Black and white image of Kasi looking toward the ground

I Am A Survivor and Thriver

“This retreat and my new found awareness and acknowledgement have changed my life and how I view myself and the world around me. I have been able to let go of shame and reclaim my body, faith and hope.

My heart is now open, my mind is free and I am ready to spread my wings and share my story to empower myself and others. I am a survivor that is now thriving more in life than I ever dreamed possible.”

Kasi, Survivor

Asian woman standing in a field looking into the distant

The Effect Trauma Has on Your Brain

Survival mode is supposed to be a phase that helps save your life. It is not meant to be how you live.

-Michele Rosenthal-

The brain is divided into three distinct parts: 1) The neocortex, 2) The limbic system, and 3) The reptilian brain. The reptilian brain, though it has the important job of basic functions like breathing and heart pumping, will not be part of this discussion. For our purposes we’re going to focus on the other two parts of the brain: The limbic system and the neocortex, specifically the front part of the neocortex, the prefrontal cortex.

In the simplest terms, these two parts of the brain work in concert and interact with each other constantly. They are both vital for our day-to-day functioning and welfare. You can’t fully live without either one of them. They’re both necessary, but unless you understand their functions and how they operate, you can find yourself caught in self-defeating behaviors (something you do, think, or say that causes harm to yourself or others).

The limbic system is where your instinctual drives originate and where your pleasure centers are located. These pleasure centers are extremely powerful in driving your behaviors and can easily lead to addictive, compulsive, or self-defeating behaviors unless they’re understood and managed.

The limbic system has three simple, but powerful, directives:

  1. Survive
  2. Avoid pain
  3. Seek pleasure

A traumatized brain can easily see something as a survival situation when, in reality, it’s not. In other words, a harmless situation can remind you of past trauma and can trigger a survival response and behavior.

When you don’t feel safe, your brain, the limbic system in particular, will drive you toward things that can provide that feeling of safety. Often that leads to self-defeating behaviors, which gives the limbic system a sense of temporary safety or well-being. Unfortunately, the limbic system cannot distinguish between unhealthy and healthy behaviors as long as the survival need is being met.

Survivors of sexual abuse, in a desire to cope, may turn to drugs, alcohol, or other unhealthy behaviors to run away from the trauma experienced. The rate of addiction among sexual abuse survivors is incredibly high.

Our 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope are each designed to specifically address the lack of communication between the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex. If you are struggling with addiction, anxiety, or any other side-effects from your trauma, we encourage you to get the help you need and read through our blogs to see what resources and therapies may help.

Black and white image of Amanda laying in the grass looking up at the sky

Mountains Can Be Moved

“You were given this mountain to show others that it can be moved”

Going to the retreat was one of the best decisions of my life. For 20+ years, I tried to cope with my abuse but never had the tools to be successful. Finally, at 28 years old for the first time I feel like I’m going to be more than okay.

The retreat allowed me to meet some of the most incredible woman and started bonds that I am certain will last a lifetime. I hesitantly took a yoga class thinking it was silly because I can barely touch my toes, yet it ended being my favorite coping tool. I know I will use it often to deal with my anxiety and depression.

Thanks to the Younique Foundation I finally feel uplifted, validated and empowered. You have given me a way to give my pain a purpose and for that I will be forever grateful.

– Amanda, Survivor

woman writing in a notebook in a field

5 Tips for Effective Journaling

I think the more we journal, the more comfortable we get with our journals and the more accepting we get of ourselves.

-Sheila Bender- 

Journaling can be used hand in hand with Expressive Writing to help you along your healing journey after trauma. A “journal” used to mean a record of the day or a log of how far you’d journeyed that day. If the idea of regularly journaling overwhelms you, think of it this way – you only have to write about how far you’ve come that day.

Here are 5 tips to help you get the most out of your journaling experience:

1. Find the right journal for you.

Some people buy journals that are so fancy they are afraid to write in them. Some find that buying a 25 cent notebook at the grocery store works best for them. Others want to have a journal that speaks to them, that’s beautiful and will motivate them to write. There’s no right or wrong way to pick a journal, just do what works for you.

2. Name your journal.

This may seem a little strange, but it can be a great way to focus in on why you want to keep a journal. A journal named “Patient Listener” may be a different kind of journal than “I’m Grateful for…” which isn’t quite the same as “My Hopes and Dreams.”

