Your Story Has Power, and the Power Is Yours

Stories can be used to empower and humanize.

The acclaimed Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie shared this experience from her life:

“I left Nigeria to go to university in the United States. I was 19. My American roommate was shocked by me. She asked where I had learned to speak English so well and was confused when I said that Nigeria happened to have English as its official language . . . My roommate had a single story of Africa [and] in this single story, there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.”

Adichie’s experience shows that we often oversimplify complicated issues. Her roommate viewed all Africans as the same, even though they are individuals with rich stories. Similarly, sometimes people tend to view all sexual abuse survivors as the same, even though each survivor is an individual with unique experiences. Over the past few months, many survivors have come forward to share their individual stories, and these stories are giving everyone a better understanding of the prevalence and complexity of childhood sexual abuse and the impact it has on people. Awareness is increasing, but there is still the danger of falling into “single-story thinking” and viewing all survivors as the same.

Here at The Younique Foundation, we want you to know that your individual story matters. We post survivor stories every week on our website and we have a Faces of Survivors Instagram page because we believe that there is power in stories both for the person who shares and the person who reads. As you read survivor stories, you’ll probably encounter moments that resonate with you, places where you can see similarities between your story and others. But there are also parts of your story that are unique to you. You are an individual.

As more and more survivors share their stories, you might be encouraged to share your own. Your story has the power to create change by helping people understand sexual abuse better. Also, reaching out to others can be a big step on your healing journey. But always remember that your story is yours. No one can make you share, and you should never feel pressure, from yourself or others, to talk about anything you don’t want to. Once a survivor discloses, family and friends might be curious, and they could ask lots of questions, but you don’t need to say more than you are comfortable with. Also, telling your story once doesn’t mean you have to tell it again and again. Share your story when it feels right to you.

We are here for everyone: people who have shared their story publicly and people who haven’t. The power of your story is real, and it’s yours. You get to decide how to use it.

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I Came Out Smarter and More Understanding of Me

Natalya, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

I thought I faced my abuse. I thought it was something that happened and I healed from it and went on with my life.

Applying for The Haven Retreat was the hardest first step. I didn’t know why I felt the need to go and experience it. “I thought you were over this? I thought you were healed from this? Why are you even applying? Let another woman go.” These were the constant thoughts I had while applying. 

Once I was accepted the fear of going hit. I made every excuse to not go. Family, finances, the list went on.

Once I got there my anxiety was so high I couldn’t breathe. “What am I doing here?” I thought.

Once the days went on I realized I DID need this! I realized I had so much to learn about myself and what I went through in my life. I FINALLY felt normal and not ashamed of my triggers, understanding what triggers were. Learning how to take care of ME! Learning that I am strong, beautiful and BRAVE!

I met lifelong friends and sisters. The relationships I built at the retreat have helped on this new healing experience I am on.

The dedication The Younique Foundation puts into helping survivors is truly AMAZING! Finding a place that understands and truly knows what you feel and deal with without making you feel abnormal or ashamed of yourself; to be relieved that others around you think and feel just like you for once, was such a refreshing feeling.

I came out smarter, more understanding of me, and the knowledge I need to heal myself correctly. A friend told me “We had a broken bone that healed wrong, the retreat broke that bone again and now showed us how to heal it correctly.”

This retreat changed my life and I am so glad I didn’t allow my fears to stop me from attending.

 

-Natalya, Survivor

I Found Freedom in My Voice

Brandy, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, found freedom in sharing her story.

For over 20 years of my life, I felt as if verbalizing my assaults would give them life; hearing my own voice speak about them would make them all the more real. I never knew how wrong I was. I found freedom in my voice, within my fellow survivors, within each new day. I did not come this far…to simply come this far. I may not know those of you reading this, but I KNOW you, you are not alone. You are worthy. You are HERE. Let your journey begin, as mine has…for it is GLORIOUS.

