The Importance of Sleep for Survivors of Sexual Abuse

By helping us keep the world in perspective, sleep gives us a chance to refocus on the essence of who we are. And in that place of connection, it is easier for the fears and concerns of the world to drop away.

-Arianna Huffington-

Too often a lack of sleep is viewed as a badge of honor. That you’re so busy you couldn’t possibly waste your time on something as unimportant as sleep. “I’m so tired” is considered a battle cry for most people today.

Sleep is important. It’s a necessity. It can positively or negatively impact every aspect of you – from your health to your mental acuity to your attitude. It seems sleep is the first thing to go when we’re feeling busy or stressed.  For survivors of sexual abuse, sleep is particularly important to help you successfully manage triggering memories when they come. Unfortunately for survivors, sleep can be fleeting.

Reclaim your sleep! Feel the benefits of being well-rested. Below is a list of the things you should do at different times of the day to help you get the best sleep you can:

During the Day:

  • Avoid taking naps. Or, if you absolutely must take one, make sure that it’s for less than an hour and before 3pm.
  • Exercise. Regular exercise will help with good sleep, but try not to do any strenuous exercise in the 4 hours before bedtime.
  • Use a sleep diary. Record your sleep routine from the night before. What did you use to fall asleep? What worked? What didn’t work?
  • Wake up at the same time. Don’t sleep late after a restless night. It may be difficult, but you want to stay on schedule to keep your sleep patterns on track.

In the Evening:

  • Wind down. Before bedtime tell your body that sleep is coming. Spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity like reading, drinking a cup of caffeine-free tee, meditating, doing relaxing stretches, or breathing exercises.
  • Dim the lights. Avoid bright lights in the evening. This includes the light from electronics as the illumination from the screens activates the brain.
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. It’s best to avoid consuming any of these for at least 4 hours before going to bed. Alcohol is known to encourage the onset of sleep, but it disrupts sleep later when your body metabolizes the alcohol.
  • Eat right. A healthy, balanced diet will help you to sleep well, but timing is important. An empty stomach can be distracting, but a heavy meal too close to bedtime can be just as detrimental to sleep.
  • Stay positive. The more anxious you are, the more cortisol you’ll release into your body and the less likely you are to be able to sleep. Give yourself permission to let go of those negative thoughts. Put them away until tomorrow and instead focus on positive declarations that focus on feeling calm, peaceful, and sleeping well.
  • Set a bedtime. One of the best ways to train your body to sleep well is to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends and days off.

Bedtime

  • Only sleep in your bed. Try not to use your bed for anything other than sleeping, so that your body associates bed with sleep. If you use your bed for everyday activities (like watching TV or paying bills) your body will connect your bed with being awake and alert.
  • Create the right space. It’s important that your bedroom is quiet and comfortable for sleeping. Design your sleep environment to be cool, quiet, and dark.
  • Don’t watch the clock. Frequently checking the clock through the night can wake you up and will reinforce negative thoughts and increase anxiety.
  • Don’t fight with sleep. If you’re wide awake, get out of bed and try again. Do something calming or boring until you feel sleepy, then return to bed. Don’t do anything too stimulating or interesting.

A good night’s sleep will benefit you more than you may realize. Make sleeping well a priority and you’ll soon see how much it will help you on your healing journey.

It’s Not Your Fault

Don’t find fault, find a remedy.

-Henry Ford-

Sexual abuse thrives in secrecy. There is an unfair stigma attached to it that leads many people, not just survivors, to stay silent. It is very common for a survivor to transition this silence into shame – to take blame for the abuse.  To make matters worse, the abuser may have even told them that the abuse was their fault. Too often families hide the abuse, authorities seem to dismiss it, and there’s an underlying fear that no one will believe it. So survivors stay silent. The shame that accompanies what happened can be debilitating.

As strongly as we can possibly state it, we want you to know that IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT. You have had to carry a burden of silence and secrecy that you should never have been asked to bear.

You can’t stay silent if you want to heal. This does not mean you need to shout your abuse to the world.  You can even break the silence to yourself.  It is amazing how healing it can be to acknowledge to yourself that you are not to blame.  And where you feel it’s appropriate, you can share your journey with others. You have to shed the silence, shame, and secrecy. Your healing is your responsibility now.

Through the healing journey you’ll find strength you didn’t know you had, courage you may have lost touch with, and power you may not have experienced before. You weren’t given a choice when you were abused, but now you DO have a choice. Decide to take back your voice. Decide to take back your life. Decide to reclaim hope. And decide to start now.

 

Take One Step Today

It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters, in the end.

-Ursula LeGuin-

Healing is difficult, and healing from childhood sexual abuse can even feel impossible. We recognize that, which is why we prefer to look at healing as a journey. Where things are done one step at a time, one day at a time.

The word journey used to refer to the distance that a person could travel in one day. And that’s how we want you to think of your healing. If you are too overwhelmed by the idea of days or months or years, then focus on the NOW. Take care of yourself right now in this moment. That’s one step on your healing journey.

