Peace in the Present: The Gift of EMDR Therapy

Guest blog by Starr Hall

After the traumatic abuse I experienced stopped, I wished I could stop it from invading my present life. I was on high alert. I felt unable to stop my body from warning me of danger that I was no longer experiencing. There was a part of me that knew I had done everything in my power to progress, and another part of me that was still so afraid. What was going on? I had rebuilt my life. So why was I still fearful of my abuser? I longed to feel safe again, but I didn’t know how to make that happen. Then I heard about EMDR therapy. 

When I first heard about EMDR, I wasn’t sure if it was for me. I was willing to put in the work to heal. But it sounded, well, a bit strange. I thought, “So you’re telling me that all a therapist has to do is wave their hand in the air, and that is supposed to help? You’re kidding, right?” Luckily for me, I had a trusted girlfriend that I could go to with my questions. I asked her, “Tell me about EMDR. What’s it like? Is it weird? Does it really help?” She answered all of my questions because she had been there, and now I hope I can answer some of yours.  

What is EMDR?  

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It has become a best practice in the clinical community to treat trauma. During an EMDR session, bilateral stimulation is used, usually involving the client’s eyes. The therapist holds their hand up and moves it back and forth horizontally while the client follows with their eyes. Researchers believe these eye movements imitate the body’s rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. In order to practice EMDR, the therapist must be trained to follow a step-by-step process that includes bilateral stimulation and a script. 

What’s it like? 

Here’s what happens at a typical EMDR session: First, a calming, safe place is established by practicing techniques like deep breathing, guided relaxation, etc. My calming place is the ocean. I imagine myself sitting on the beach with a vast view of the ocean, my toes in the sand, the sun on my face, breathing in the fresh salty air, listening to the waves as they crash. The therapist guides the client through this. Soon the client can practice these self-care techniques on their own. After establishing a safe place, the client answers the questions the therapist asks, then engages the body in a bilateral stimulation, then answers questions again, then bilateral stimulation, and so on. EMDR allows the client to reprocess traumatic memories. The script guides the session, and the client guides the reprocessing. 

Is it weird? 

EMDR may sound a bit weird, but it was not as intimidating as I expected. It’s not that different from talk therapy. It felt liberating to work through past traumatic experiences with both my mind and body. 

Does it really help? 

Yes! A resounding yes. EMDR allowed me to process past traumatic experiences in a new light. I felt completely different than I had before. Before I felt fearful. After I felt free. F R E E. A transformation took place within me. I had my life back. I was astounded at the healing that took place in less time than I could have anticipated. EMDR gave me the gift of separating my past from my present. This not only restored my sense of safety, it also gave me peace. If I could share this gift with every trauma survivor, I would.  

You can find true healing and overcome trauma in many ways. EMDR was part of my path to healing. Trust your intuition and find what is right for you. Healing IS possible. Not only have I walked this path, I have seen others walk it, too. Strong, courageous, incredible survivors have shown their ability to find hope and healing time and time again. No matter how insurmountable it may seem, you have the power to overcome trauma and find peace in the present. I invite you to discover your own path to healing. I am cheering you on every step of the way.

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To Be a Survivor Means That I Exist

Charmaine, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, attended The Haven Retreat.

I’m going to be honest – it bothered me deeply to be called a survivor. To me, to be called a survivor meant that I was saying that I was weak. So before I attended The Haven Retreat, and to ease my mind, I decided to look up what the word “survivor” meant. To my surprise, the definition touched my heart.

“1. Someone or something that still exists after an event that could have killed or destroyed them.
2. Someone who manages to continue a successful life despite very bad experiences.”

To be a survivor means that I Exist. I am still here and thriving. The sexual abuse that was done to me as a child and early teen wanted to define me and wipe me out of existence physically and emotionally. For many years I struggled with my very existence and I hated my existence. It wasn’t until three years ago when I was going to commit suicide that I realized my choice would not only affect me but everyone that my life touched. My powerful choice was choosing to LOVE myself for the first time and exist.

No longer would suicidal thoughts exist to cloud my mind. No longer would depression exist to steal all of my beautiful moments. No longer would fear paralyze me from fulfilling my dreams and no longer would the pain of my past exist to block me from feeling or receiving Love.

Why? BECAUSE I EXIST!

My very existence is POWERFUL. The very fact that I exist, that I survived, has changed this world for the better.

