This Was My Cornerstone Moment

Jennifer, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, who found healing at The Haven Retreat.

How do you put into words a “cornerstone moment” of your life? How do you put value on something that affects your mind, your heart, and your soul forevermore?

For years, I have been operating with a wounded spirit. Mind you, I have been pretty successful. I have a happy, loving marriage to a man who makes me swoon every day. I have a beautiful, talented daughter who makes me giggle all the time. I am self-employed and have an amazing business where I get to make a positive difference in the world every day.

When I heard about The Younique Foundation, I told myself: I don’t need to go, what happened to me wasn’t that bad. It only happened a couple times, and it was by different people. I’m happy, I’m successful, I don’t need to be “fixed.” And yet, I operated every day from a place of not being worthy, not being enough. Worried that I wasn’t doing something right in my marriage. Always doing more than most, thinking I “just required less sleep.” Every day I was masking the pain of a 10-year-old girl, with keeping busy and eating food.

I let myself get up to 340 pounds just to protect myself. If I was fat nobody would bother me. And you know what? They didn’t. Until a year ago, when I lost 100 pounds. I felt very vulnerable, but I was determined to maintain a healthy weight. It was then when I heard someone speak again about The Younique Foundation, and I knew I needed to go. I was done being silent, only a couple of people knew my story, the edited story, not the true yucky story.

The Haven Retreat was a safe place where I was able to surround myself with women who have been through similar situations. They had the same hurts and the struggles I did. At the retreat, I was able to learn tools to unbury deep hurts and start the healing process. I am sleeping more, I am maintaining my healthy weight, and most of all I am able to love myself more and the special people in my life.

I share the story of my journey and my time at The Haven Retreat often. It is no longer a secret. I actually want to shout it from the rooftops because I am a survivor!

-Jennifer, Survivor

 

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Don’t Let Shame Stop You on Your Healing Journey

Shame surrounding childhood sexual abuse should never follow the survivor on their healing journey.

Childhood sexual abuse survivors often spend years suffering from shame. Shame can set in quickly after abuse happens, especially if the people around the survivor are unwilling to discuss what has happened. But shame can be a barrier to reclaiming hope and healing. John Bradshaw explains that when you internalize shame, you feel like “nothing about you is okay. You feel flawed and inferior; you have the sense of being a failure. There is no way you can share your inner self because you are an object of contempt to yourself.”[1] If you’ve felt this way before, you are not alone. Have confidence that you don’t have to feel like this forever. Overcoming shame can be challenging, but it is possible. Here are some ways to start:

Be open and honest.

Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding sexual abuse often leaves people silent about their experiences, and shame thrives in secrecy and silence. When people don’t talk about what has happened to them, they carry the burden of pain alone, and they might even start to feel responsible for abuse. Bradshaw says, “To heal our toxic shame we must come out of hiding. As long as our shame is hidden, there is nothing we can do about it.”[2]

Accept feeling vulnerable.

One of the biggest obstacles to being open and honest is often a resistance to feeling vulnerable. It’s easy to understand why we don’t want to feel vulnerable: it’s scary. If you open up to someone about past experiences and current emotions, you don’t have control over their reactions. Giving up control is hard. Also, being vulnerable involves admitting that we’re struggling, and that can make us feel weak. But shame researcher Brené Brown points out that a willingness to be vulnerable is courageous. Brown believes that “vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.”

Build connections with others.

The more you feel like people love and accept you—the honest and genuine you—the less shame you will experience. And all of these things work together. As you’re open and honest, as you’re vulnerable, connections with others will naturally form. Then your connections will make it easier to be honest and vulnerable. Don’t let shame make you feel like you’re not worthy of having intimate connections with people. Brown has observed that feeling unworthy of connection can stop people from trying. You are worthy of experiencing deep human connections.

Be compassionate with yourself. Remember that your sexual abuse was not your fault, and remember that healing is a journey that takes time. We’re often too hard on ourselves, and “self-criticism is closely associated with feelings of shame.”[3] As you work on opening up to others and forming connections, make sure you select people you trust, people who care about you, people who want to help you on your healing journey. You are enough, you are worthy of love and acceptance, and you deserve to live a life free from shame.

[1] John Bradshaw, Healing the Shame that Binds You, Dearfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 1988.

[2] Healing the Shame that Binds You

[3] Christopher K. Germer and Kristin Neff, “Cultivating Self-Compassion in Trauma Survivors,” Mindfulness-Oriented Interventions for Trauma: Integrating Contemplative Practices, New York: The Guilford Press, 2015, 43-58.