3. Grab the glue-stick.

When you find a quote you like, put it straight into your journal. Does that fortune cookie feel so accurate right now? Glue it in. It will give you a place to keep the words that can inspire your own.

4. Use prompts.

Are you feeling stuck for words? Prompts are a great way to find something to write about when you can’t think of anything for yourself. You could start with something simple like, “What’s the weather like outside? What about the weather inside yourself?”

 5. Set a goal.

If you’re new to journaling, but want to give it a try, set a reasonable goal for yourself. Writing every day may feel like a lot, but maybe you can start with picking one day a week, or trying for a certain amount of entries in the month.

Remember that journaling is meant to be a therapeutic tool on your healing journey. Write what you feel comfortable writing when you feel comfortable writing it. You’ll be amazed at the clarity and clear-sightedness that journaling can bring.

Black and white image of Paulette smiling

Warrior Sisters Make All The Difference

“We are Warrior Sisters! It’s an amazing feeling to reclaim hope.”

– Paulette, Survivor-

For many years I often wondered if I was normal. I felt guilty for the abuse, as if I made it happen. It wasn’t something I talked about, and I wanted to just place it in a safe place. Letting those feelings lye in hiding, not thinking it was hurting my life anymore.
 
When I first learned about The Younique Foundation, I thought do I really need to go? But, then I told myself maybe it will help me to feel normal again. So, I filled out the application to go and waited till I heard from them.
 
I was scared and excited at the same time when I got the call with a date I would be going. This is really happening!!
 
Once I stepped foot in the door I knew this was going to be a great experience, and I was right. The staff made us feel safe. Every detail was thought of with love. Going through the classes and group therapies taught me I am normal. I learned I wasn’t weird or abnormal in what I felt. I found out to be aware of my surroundings and what triggers were and how to deal with them. In all these years, I just hid things back in my mind so I wouldn’t think of the sexual abuse. I found out that others felt the same thing I was feeling. I wasn’t alone anymore.
 
I was able to release those feelings by writing what happened to me. They are in my journal for the one day I will burn those memories. More importantly I have gotten my life back, I am stronger now.
 
From walking into The Haven Retreat, my life has changed. I now see my beauty and have the confidence that comes with that beauty. I am confident I will be OK. My life will have meaning. We are Warrior Sisters!! It’s an amazing feeling to reclaim hope.
 
-Paulette, Survivor
Quote from Victoria Erickson about writing

Expressive Writing: 7 Tips That Will Make it Easier to Heal

Writing is essentially becoming free. It all begins with a word. -Victoria Erickson- 

There is study after study, spanning all the way back to the 1970s, which show that writing down your feelings, experiences, and problems can help improve your health, both mentally and physically. Expressive Writing can be an incredible tool for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

Expressive Writing is just that – expressing yourself. You can write about anything, just put down the thoughts in your head and see where they lead you.

Try it for yourself by looking at the seven suggestions below and see if it works for you.

1. Find a place that is free of distractions.

You don’t need to sequester yourself for hours on end, just find a quiet corner where you’ll have 10 or 15 minutes to yourself.

2. Write continuously.

This is called stream-of-conscious writing or free-writing. You write down thoughts as they come, without judgement. You keep writing, even if you feel like you have nothing to write about. Just keep writing until your 10 or 15 minutes are up.

3. Don’t worry about readability.

Your spelling, grammar, sentence structure, etc. are all unimportant in this type of exercise. If your high school English teacher’s voice keeps coming into your head and scolding your comma splice, shut it out and keep writing.

4. Write for yourself.

If you write for anyone but yourself, it can change the way you write. You may unintentionally censor your feelings or steer thoughts into a different direction if you’re worried about someone else reading it. Some people even find it cathartic to destroy the writing after they’re finished. If that makes you feel more safe in your writing, consider doing that.

5. Monitor your feelings.

Keep tabs on how you’re feeling, especially if you’re writing about things that could be potentially triggering. If you notice a feeling come up, it may help to address it in your writing and continue, or stop completely, as you feel is necessary.

6. Use all your senses.

Try to bring in every sense as you write. This will both give you more to write about, and allow you to access parts of your brain, thoughts, and memories that may only be brought to mind by considering your specific senses.