My experience at The Haven Retreat will never be forgotten. It was truly life-changing and has helped my heart to open so that I can receive Love. This is HUGE for me and such a great breakthrough.

Thank you so very much to Derek and Shelaine Maxfield for The Younique Foundation; it is truly a Godsend. Thank you so very much to all the beautiful staff at The Haven Retreat. Your love, care, and support are graciously appreciated. God bless you all abundantly.

To all my beautiful survivor sisters, I want you to know that you are loved, you matter, and you exist. You are more powerful than you think. Keep shining bright being you and don’t, I repeat, don’t ever turn down your light for no one. You were made to SHINE. Lastly, celebrate yourself with every step that you take. You are worth celebrating. I love you!

 

-Charmaine, Survivor

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I Struggled Talking to People About My Story

Michelle, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

I understand how uncomfortable it is to talk about what happened as a child. For the longest time, I struggled talking to people about my story. I truly hope sharing my story will help you feel not alone.

At times I’ve felt alone, scared, and abandoned. Not knowing who to trust. As a child, I felt like it was my fault for what happened to me. I felt ugly, angry, and anxious. Later in life I struggled with depression. When I lived in Albuquerque, NM is when I found a wonderful homeopathic doctor who helped me see things in a different light.

I found forgiveness and hope. Hope that I was not alone. I felt safe in knowing it wasn’t my fault for what happened to me as a child. I was taken advantage of. I’ve learned to love myself knowing what happened to me was not my fault. Going to The Haven Retreat opened my eyes much more. It helped me realize we are not alone. There are other women out there who need to find hope, to fight back to know they are enough. You are loved. Keep on fighting, and find your voice. For with God all things are possible.

 

-Michelle, Survivor

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5 Ways to Make the Holidays Safe and Happy

The holidays can be an especially challenging time for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. While get-togethers with family and friends can be a highlight of the season, they can also add a lot of stress and pressure, especially if you might see people who were involved in your abuse. Watch this video for our tips to make the holidays positive and enjoyable. You’ll hear survivors talk about strategies they use during this time of year. Then write down your own ideas to keep yourself safe and happy so that the holidays can be a joyful season filled with making good new memories with your loved ones. 

This video is our gift to you. Happy holidays. 

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I Had a Very Special Experience at The Haven Retreat

Rachel, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, tells her story about The Haven Retreat.

As a child I never felt whole, I always felt like there was a void in my life that I couldn’t fill. I had very deep emotions and was a sensitive child. I was shy and distant and felt like I was much different from the other children.

The abuse went on until my family moved when I was 12 years old. I told a woman I trusted from my church; she was the first person I ever told.

These memories invaded my thoughts, constantly. I had so much anger toward him and toward my parents for letting me be at his house alone and overnight so many times. I stopped caring about everything. I dropped out of high school in my senior year. I started using marijuana and cocaine. I met someone who lived on the other side of the country and hopped on a bus and ran away. I finally returned home but continued to use drugs. They were my escape from the abuse and life in general. I was able to find sobriety and will celebrate 4 years sober this year!

In June 2017, my fiancé tagged me in a post on Facebook. Someone was sharing their story and talking about this amazing place called The Haven Retreat. I considered it, I couldn’t believe it was free of cost, that it was only a 30-minute drive, and that there was something like this out there. It seemed too good to be true. I knew I needed to apply and go. I had been working so many years on trying to forgive him for what he did to me. I spent so many years being a victim.

I had a very special experience at the retreat. I was able to meet some amazing women with similar stories. I was able to attend classes, a mini makeover, and group therapy. On the last night of the retreat, I wrote a letter to my abuser. When I was done, I went outside, in the dark, under the stars and in the beauty of nature. And I read his letter aloud, hoping God would let it echo in his ears for eternity. I closed my eyes before I was done reading and pictured me as a little girl, hurt and alone and crying on the floor. And then a light came on, and the little girl looked up and saw the woman who I am today. I took the little girl’s hand, I helped her up and brought her out of the darkness. At the end of the letter, I said, “I finally break these chains you have held on me. You no longer get to control me. And now I am free.” I tore the letter up and threw it in the fire.