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I Will Hope, Laugh, and Share

Every survivor of childhood sexual abuse has a different story. Every person deals with it differently, and everyone finds healing in their way. This blog is about a survivor, but not just one survivor. This is a combination of stories from several of survivors of childhood sexual abuse. These feelings and experiences are common among survivors. If you’ve faced any of the feelings described in this blog, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

It’s been a long journey of healing. I went from not being able to be in a committed relationship, to finding someone I want to spend the rest of my life with. I went from sabotaging all my best efforts at work, to starting my own company. I went from being ashamed of being a survivor, to sharing my healing journey with others.

I’ll continue to do that, too. I am looking to the future in a way that I never have before. I can see it so clearly – and it’s amazing! I am making plans and goals. I am sharing my hope. I’m happy! I laugh now, as often as I can, and I never used to laugh.

When I look back to the abused little girl I was and the broken woman I became, my heart floods with compassion. I didn’t deserve what happened to me. No one deserves that. But it happened. And I had two choices: I could either deal with it or I could ignore it.

I ignored it for years and years and years. I ignored it and nothing changed.

So, I faced it. It was tough, but so am I. There were days when I didn’t think I could spend one more second inside my own head, but I kept going. I found love and support, important things for any journey.

For too long I thought I was alone. I don’t want anyone else to feel like that. So, I share my story. I share my hope. And, yes, I share my laughter. Because as the incomparable Maya Angelou has said (who was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse herself): “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

As I get better, I do better. As I heal myself, I look for ways to heal others. As I find joy and laughter, I share it with the world. I was broken, but I am healing, and I will never stop sharing my hope.

Healing from the impact of sexual abuse is a journey. For more information about how you can find healing, please refer to Reclaim Hope, a free e-book available on our resources page. Also, you can read more about the journey of survivors at: I Was Abused, Broken, and Lost and I Am Talking, Writing, and Healing.

I Am Talking, Writing, and Healing

Every survivor of childhood sexual abuse has a different story. Every person deals with it differently, and everyone finds healing in their way. This blog is about a survivor, but not just one survivor. This is a combination of stories from several survivors of childhood sexual abuse. These feelings and experiences are common among survivors. If you’ve faced any of the feelings described in this blog, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Have you ever noticed how once you start thinking about something, you see it everywhere? Like, you buy a car and suddenly you see dozens of cars just like yours that you’d never noticed before. That’s what it was like for me. Once I realized I needed to deal with the trauma I suffered as a child because of sexual abuse, I started seeing it everywhere. Articles on sex trafficking, news spots about women who’d been sexually abused, books about healing from trauma.

I even started talking about it. Only a little bit and only with people I REALLY trusted. I never referred to my abuse, just sexual abuse in general. I wanted to see how people would react if I brought it up.

The craziest, saddest, most amazing thing happened – people I knew and loved and trusted UNDERSTOOD! Some of them because it had happened to them, some because it had happened to someone they knew, and some because they were just wonderful and caring people.

I’d thought that if I broke my silence the world would come crashing in around me. That no one would believe me and that all of that guilt and shame that I’d carried around my whole life would overwhelm me and swallow me whole. But it didn’t happen.

One of my best friends, a writer, suggested that I write about what happened. She even recommended a book to me, Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo. Look, I’m not a writer, but that book changed my life. Suddenly I had an outlet to write down all of these things that had been pushed away inside me for so long.

Now, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses, and it didn’t get better overnight. Some days were good, and some were terrible. I tried going to a therapist, but I couldn’t really open up to him. I almost gave up on the whole therapy thing until a friend recommended someone who specialized in working with trauma survivors.

After feeling broken for so long, I suddenly had the tools to repair myself. You have no idea how amazing it felt to wake up in the morning and know that the choices I made were making a difference.

I am healing!

Healing from the impact of sexual abuse is a journey. For more information about how you can find healing, please refer to Reclaim Hope, a free e-book available on our resources page. Also, you can read more about the journey of survivors at: I Was Abused, Broken, and Lost and  I Will Hope, Laugh, and Share.

I Was Abused, Broken, and Lost

Every survivor of childhood sexual abuse has a different story. Every person deals with it differently, and everyone finds healing in their own way. This blog is about a survivor, but not just one survivor. This is a combination of stories from several survivors of childhood sexual abuse. These feelings and experiences are common among survivors. If you’ve faced any of the feelings described in this blog, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Some things happened to me when I was a kid. Things that I didn’t understand – I still don’t always understand them, to be honest. I won’t go into detail, but someone who was supposed to love me and protect me, didn’t. I was sexually abused. And it went on for a long time.

