I Can Look in the Mirror and See Someone Beautiful

I turned my pain into power. 

For many years I struggled with depression, anxiety, and had absolutely no self-worth. I struggled with an eating disorder and all this became worse after I had my baby girl. 

I didn’t connect the dots and realize this was due to my abuse as a child. When I heard about The Haven Retreat I just knew I had to be brave and attend. 

What I learned at the retreat has saved my life. I can look in a mirror for the first time and see someone beautiful. I’ve firmly closed that door on my past and turned my pain into power. 

I now have so much self-worth, which is precious to me. No one will ever take that away from me again. 

I am so unbelievably grateful to everyone at The Haven Retreat for helping me reclaim my life. I’m going to make the rest of my life the best of my life.

-Wendy, Survivor

Rosa Parks, sexual abuse advocate.

Rosa Parks: The Forgotten Advocate of Sexual Abuse

Alabama, December 1955. A secretary was riding the bus home from work. The bus filled. She was asked to give up her seat so a white man could sit down. She refused.

And history was made.

Rosa Parks is best known as a woman who gave a firm “no” when she was asked to move on a bus. What most people don’t know is that she was not only a civil rights activist but also a childhood sexual abuse survivor. Years before she made history, she was working to get justice for black women who had been sexually assaulted.

When Rosa was 18, a white neighbor assaulted her and attempted to rape her. She said of that incident, “I was ready to die, but give my consent never. Never, never.” Even then she knew that her “no” had power.

Rosa Parks was inspired to join the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and part of her job was making sure that black people who had been sexually assaulted were able to have their day in court. She gave black women an ally and a voice.

While everyone has heard of Rosa Parks’ refusal to move on the bus, few know of her amazing work with black women and girls in a time when overt sexual violence against them was commonplace. One can’t help but wonder why. Why do we flit past this remarkable part of her contribution?

One reason may be the discomfort we still have discussing childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault, and rape, especially as it affects women of color. We need to make it safe for all survivors of sexual abuse to tell their stories and find hope and healing.

Rosa Parks was a trailblazer in many ways. She overcame obstacles that most of us could never imagine coming across. Her legacy lives on. Let’s credit her life’s work when we talk about this legacy. And let Rosa Parks inspire you with her unwavering ability to say “no” when things happened that she would not stand for.

Improve Any Relationship With Assertive Communication

Can you think of a time when miscommunication created a problem? Think about this misunderstanding:

A few years ago while traveling in France, I was trying to make my way around using the limited French I had learned in high school and college. I had to summon all of my courage every time I needed to talk to anyone, and miscommunication was always a possibility. One miscommunication happened in a pastry shop. After eyeing all of the beautiful and delicious pastries, I settled on a chocolate éclair. I talked to the shop owner and thought I said that I wanted one éclair. To my surprise, the owner started to put all of the éclairs he had in a box and then handed them to me. I was too surprised and embarrassed to say anything, so I paid for them and walked out—and ate éclairs for the rest of the day.

As this story illustrates, communicating can be hard. Moments of misunderstanding are just part of life. Someone’s going to think you want a box of éclairs when you only want one. As psychiatrist Mark Goulston points out, “because we filter reality through individual values and perceptions, misunderstandings are inevitable.”[1] We usually have to work hard to be effective communicators. Developing good communication skills can help you on your healing journey because you will be able to establish and enforce healthy boundaries and relationships with other people.

Think of communication as a continuum with passive communication on one end and aggressive communication on the other end. Passive communicators often set weak boundaries. They hide hostility rather than express it and sometimes try to please people. They may let people step on them. Aggressive communicators, on the other hand, set up rigid boundaries. These people can explode and make threats and ultimatums. They often step on others.

In contrast to passive and aggressive communicators, assertive communicators set appropriate boundaries, can be firm when they need to be, and deliver messages clearly. At the same time, they are respectful, fair, and understand other people. At The Younique Foundation, we say that assertive communication is the ability to honestly express your views and desires without undue anxiety in a way that protects both you and the person you’re communicating with. Think back to the situation in the French pastry shop. An assertive communicator would figure out a way to walk out with one éclair instead of an entire box. Here are three strategies you can use to increase your assertive communication skills, especially in situations where you need to have a difficult conversation:

  • Connector.

    Develop empathy

    Listen and work to understand the other person’s feelings. Express your concern for the other person: “I can tell that you’re upset, and I understand why.”

  • Connector.

    Use "I"

    Instead of accusing the other person of doing something wrong, describe your difficulty and dissatisfaction with a situation and explain why you need something to change. “I’m feeling upset and dissatisfied with… because…”

  • Connector.

    State what you want

    Make a request for a specific change in the other person’s behavior, including where you’re willing to be flexible. “I’d like… and I’ll do…”

Assertive communication is especially important—and sometimes especially challenging—in intimate relationships. But remember that honestly expressing your feelings makes other people feel comfortable being honest, too, and will ultimately strengthen all of your relationships.

[1] Mark Goulston and Philip Goldberg, Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior, Perigee, 1996, p. 16.

I Had to Stand Out in the Open and Stop Hiding

My abuser died in 2012, leading to a series of events that forced me to wake up to how I was living my life. I had shut down my abuse. Refused to acknowledge or speak about it. I was successful. I promised myself it would never impact my life. That I wouldn’t be a “statistic.” I hated the word survivor. I always wondered why people called themselves that. 

I survived but I didn’t live. 