 

-Rachel, Survivor

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woman sitting on a rock looking at line of mountains in the distance

A Survivor’s Perspective: What #MeToo Has Meant to Me

Before the #MeToo movement, being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse was something I carried with me for years. It was what I called a “known secret,” meaning members of my family knew it happened but chose to look the other way. This caused a lot of pain throughout the years. But it was still something I was never vocal about because I felt I had to protect the family secret and not let anyone be hurt by what had happened to me.

Through the years the pain built up, and the weight became too much to carry. So, I sought out therapy to help me work past it. While I was slowly making some progress, the #MeToo movement started. I saw so many girls that I knew and went to school with coming out about their own abuse. They talked about how they were tired of the stigma around abuse and would no longer be held captive by the shame and guilt that came with it.

They spoke out!

I was so surprised, and I felt hope and a sense of community. I knew I wasn’t alone in this, but hearing the conviction and the power in others’ stories, I felt that it was finally my time to let go of the fear of being judged and ridiculed. I wanted to instill those feelings of power in others the way they were instilled in me.

I posted my story.

I thought I was going to stop breathing. My head was spinning and I felt sick. I couldn’t believe what I had done. Was my family going to be upset? Would I lose people in my life that I loved? What would I do if someone in my family called me and was angry? How would I respond if someone didn’t believe me?

Well, in all honesty, there were some negative results. I did get phone calls. People in my family were upset with me. I did lose relationships with people I loved, and I may never get them back. But I would not change a thing. I realized that even though it was painful, letting go of those relationships was what I needed most. I have never felt more free. I can now see that those relationships were not healthy or serving a purpose in my life. They were stopping me from creating relationships with those that do want the best for me, who love me, and want to see me happy and successful.

Because of my past, I never thought I could find peace about who I am now. After I came out with my story, it was like I had a mess of puzzles pieces in my head that I was finally able to put back together. Individuals reached out to me and thanked me for doing what I did. Through reading my story and seeing the courage I, and many others displayed in our posts, these people expressed that they were inspired to have a voice and show that courage as well.

There’s nothing else that I would rather come out of sharing my story than giving courage to the people who need it, despite how difficult it may have been for me to say. After all, isn’t that one of the points of going through hardships? So we can help the next person in line that may need the extra support to let go of the pain that is holding them back?

I was hurt as a child and went through things that a child should never have to go through, but I am a survivor. I am a fighter. And I will always be a supporter.

 

I Never Believed There Was Hope For Me

Stephanie, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, found hope at The Haven Retreat.

Hope. I never knew that one word could have such a huge impact on my life. Ever since my abuse, I never believed there was hope for me.

Arriving at The Haven Retreat, I was a ball of nerves and anxiety, but those feelings quickly faded once I vowed to not isolate myself. I learned it was okay to cry, to feel, to scream, and to be happy. The activity that put a lot into perspective for me was the kintsugi project. It showed me that what was once broken can be mended and become something even more beautiful. I have truly taken that to heart and live every day reclaiming hope. The lessons and coping techniques I learned while at The Haven Retreat have empowered me to be my best me. I’m a survivor and a warrior. I have hope.

 

-Stephaney, Survivor

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Practice Every Day: How Playing the Cello is Like Healing From Abuse

Quote for blog on how practicing self-care is like taking time to practice the cello.

Think of the last time you learned something new. Were there moments when you felt overwhelmed? Did you ever want to give up? Someone who works here at The Younique Foundation shared this recently.

I’m 35 years old, and I started taking cello lessons about six months ago. This is totally new territory for me, and I was seriously intimidated at my first lesson. My teacher was demonstrating things for me, and she was so good at everything. The sad, squeaky noises the cello made when I played sounded terrible compared to the beautiful music she was making. I kept thinking, “I will never be able to do this!” There was a big part of me that wanted to give up on the spot, but I kept at it, and I practice for about 20 minutes most days. I’m definitely a beginner—I make lots of mistakes, I’m usually out of tune, I feel like my fingers can’t reach far enough. But I’m slowly making progress.

Sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves and feel like we need to be perfect at things right away, but this isn’t a helpful way for us to think. Of course, it would be defeating to go to your first cello lesson and say to yourself, “Okay, I need to play like a concert cellist right now.” That’s a goal that simply isn’t possible, and you’ll only get discouraged if you think like that. The reality is that we make progress a little bit at a time by consistently doing small things. You don’t wake up one morning transformed into an amazing musician; you become an amazing musician by practicing a little bit every day.