For years, I imagined that it had no effect on me at all. I was fine. I was normal. Nothing going on here. Except there was, always under the surface, that guilt and shame and doubt. I just refused to deal with it. You know how some people have this big lightning bolt moment that leads them to enlightenment? I didn’t have one of those. Instead I spent years of my life feeling like I was broken, but refusing to look at why I felt that way.

That’s how it seemed to me, anyway. It felt like I was always sabotaging myself. Something good would happen, and I found a way to ruin it. I’d meet a really great person that I wanted to date and then something would happen, and I’d be running from them as fast as I could (figuratively speaking). I’d get a new responsibility at work, and it was like I’d go out of my way to prove that I didn’t deserve it. As the saying goes, I was my own worst enemy.

Why was I doing this to myself?

One Saturday morning I was laying in my bed and watching the sunlight making shapes on my ceiling. It was so beautiful. I started to cry. I couldn’t remember the last time I had thought anything was beautiful. I couldn’t remember the last time I was happy. I didn’t even know if I remembered how to be happy.

I cried. And I cried. And I cried. I didn’t want to stop because it was the first time in a long time that I was feeling something. I didn’t even care that it was pain and sorrow, it was something!

I’d like to tell you that Saturday morning changed everything. It didn’t. But, in a way, it did. Because it forced me to look at my life and what I was doing and how I was doing it. I was broken, but surely there was a way to repair me. There had to be. I was lost, but someone must know how I could find myself again. There had to be something more for me.

Healing from the impact of sexual abuse is a journey. For more information about how you can find healing, please refer to Reclaim Hope, a free e-book available on our resources page. Also, you can read more about the journey of survivors at: I Am Talking, Writing, and Healing  and  I Will Hope, Laugh, and Share.

Understanding My Trauma Made All The Difference

Alison, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who attended the Haven Retreat and found healing after understanding her trauma.

“I have knowledge, I have hope, I have faith, I have tools, I have power!”-Alison, Survivor-

The effects of sexual abuse in my life wax and wane like the stages of the moon. At times it’s a distant memory, a trial or a hardship in my past; other times it invades every cell and muscle of my body and brain, making it hard to breathe and think and function. Fight, flight and freeze with lots of numbing (think food and Netflix) become my days and nights. When “it” comes back I wonder what’s wrong with me, am I crazy? Am I not trying hard enough? Am I weak? Am I permanently, irretrievably damaged? I want to disappear, give up and be done with hurt and pain and heartache.

I found answers and healing in the beautiful, green mountains of Utah, at the Haven Retreat. I learned about the extraordinary wound of trauma – that trauma isn’t just a bad experience, it’s something that threatens us to the core and that human sexuality wounds are often the most devastating. I learned that violated trust confuses the brain and that unresolved trauma stays stuck in the body and cells; I learned that the “crazy” was just my brain doing its job under the extreme stress of being in trauma. I learned that just talking about it, won’t make it go away.

Most importantly, I learned there are answers, tools and techniques that will free my mind and body; that I am not crazy, lazy or inherently damaged! I learned that yoga and mindfulness reach into the brain and body and release the trauma held there; that Muay Thai (a form of kick boxing) gives my body a chance to respond and fight back, the chance it didn’t have when I was a little girl, too weak and scared and small to respond.

I have knowledge, I have hope, I have faith, I have tools, I have power! I can be like the mountains that protected us and grow strong and powerful from pressure and stress. I was surrounded by seven strong, beautiful women who understood and knew how I felt. We bonded in a way that is hard to describe. I am humbled and feel so blessed to have been educated, honored, nurtured and loved by my fellow survivors and by the staff at the Haven Retreat. Thank you to the Younique Foundation for understanding our needs and supporting survivors of sexual abuse. You have changed my life forever.

 -Alison, Survivor

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5 Ways to Turn Learned Helplessness into Learned Optimism

Turn helplessness into optimism

Learned helplessness, simply speaking, is a psychological condition where someone believes that they are powerless and that nothing they do will change that. It often begins in childhood as a response to trauma. It’s common among survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and it can lead many to become stunted in their healing progress.