Healing is different for everyone. Your healing will not be the same as anyone else’s, just as you are not the same as anyone else. No one can take this journey for you. While there will be amazing people to assist you along the way, no one can do it for you. At times you may feel alone on your path, but you’re not. We are here to support you every step of the way. We can’t carry the burden for you, but we can try to lighten your load.

You have the power to heal. You can do it. There will be hard days and good days, times when you may feel like giving up, but don’t. You deserve to heal. If all you can take today is one step, that’s still one more step on your healing journey.

This is Your Choice

I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.

-Louisa May Alcott-

You’ve tried before to take steps toward healing. For whatever reason, you still feel stuck in your past trauma. You may feel distraught or discouraged. Maybe because you’ve been unable to find healing in the past, you’re worried you can’t heal anymore and are afraid to reach for it again. No matter how many times you’ve tried before, we encourage you to try again. Don’t give up on the idea of healing.

At The Younique Foundation, we firmly believe that you can heal! We know that you can. It’s important for you to realize that you have to find the right therapy for you – there is no one size fits all in trauma recovery.

One of the things that keeps people from believing they can heal and from healing itself is a misconception of what healing is.  They may think that healing means they are no longer reminded of their trauma or that they never experience triggers.  In other words, it is a misconception that storms will stop coming. Over time you’ll gain the tools to handle them, though. Healing looks different for everyone, of course, so you’ll need to decide what it means to you. Healing comes as you learn how to manage your trauma, not the absence of the trauma itself.  It is liberating and freeing to experience a trigger and successfully navigate through it.  Just as it notes in the quote above, we feel hope and peace as we learn how to sail our ship through the storms that come.

You have to choose. You have to choose every day to keep moving down the path of your healing journey. Even on days when you feel like you’re not making progress, know that you are! Just by making the choice every day toward healing you’re making progress. Some days it will be easier than others, but, as with anything, practice will help. You may become so good at handling your triggers that you don’t even realize you’re doing it – it will just become a part of who you are.

Think of your healing like planting a seed. You nurture it, you water it, you give it sunshine. Even though you can’t see the results every day, over time you see that your healing seed has grown roots, reaches urgently for the sun, and will blossom. Keep moving in the right direction, keep consciously choosing it, and you can heal.

The Value of a Broken Bowl

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.

-Confucius-

There’s a folk story that says that in the 15th century a mighty Japanese shogun warrior broke his favorite tea bowl and decided to send it to China for repair. Instead of returning as the lovely bowl he had known, it returned with ugly metal staples holding it together. It was usable, but the shogun was disappointed in its appearance. In search of a better solution, he asked a Japanese craftsman to come up with a more elegant solution, one that would add to the beauty of the tea bowl, despite the cracks, and still allow the bowl to be functional.

The craftsman tried something new and mended the cracks with lacquer resin mixed with gold—a golden glue. When the shogun warrior received his bowl the second time, streaks of gold ran through it where the cracks had been before. He thought the bowl looked even better than it had before it was broken.

This method of repair became known as Kintsugi.

Kintsugi (pronounced kent-soo-ghee) is the Japanese philosophy of recognizing beauty in broken things. It speaks of breakage and repair becoming part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise or hide. When you look at your life, you may notice places that are broken. Many of these broken pieces are the result of someone else’s actions and are not your fault. But you can find the beauty in your own breakage. Just as the shogun’s tea bowl became more beautiful and valued through repair, your healing only enhances your inherent value.

We don’t celebrate the fact that you were abused, but we absolutely celebrate the wonderful person you are and will become as you continue on your healing journey, creating your real life version of Kintsugi.

Your wounds and healing are part of your history – a part of who you are. No matter what breaks you’ve experienced, YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL.

I am Beautiful, Even in the Broken Places

“I Am Beautiful Even in The Broken Places”

Donna, Survivor

“As I waited for my plane to head to The Haven Retreat, God and I had a one on one. I asked Him to allow me to be open to all of the experiences The Haven had to offer. Do you know what He allowed me to experience? My chains being broken!

He showed me the semicolon (;). You know, sentences and punctuations are funny little structures! The period (.) is to end a sentence, paragraph, and a story. The comma (,) is a continuation of the same sentence, paragraph, or story. But the semicolon (;) the semicolon is my treasure! Because God used it to end all of the bad stuff (the period.) and continued all of the good (the comma,) and the awesome plans He has for me and my life! He showed me that The Haven is my semicolon (;).

My time at The Haven Retreat was a time of refreshing, rejuvenation, and reflection! I reflect all the good The Haven inserted into my life! When I think about how God impacts a person’s life, I always think of a creek or a stream and the rocks that lay on its floor. The rock, when formed, has jagged edges and it lays at the bottom of the stream and just allows the stream and its continuous flow to make the rock smooth! What I went through as a survivor and beyond is my jagged edge and God used The Haven to finally smooth that part out of me! Because of my Haven experience, my chains are broken and I am beautiful even in the broken places.”

-Donna, Survivor

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I Get Triggered and That is Okay

Blog written by Annie Vandermyde

“RUN!”

