breath work with Gina Marie, a holistic healer who said that she specialized in sacred sexuality and emotional cord cutting. We swiveled our hips for five minutes, then shook in place for five more. Then we hyperventilated on yoga mats, to the point that I lost feeling in my fingers and hands, and some women moaned and screamed. Ecstatic breathing - it’s a trip!

We also met with a professional dominatrix who goes by Colette Pervette to talk about - among so much else - sex, fantasy, communication and shame. “We have so many sides to ourselves, and yet we show one, maybe two, to our partner,” Pervette said.

My own moment of breakthrough happened the day before, while talking with an intuitive counsellor. “He’s never going to change,” she said. “He’s got to be careful.” 

In that moment, I knew what she meant. I realized how much I had changed, that all the hard work I’d done on myself was paying off. I hadn’t cried in months - I was all cried out from months of moping - so it was deeply cathartic, luxurious even, to feel so deeply. Her words softened something in me.

The New York Times