Steven Maier and Martin Seligman conducted a study in the 1960s that showed learned helplessness in dogs. They placed dogs in locked cages and repeatedly shocked them. After administering many different courses of electric shock, the researchers would open the door of the cages and shock the dogs again. They expected the dogs to run out, but they didn’t. The dogs stayed and endured the shocks.

Another group of dogs was placed in cages with the doors open. When the dogs were shocked, they immediately ran away. The researchers concluded that the first group of dogs learned helplessness because nothing they did made a difference.

If the study had ended there, it would be pretty discouraging, but it didn’t. Maier and Seligman went back and helped the first dogs unlearn what they had been conditioned to do. They taught them to reclaim their power. They taught them to get out of the cage.

So what can you do to get out of the cage of learned helplessness? One way is to replace it with learned optimism. Mindfulness, one of our 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope, can help with that. Here are a few things to try:

1. Meditate

This can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be scary. There are a lot of different types of meditation, and there will be at least one that resonates with you. Ask around, look online, or try a website like Headspace.com to see what type of meditation you should try.

2. Check Your Thoughts

Notice when you’re having negative or self-defeating thoughts. Make a conscious choice to recognize them for what they are – unproductive thoughts – and choose to focus on more positive, productive thoughts. This may be difficult at first, but, like anything, will improve with practice.

3. Practice Gratitude

When you feel like you’re trapped in a cage of helplessness, look at the things around you that you’re grateful for. Be as specific as you can. Instead of saying, “I’m grateful for my bed,” say, “I’m grateful that I have a warm place to sleep, a comfortable place to read, and a soft place to relax every night. I’m grateful that I have clean sheets and pillows that feel just right…” Feel the difference that it can make.

4. Write

If you’re struggling to see the good in a situation, or struggling to check your thoughts, write them down. Address what you’re thinking in writing and you’ll find clarity and calm that you didn’t know were there. Set a timer for 15 minutes and just write everything that comes into your mind. This act of freewriting will “dump” the negative thoughts and help you focus on the ones that will lead you to feeling more optimistic and less helpless.

5. Take One Step

Does everything on this list seem overwhelming or unrealistic? Then break it down even further. Getting out of the cage of learned helplessness will not happen in one quick movement. It takes small steps. So, think of one small thing that you can do right now that will help you step away from helplessness and toward optimism. All you need to do today is take that one small step.

Learned helplessness is a defense mechanism that you developed as a child to lessen the trauma you were experiencing. Now, as an adult, there are better ways for you to handle the stress, the triggers, and the aftermath of your trauma. Reclaim your power. Make the choice today to move away from learned helplessness and embrace learned optimism.

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I Am Educated and I Understand

When a survivor first breaks the silence about abuse, loved ones sometimes struggle to know how to respond. Initial reactions often include anger and confusion. The first step to understanding what has happened to your loved one is education. As you learn more about sexual abuse and its impact on survivors, you will be able to process your responses and find ways to support your loved one. Below is the learning process that you might go through as a supporter. This is a story that has been compiled from the experiences of many supporters.

When I first found out that my wife had been sexually abused, I had so many questions, so I tried to learn. I needed to understand what my wife had gone through and how it impacted her. The first thing I learned is that sexual abuse is more common than I thought. It’s not something I had heard about before my wife talked to me, so I just assumed it didn’t happen very often. The reality is that it happens frequently. I also assumed that most perpetrators are strangers. I thought it was crazy that my wife had been abused by her uncle, but then I found out that most sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone close, often a family member. I realized that a situation that I thought was unusual is, sadly, typical.

I also learned that most abuse survivors never tell anyone about what happened. And if they do tell, the abuse probably won’t be reported. When my wife first told me about her abuse, she told me that it had gone on for two years. I wondered why someone didn’t make it stop? I knew she told her parents, but they told her that saying anything about it publicly would “look bad.” They said her family’s reputation was too important. Again, this seemed crazy to me, but I found out that her situation was pretty standard. Child sexual abuse often goes on for a while, and it’s rarely reported.

The most important thing I learned was that my wife was still suffering from the trauma of what happened. Abuse isn’t something that people just forget about. Their bodies and minds hang on to the trauma and continue to respond years later. I found out about my wife’s abuse when a man who reminded her of her uncle sat in front of us in a movie theater. This man triggered my wife—he brought back memories of the past abuse, and my wife’s body reacted as if she were in danger—as if the abuse were still happening.