7. Only do what you can handle.

This can be a difficult exercise. You may reach your limits of bravery by only writing one sentence about what happened. That’s still good! There is no right or wrong way to practice Expressive Writing. Do what you can and celebrate yourself for it.

It can help to write about things. Expressive Writing, especially, can be a powerful tool to use on your healing journey. Try it out and see if it’s “write” for you!

Black and white image of Melissa giving a soft smile

This is Who I Am. It’s Not Who I Was.

“This is who I am. It’s not who I was.

They say the first step in healing is the hardest. Mine began with a challenge, a song, and a video. A video telling my story for the first time ever so that someone else would have the ability to attend the retreat, something I didn’t think I deserved. A video that I thought only a few would see. I couldn’t have anticipated what the ripple would be or how far it would spread.

Six months later I decided that I had ignored my calling to help people for my entire life. But I knew I couldn’t help others until I had faced the darkness that resided in me from a past I had spent a lifetime hiding from. I knew the only place I could start that part of my journey was in the same place that challenged me to do a video – the Younique Foundation.

What I got there can’t be described in words. When you have spent a lifetime living with the darkness inside of you and it finally let’s go, you have a freedom like none you’ve ever experienced. I found that there. I had never been the little girl that danced in the rain. It wasn’t about remembering someone I had never been. It was about becoming her.

The Haven is where I found the part of me that had always been missing. I formed bonds that distance can not break. I learned to trust again. I learned new habits and skills that will allow me to go forward and be a beacon of hope for others.

Today, I own my story. While I don’t wish what happened to me on anyone else and I will continue to raise awareness to fight this horrible reality, this is my story. It is who I am. It made me who I am. Someone else may have written the first chapter in my story, but it’s mine and I get to decide how it ends. At the Haven, I realized for the first time ever that I kinda like this me.”

Melissa, Survivor

African American girl sitting next to a brick walling smiling

Finding Forgiveness

Life may not be perfect, but you can learn to suffer less. You can learn to forgive, and you can learn to heal. -Fred Luskin-

For many survivors, the thought of forgiveness seems impossible. They may even feel angry if it is suggested, which is an understandable reaction to the idea of forgiving someone who did so much damage.

However, forgiveness is an important concept for survivors to think about and work through as they continue along their healing journey. Forgiveness is for your well-being.

But what is forgiveness and what is not forgiveness?

Forgiveness is not forgetting or minimizing what happened; it isn’t rationalizing, excusing, or denying your past. And most importantly, it isn’t mandatory resolution with the perpetrator.

It is realizing you have a choice about what kind of relationship, if any, you will have with the perpetrator; it is acknowledging your past and letting go of hate and revenge; it is changing your present and your future for a more positive hopeful world. It will help you gain back power, control, and choice in your life.

In addition to freeing your mental space, forgiveness also has physical benefits. It boosts your immune system, lowers blood pressure, improves your relationships, and increases feelings of kindness and connectedness. *

Here are three steps to make forgiveness possible:

1. Know that your feelings are about what happened.

Take time to fully acknowledge your feelings of loss, harm, and grief. Acknowledging your feelings is more than just recognizing that the abuse happened and there’s nothing you can do about it. This is moving beyond the abuse and knowing that you are ready to move forward on your healing journey and giving yourself a second chance at living your life more fully. To know what you’re forgiving, you need to know what you feel.

 2. Be clear about the action that wronged you.

Practice mindfulness and grounding techniques to help you safely experience this. Know that what you experienced was unacceptable behavior and state in clear language to yourself that it was not okay. In this way you can make it clear to yourself what you are forgiving and why. This will also make it clear to yourself what behavior you won’t accept in the future.

3. Share your experience with one or two trusted people.

Sharing your pain may help you cope with what happened. Vocalizing your feelings can make them clearer. It also allows others to provide you with support. Consider talking to a therapist if you don’t feel ready to talk to friends or family yet. Talking to someone can benefit you in many ways, but in order to find forgiveness it may help to talk it through.

Suffering is a part of life. Forgiveness can lessen your suffering. It allows you to let go of the past and live more fully in the present while planning for a better future. When you forgive you are able to stop focusing on the anger that you have for the perpetrator or others and allow better things to occupy your thoughts. And while you’re forgiving, don’t forget to forgive yourself for coping along the way with unhealthy behaviors or poor choices. You’re doing your best and you should get credit for it.

*Luskin, Fred (2003). Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness. New York, NY: HarperOne.