By definition, a trigger is a lever that you pull to fire a gun.

“YOU ARE NOT SAFE!”

The definition of a trauma trigger is not too far off from that. In short, it is something that sets off a memory or a flashback. This causes a person to go back in time to the feelings and memories of the event of his/her original trauma.

“GET OUT. GET OUT. GET OUT. GET OUT.”

I get triggered.

I get triggered and it’s frustrating.  Sometimes I can work right through it and be just fine. Other times my emotions and adrenaline are heightened for days as I work to calm myself.

For years, more than I’d like to admit, I didn’t know what a trigger was. As a survivor of abuse I had been triggered for years, but had no idea. Honestly, I felt a little bit crazy.

It could be anything. It could be running into someone from my past. It could be a scent, a genre of music – really anything!

Sometimes I get mad at my body for it. Sometimes I hate the fact that my body remembers that bad, scary, awful things happened to me. Sometimes I wish I could delete the memories.

But what if I could be thankful for a trigger?

Last week, when I was thinking about a trigger and what it really meant for my brain and my body, I let my thoughts go deeper into the meaning and definition of a trigger. I hadn’t ever really thought of being thankful for a trigger. How could I? They were so frustrating and encouraged me to remember and feel things that I’d, truthfully, like to never acknowledge again.

As I let my brain wander I thought back to a song my mom used to sing to me when I was a child. It was a song she had written just for me. “She’s beautiful, my daughter…lying so peacefully. Snug warm and tight…”

One day, when I was in high school, I was having a particularly hard day. My mom came in my room to tuck me in and started singing that song to me. I instantly felt safe. I felt loved, and felt so much comfort in this song. But, guess what?! I did not remember the song. After my mom had sang the entire song I looked up at her and said, “I know that song. Why do I know that song?” She explained to me where the song came from and that she would rock me to sleep as a baby while singing that song to me. My brain remembered…but I did not.

This seems simple, but at that moment I became thankful for my limbic system, the part of my brain that remembers and sends me triggers. The good and the bad. Yes, I get triggered. Yes, it sucks. No, I can’t control that it happens. But, I can also remember the good. I can be triggered to remember the good feelings. I can feel safe when my mom sings me my song. I can feel at home when I smell cinnamon rolls baking, I can remember the fun times in high school when I hear Soak up the Sun by Sheryl Crow.

I can be triggered to remember the good, and those feelings I would not trade for anything. Those memories are so special to me that I wouldn’t want to be rid of them if I had the choice to get rid of triggers all together.

More than anything, I’m thankful for my brain, and my body for looking out for me. For doing it’s job, trying to keep me safe.

I get triggered.

And that’s okay.


Annie Vandermyde is the Image Coordinator/Beauty Creative at The Younique Foundation. She’s an amazing mother of three, a talented photographer, and a creator of beauty. Follow her on Instagram: @annie_creative

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It’s Okay To Not Be Okay

“It’s okay to not be okay.”

Out of everything I learned at The Haven Retreat, which was extensive, this quote has stayed with me. One of the most important things I learned was that I am not alone and that other women share my story.

The Younique Foundation helped me to realize that no matter how long it has been since my trauma that I can heal. I can get better, and it is okay to not be okay. I am no longer a product of my trauma. I am a survivor.

I can’t thank the Foundation and everyone that gives their heart and soul to the Foundation for renewing in me the faith I had lost. I know have a lot of work to do, but I now know that healing is possible. Thank you for everything. You have changed my life.

 

-Jenny, Survivor

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Supporting a Survivor During the Holidays

Sometimes the most ordinary things could be made extraordinary, simply by doing them with the right people.

-Elizabeth Green-

At The Younique Foundation, we usually focus our attention on survivors of childhood sexual abuse. This blog is directed at the people who love and support the survivors in their lives. In a previous blog we talked about ways for a survivor to break the silence. After breaking the silence, survivors need support; this is especially true with family gatherings that are often part of the holidays.

If a friend, family member, or loved one has confided in you about their childhood sexual abuse, you have been given an opportunity to become a part of their support system. Family gatherings can be filled with emotion, especially for a survivor.

Below are three ways for you to support the person you love during the holidays:

1. Listen to what they need.

This is important any time you interact with a survivor, but especially when they are going to be in potentially stressful situations. Ask them what you can do, what they need, or how you can support them. If nothing else, let them know that you’re there to listen and support.

 2. Be a buffer.

If topics, situations, or people come up that may make the survivor uncomfortable, intervene. You don’t need to be pushy or obvious, just guide the conversation in a different direction. If you can see that they need a break, intervene on their behalf and give them the excuse they need to leave the room.

 3. Create a safe space.

Perhaps you won’t be able to physically be there with the survivor. You can still be supportive and loving, even from a distance. Give them permission to call or text if they need extra support. Allow them to vent if they need to do so. Let them complain or cry. Be the safe person they need if they need it.

Holidays can be a difficult time of year for anyone, but if you know that your friend or loved one will be especially at risk, be there for them. No one should be without someone to support them. If you can be that person for someone, feel grateful that they trust you.