Initially, I was angry and confused, but now I am more educated. I understand that what happened to my wife isn’t all that uncommon, and I learned that she’s going to need help recovering. She can’t just get over it. It’s going to take time, but it’s possible. And I know that I’m a big part of her healing. Survivors need people who love them and support them, and I can be one of those people for her. I understand that my wife and I can have a relationship that will be fulfilling for both of us—a relationship with emotional, physical, and sexual intimacy. It will take some work, but it’s worth it.

Healing from the impact of sexual abuse is a journey for both supporters and survivors. For more information about how you can support the survivors in your life, look at the Supporting Hope e-book on our resources page. Also, read more about the journey of both survivors and supporters at: I Was Confused, Angry, and Hurt and I Will Listen, Acknowledge, and Support

I Was Confused, Angry, and Hurt

When a loved one tells you that they’ve been sexually abused, your initial reaction can be strong. You might be angry. You’ll probably be confused. It can be challenging to work through the emotions you’re experiencing. Also, you might wonder how you can be supportive of the loved one in your life who has been abused, no matter who it is—your spouse, your cousin, a friend. This blog is for you. It’s not about a single supporter. It’s compiled from lots of different stories we’ve heard from people who support sexual abuse survivors. If you’ve experienced some of the feelings described here, you’re not alone.

I’ll always remember when my wife first told me that she had been sexually abused. We had been married for a couple of years, and something confusing happened when we went to a movie. Someone sat down in front of us, and my wife started to panic and left the theater. I followed her out to see what happened. She just wanted to go home. I tried to ask her a couple of times what was wrong, but she wouldn’t say anything. We had an awkward silent car ride home. It bugged me that she wouldn’t share. I thought we were closer than that.

A couple of days later, she came to me and explained that she had been sexually abused on and off for two years when she was a teenager by one of her uncles. The guy who sat down in front of us at the theater reminded her of him. The thought of abuse had never even crossed my mind, so I was shocked when she told me. I could tell that she was really upset. In fact, I could tell this is something that she had been upset about for a long time.

I felt angry at lots of people. I was mad at her uncle, obviously. I didn’t really know him, but I remembered meeting him at our wedding. I couldn’t believe that he would show up after what he had done. I wanted to cause him the same pain he had caused my wife. I was also angry at her parents. They had to know what was happening, right? I couldn’t imagine that their own daughter was going through so much and they wouldn’t be suspicious or try to do something to help.

I even experienced some anger toward my wife. I knew that I shouldn’t be angry at her, and it frustrated me that I felt that way. It made the situation even worse—I didn’t want to be angry at the person I loved the most in the world. I had so many questions. Why didn’t she trust me enough to tell me what had happened? How would this impact our relationship? Could we still talk to each other in the same way? Would our sex life change? And why had the abuse gone on for so long?

When I first found out the woman I love was sexually abused, I was confused, angry, and hurt. I knew I didn’t want to keep this mindset. There were a lot of emotions, and they weren’t good. But that’s where I started on my own path to understand what happened and then learn how I could support my wife as she healed. I just wanted her to be happy, and I wanted our relationship to be healthy and fulfilling for both of us.

Healing from the impact of sexual abuse is a journey for both supporters and survivors. For more information about how you can support the survivors in your life, look at the Supporting Hope e-book on our resources page. Also, read more about the journey of supporters at: I Am Educated and I Understand  and I Will Listen, Acknowledge, and Support

It’s My Time To Break Free

Mandie, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, who attended The Haven Retreat

“Every single day, I am choosing to walk taller, to look people in the eyes, and to finally let that little girl with all of the hurt, fly free.” -Mandie, Survivor-

A little girl with a sun yellow dress, matching hair bow and Mary Jane shoes-this is the last image that pops into my head of my childhood memories.

My childhood left that little girl with open gaping wounds that I didn’t think could ever be healed. My abusers were people who I thought were helpers, people who I thought could be trusted. For years, I did not trust anybody who came near me. I constantly questioned their intentions and built a wall so high, that I never thought it could be broken through. I had no hope.

I attended The Haven Retreat with an open mind and battered heart. I tried talking myself out of going for months. I gave every excuse I could think of, but I am so glad that I got on that airplane. I left that beautiful home in the mountains with not only new friends but I am noticing now that those once gaping wounds are becoming scars. Scars show me that even though at one time I was hurt, that eventually that pain is replaced with new, tough skin.

Every single day, I am choosing to walk taller, to look people in the eyes, and to finally let that little girl with all of the hurt, fly free. I am beyond thankful for the opportunity to attend The Haven Retreat. I am breaking free from all of the hurt and pain. Finally, I am free.

-Mandie, Survivor

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