 

-Brandy, Survivor

Sleep Hygiene: What It Is and Why It Matters

Sleep is one of the most important things you can do for yourself to progress on your healing journey. The benefits of getting good sleep include better decision-making, more focus, emotional resilience, a stronger immune system, and many other benefits. Good sleep begins with good sleep hygiene.

Quote about sleep by Rebecca Scritchfield.

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is important to understand if you’re going to get good sleep. Sleep hygiene is all of the things you do every day that will help you sleep better at night. Believe it or not, good sleep starts first thing in the morning and is an all-day affair. Here’s how to improve your sleep, no matter how you’re sleeping right now.

Wake up at the same time every day. It’s tempting to sleep in on the days when you can, but getting your body into a good rhythm is more important. Don’t throw off your sleep pattern for a few more minutes of sleep.

Eat well and exercise. The better you eat and the more consistently you exercise, the better you’ll sleep at night. You can change up your eating and exercise habits for variety, but keep your sleep habits the same.

Pick a “wind down time” in the evening. Start calming down before you even head to the bedroom to sleep. Start thinking calm, relaxing, positive thoughts. Spend time meditating. Do whatever you need to do to maintain a NO NEGATIVE THOUGHTS zone before going to bed.

Try gratitude and affirmations. Maybe you have a hard time falling asleep once you’re lying down. Instead of panicking over what you need to do the next day (and filling your body with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol), try focusing on the things you’re grateful for. You can also try affirmations, saying things like, “I am warm. I am comfortable. I am safe.” Tell yourself soothing and calm things. Any worries can wait until tomorrow.

If you wake up, try again. Don’t focus on how you should be asleep and work yourself into a frenzy about all the sleep you’re NOT getting. Say, “At least I’m resting,” and try winding down again through meditating, thinking positive thoughts, focusing on gratitude, and positive affirmations.

Honor your sleep. You may have trouble falling asleep or difficulty sleeping through the night, but don’t repeat that thought to yourself – change the story. Tell yourself that you are getting better at sleeping, getting better at taking care of yourself, and getting better at allowing your body time to regenerate at night. Don’t give up; good sleep is worth the effort.

Take some time today to think of what you can do to improve your sleep. Pick one thing. Maybe it’s getting a better pillow or thinking through some affirmations. Maybe it’s giving yourself more “lie in bed” time at night before your actual bedtime. Whatever you think will help, try it. And keep trying it. When you get good sleep, your body responds, and you can take better care of yourself. What will you do to sleep better tonight?

Reclaim the Person that Was Lost in Your Troubles. I Have.

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

I was broken, lost, not knowing who I was or what I wanted to be. I was a prisoner in my own body walking hopelessly every day. I let what happened to me as a child, teenager, define who I was. I suffered in silence and never told a soul the torture that became who I was. My husband was one, with patience and love he chipped away the walls that were built. Piece by piece he led me to the path that would forever be my Home.

I had three miscarriages back to back. I was told my pain and stress could be triggering an imbalance. And needed to seek a therapist. The last miscarriage was four days before my visit to The Haven Retreat. I didn’t want to go, I wanted to fall into the abyss of my depression.

I wanted to turn around at the terminal, but I kept hearing my inner voice say, “Go Be Free.” I found a new family, a loving family, a nonjudgmental family, a safe Haven. I shared my story and the walls came crumbling down, and I was set free. Finding myself was my struggle, the struggle of Why me? But day after day I am Free! Free to be me, free of worry, and peace with who I am. That would have never happened without the love and support of The Younique Foundation. 

I now have a handsome little one whose name means strong-willed warrior! 

That’s exactly what we are, STRONG-WILLED WARRIORS. Fate whispers to the warrior, “You cannot withstand the storm.” We warriors proudly say, “I am the Storm.” Reclaim that person that was lost in your troubles like I have. Take it day by day. Wake up, look in the mirror, and state, “I am enough, I am strong, I am a warrior, I am free.”