The same is true when it comes to healing from sexual abuse. You won’t wake up one day completely healed. But there are small things you can do right now to put yourself on a path to healing. Don’t get overwhelmed thinking that you have to do everything at once. Just figure out little things you can do daily. Here are just three suggestions for things you can do right now:

1. Break big tasks into small steps.

Maybe there’s something big you’ve been meaning to do for a while, but it feels too hard. Figure out small steps that will help you get there. Say you’ve been meaning to find a therapist. Today, spend a few minutes googling therapists in your area. Tomorrow, ask friends if they have any recommendations. The next day, call one or two offices to ask about availability for appointments. The whole process of finding a therapist might feel like too much, but doing just one small step hopefully feels manageable. Figure out small steps that you can do each day.

2. Find a go-to grounding technique.

One of the most challenging aspects of healing from abuse can be dealing with triggers that arise in daily life. Figure out a grounding technique that works for you that you can use when you’re triggered. Maybe it’s a simple breathing exercise like inhaling for a few counts and exhaling for a few counts. You can find lots of grounding techniques on our blog like mindfulness, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation. You can even try a podcast like Live Awake or an app like Headspace. If you find a technique beforehand, when you’re triggered you won’t feel stuck trying to figure out what to do. You’ll have a plan.

3. Say positive declarations.

Sending yourself positive messages every day can be a simple but impactful part of healing. You can build positive declarations into your already-existing daily routine. Say a few when you’re getting ready in the morning or as you’re driving to work. Positive declarations can be as simple as saying something like, “I’m a worthwhile person, and I love myself.” Check out more information about creating positive declarations. (Or look at this little girl for an example of how it’s done.)

Don’t let unrealistic expectations for perfection frustrate you. Take things a day at a time, and give yourself credit for the amazing progress you’re making. Just as a beginning cellist is on the journey to make beautiful music, you are on a journey to heal. Every journey takes time, and you’ll inevitably experience some bumps and detours along the way, but have confidence that you’re moving in the right direction and making progress. What simple thing can you do today?

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I Am Not What Happened to Me

Angela, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, tells her story about attending The Haven Retreat.

I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.

I never thought I would say those words. I never thought I would be okay. Today I choose happy. I choose strong.

I was abused beginning at a very young age, and this abuse continued into adulthood. My mother knew of my abuse, yet did not stop it. I felt alone, scared, and unprotected. I blamed myself for my abuse.

I applied and was accepted to The Haven Retreat. I was scared. Scared I would be judged. The opposite happened. I found hope. I found 21 other women who are strong and who understood me. I was immediately accepted. For the first time, I truly believed that my abuse was not my fault. I now have a group of strong women behind me, my tribe. They are my best friends. They give me strength when I can’t find it in myself.

I’m still learning to forgive my abuser. But, I have learned to forgive myself. I can smile again. I am truly happy. This retreat has saved my life.

 

-Angela, Survivor

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I Felt Rejuvenated By the Peace at The Haven Retreat

Andrea, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, shares her survivor story.

Nineteen years after my trauma, the effects of PTSD had manifested and I felt like I’d completely lost control. I was fortunate to start my healing with a therapist in 2016. However, I needed more, but I didn’t know what I needed.

Thanks to social media, I heard about The Haven Retreat. I saw a video of Shelaine Maxfield talking about the retreat, and I immediately felt like I should attend. I applied and I feel so blessed that I was offered a spot.

For me, the experience at the retreat is indescribable. Because much of the retreat focuses on educating survivors, I was able to learn what happens to survivors of childhood and adolescent sexual trauma. Honestly, knowledge really is power. I am empowered by what I learned about my brain and my body. I learned coping skills and gained confidence. I realized I’m not alone. The experiences and presentations offered so many chances to discover more about myself and to heal.

I felt rejuvenated by the peace at the retreat, although I was apprehensive to attend, I immediately felt comfortable and safe. The staff was so caring and genuinely kind. This retreat helped me accept who I am; my story. With the knowledge gained there, I feel eager to continue down the path of healing.

I am forever grateful for the friendships I made with women from all over the world. We are survivors. I felt closer to these women in a day than I have with people in a very long time. We are a sisterhood of survivors!

I feel confident. I love me! I haven’t been able to say that for a very long time. I am a survivor. I am reclaiming hope. I am strong, beautiful, and worthy of love and happiness!

 

-Andrea, Survivor

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