Reconnecting with survivors and being their support system has helped me reclaim my hope and continue my journey of finding that little girl who had walked around hopelessly trying to find herself, never stopping, never backing down, picking up that sword and fighting.

Being free doesn’t give you limits, you become limitless.

 

-April, Survivor

Life and Joy and Abundance on the Other Side

Lindsay, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

I grew up being told I was crazy and that I made up things, so I believed it and felt like I couldn’t trust my own memories. I realized at age 11 that I wanted to die, and I didn’t think I even had the ability to live a normal life. I hated myself and my body and started a lifelong battle against eating disorders, self-harm, depression, and chemical abuse. I did anything to numb and keep the pain buried away.

Thankfully, my life was saved when I attended a spiritual recovery program. I am forever grateful for how that helped me to spiritually heal. I was a different, and freer person because of it. After that program, my repressed memories from my childhood sexual abuse came on stronger and more often than ever before, and I wasn’t sure how else to help myself.

I loved life and was doing better than ever before, and yet my mind and body were in a constant fight from things that were still unresolved from the abuse. It brought back so much of the fear and anxiety and PTSD symptoms. I continued to feel disconnected from myself.

I started counseling and EMDR, and my therapist told me about The Haven Retreat. I was hesitant that 4 days could make a difference with all the recovery I had done already – but I am so glad I went. The retreat was the catalyst for me to start attending a trauma-sensitive yoga class, and with the combined efforts of the yoga and counseling, I am fully free.

My body and mind no longer feel disconnected. I am on the other side of the abuse. I’m not a victim and it no longer controls my present or future. I’m grateful for everyone and everything that has been a part of my healing journey. It took time and patience to be where I’m at now, and I’m glad I didn’t give up in the most hopeless of moments. There has been such life and joy and abundance on the other side. Never give up, and never stop reaching out for the help you need.

 

-Lindsay, Survivor

Add Fuel to Your Healing Journey: You and Your Body

Get in touch with your body quote by Bessel van der Kolk.

Have you ever felt like you try and try to fix something and nothing you do works? It gets discouraging, and it’s easy to want to give up. Sometimes this happens because we’re trying to fix the wrong thing. For example, say your car won’t run because it’s out of gas. If you don’t know that’s the problem, you might replace the battery. When that doesn’t work, you replace the starter. Your actions get more and more drastic, and you finally give up because it feels like no matter what you do, the car still sits there not running. But all it needs is some fuel.

The same thing can happen when it comes to healing from childhood sexual abuse. You’ve possibly tried all kinds of things to heal and nothing seems to work as well as you want it to. Understandably, you get frustrated and might feel like giving up. But maybe you just need to shift where you focus your healing efforts a little. One thing you can try is paying attention to your body and the messages it’s sending you. Survivors often take care of their minds but neglect their bodies, and their bodies are an important part of the healing process. Here are three reasons that paying attention to your body is important.

  • A strong connection to your body will help you stay in the present. Being in the present plays an important role in healing, especially with talk therapy. As Bessel van der Kolk teaches in The Body Keeps the Score, “people need to be grounded in the present before they can start to deal with things in the past,”[1] and you can use your body to help yourself stay grounded.
  • Having control of your body helps give you control of your life. Sexual abuse survivors are often scared to feel things. They spend time trying to numb emotions and physical sensations. The reality is that the more you understand and experience your body, the more power you have to make decisions: “Agency starts with . . . our awareness of our subtle sensory, body-based feelings: the greater that awareness, the greater our potential to control our lives.”[2]
  • What happens in the body impacts the brain. Our brains and our bodies are inseparably linked. When we heal from trauma, we typically focus on the brain. We also need to see “the body as the vehicle for change.”[3] In Body Kindness, Rebecca Scritchfield says, “You’ll receive a powerful emotional boost each time you connect to your body and make a choice that is more caring and helpful in the moment.”[4]

Spend some time thinking about how you can take care of your physical health. Like a car that needs its gas tank filled, maybe your body just needs some fuel to help you move to the next level of healing.

 

[1] Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score, p. 70.

[2] Same as above, p. 97.

[3] Peg Duros and Dee Crowley, “The Body Comes to Therapy Too,” Clinical Social Work Journal, Vol. 42 (2014), p. 237.

[4] Rebecca Scritchfield, Body Kindness, p. 25.

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I am Clear on the Direction I Want to Go

Joy, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

I started therapy about 2 ½ years ago for a sexual assault that happened in college. For years I had struggled with anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and flashbacks. Immediately after my first appointment, which was just an initial assessment, I started having flashbacks of events from my childhood. I didn’t want to go there. I had pushed those thoughts back so long ago, I had forgotten them. 

Two weeks later, I met with the therapist I had been assigned. It was terrifying, but she made me feel comfortable and safe. Eventually, I worked up the courage to tell her about the things that happened to me as a child. It took a long time to get my full story out about how as a child I had been repeatedly sexually abused by a neighbor. My therapist helped me through a lot of things and taught me so much. I learned that PTSD wasn’t something that just veterans get. I learned how to deal with my flashbacks, anxiety, depression and many other things. 

My husband was loving, patient and supportive. My parents, though struggling with their own feelings of guilt (wishing they had known), were also very supportive. I had a couple of friends I eventually opened up to and shared my story. Even with all this support, I felt very alone in my journey.

Then I came across an article on Facebook about The Younique Foundation’s retreat for childhood sexual abuse survivors. I had seen something about it about a year before but passed by it with little interest. This time was different somehow. I felt more ready for something like that. I was struggling with a desire to find my voice – I wanted to find a way to reach out with my story in a way that might help others. I decided to apply for The Haven Retreat and attended a few months later. 

It was an amazing experience! I gained so much. There were many wonderful things I gained from going, but the two most important rewards for me were: 1) Coming away with a bond to seven other women who understand my challenges; I don’t feel alone in my journey anymore, and 2) Understanding how the trauma affected my brain and how the effects from my abuse aren’t signs that I am weird or crazy, but normal reactions to someone who has been through the trauma I have. 

I am grateful for all those who have been there for me, for all the love and support I felt by those at The Haven Retreat, and for my survivor sisters. I am excited about my life ahead. I am clear on the direction I want to go. I may have been broken, but I am rebuilding myself stronger and know I can do great things. I hope that if there is anyone who has been through sexual abuse, that they might hear my story and will be less afraid to reach out for help and reclaim the hope that is theirs.

-Joy, Survivor

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How Can I Help?: Social Media Edition

Quote for How to Help blog.

One of the most common questions we get here at The Younique Foundation is “How can I help?” There are a lot of ways, but one of the easiest is by joining us on our social media platforms. They are meant to not only break down the stigma surrounding childhood sexual abuse but also to create a safe community for survivors of sexual abuse and their supporters.

Facebook: You’ll find most of our information, our campaigns, our community, and our giveaways on Facebook. We post daily and do our best to make sure that everything we share is beneficial to survivors and supporters.

Instagram: This is full of daily content for both survivors and supporters. We try to post things that are hopeful so that you can have a daily pick-me-up if you follow us here. We also have a second Instagram account called Faces of Survivors where we post pictures and stories directly from survivors.

Twitter: Here the focus is more on news or events happening in real life related to our mission to help survivors of childhood sexual abuse find healing. We try to keep the content uplifting, highlighting stories that might otherwise be missed.

Pinterest: Our Pinterest boards are filled with specific tools and resources to aid survivors on their healing journey. We have blogs, recipes, coloring pages, meditation practices, survivor stories, and more.

There are a variety of ways to help us make a difference, but one of the easiest ways to make sure we reach as many survivors as possible is to follow us on social media, let your friends know, and encourage them to follow us. It only takes a few seconds, but it can make a huge difference. So what are you waiting for? Go follow us today!