In 2014, I began my healing journey. At the time, I didn’t realize how much of an impact my abuse had on my life. Why I worked so much. Why I found relationships and intimacy difficult. I had shut down myself. The real me. My soul. 

I engrossed myself in being well. As a coach and business owner and just someone who always believed in growth, I was always moving forward. I healed and I grew and I changed my life. I found myself.

But something, still, was missing. I was still protecting myself, my story, still not sharing it, still holding onto the shame that THIS HAD HAPPENED TO ME and that it had broken me, that it had cost me so much of my life. I wanted to be in control of the story, still. 

I didn’t identify with groups for survivors, I still didn’t speak about it, even though I had a public platform with my business and my blogs. 

Despite all the work I had done, there were still pieces missing, still brain fog, still disassociating, still uncomfortable with being known for that. 

Finding out about The Haven Retreat came at the right moment for me. I knew I had to do this, to work with people who specifically understood sexual abuse. I knew I had to stand out in the open with this and stop hiding, stop controlling who knew and how they knew. 

It was time to own my story so my story no longer owned me. And I’m happy to say that the things I learned at the retreat changed my life. What I learned about the brain and trauma allowed me to finally own that my abuse changed me, changed my life, changed my responses. 

I didn’t want that story. I didn’t want it to have power over my life. But ignoring it and denying it is what gave it power, not facing it. Facing it, understanding it, learning about it and standing in the presence of it – owning that part of me and my life – helped me heal more than I can say.

The people I met there will be life-long friends. Thank you for what you do. While I had done so much work, this retreat really helped me in ways I wasn’t expecting, it helped me put my puzzle together. 

I’m forever grateful.

-Tonya, Survivor

I Know for the First time in my life that I am enough

For more than 26 years I have lived with shame, guilt, fear, and feeling unworthy. From the outside, most people never sensed the turmoil I was living with on the inside, the daily struggle of anxiety and triggers. My daughter turned the same age I was during my abuse and it hit me like a ton of bricks, I knew something had to change. I had to find a way to live, I had to find a way to protect her from the same thing that happened to me. When I learned about The Younique Foundation and The Haven Retreat I knew without a doubt that this was what I needed to begin my healing process. I arrived in Utah and my first thought was to get back on the plane and go back home, fortunately, my husband calmed me down over the phone and convinced me to stay. I am so thankful he did.

Words can’t even begin to explain my experience at the retreat. Walking through the doors at the retreat was so calming, welcoming, just so refreshing. I had never met any of the other 23 ladies there, but instantly knew they understood me – my pain, anxiety, and fear. The healing that began that day, and for the next several days, was amazing. Never did I think I could let my wall down but I did and the reward for that is something I will forever be grateful for.

Yes, I still have days of anxiety and triggers, but now I have strategies to help me through those days. I have support system unlike anything I’ve ever had before and I am so blessed.

I now know for the first time in my life that I am enough, I am worthy, I am brave, and I am beautiful. I reclaimed hope!

-Jessica, Survivor

I Was Nowhere Near the Person I Wanted To Be

It is so difficult to hear about child sexual abuse. It’s even more difficult when the story is about you. For over 20 years I held all the pain, guilt, and shame inside. I never told a single person what had happened until I was in my 30’s. I pushed aside all the feelings associated with my abuse and tried not to acknowledge that this had happened. It would creep up at times, but I was always able to push it away. 

There came a moment when I was no longer able to push the memories away. On the outside, I appeared to have a very successful life. I had a beautiful family, a growing business, a nice home…but on the inside, I felt so broken. I was nowhere near the person I wanted to be. I was so ashamed and embarrassed that I really didn’t think I could ever tell anyone. I finally got up enough courage to tell a couple of people, but that didn’t make it any better. That just made it real! I would spend hours each day wishing it all never happened and that I could make the pain go away. No matter how much I tried to wish it away, it was still there. I went to therapy but had trouble opening up to my therapist. I read some self-help books on healing. Every book seemed to just say “It’s so hard, but healing from childhood sexual abuse is possible.” I wanted to scream because I just didn’t see how I could make the pain go away! 

One day, I was talking to a friend that I had confided in. She told me about The Haven Retreat and I thought “Oh, that sounds nice, but I could never do that.” When I finally went to The Younique Foundation website and read about what they do, I felt like God was telling me to go. I applied to the retreat that day and got in pretty quickly. I was so nervous to go, but I made it, and I truly believe that it has forever changed my life. 

At The Haven Retreat, I learned that I am not alone. For so long, I felt so very alone in my struggle. Now I know 23 other people who have felt what I felt. As I listened to some women tell their stories, I immediately felt so much compassion for them. I finally realized that I needed to give myself that same compassion! For so long I carried these self-defeating thoughts and I was finally able to feel like this wasn’t all my fault. The education I received at the retreat is what I feel really changed the course of my life. I now know what steps I can take to change my actions and how I feel about myself. I have a support system and a plan. I know that this journey is still going to take a lot of effort on my part, but I finally feel HOPE, I finally feel peace, and I finally feel like I have a purpose.

-Sarah, Survivor

Silence is Never Golden When It Comes to Child Sexual Abuse

As a survivor of child sexual abuse, and growing up in a Navy family, I often felt like I was navigating my own ship. Left alone at sea, abandoned for many years. It wasn’t until my early 40s I was ready and able to confront my demons. My trigger was when my daughter turned 5, the same age I was when things began.

There were some dark, lonely days that turned into years and lots of therapy, but I have always carried some seeds of HOPE deep within.

The moment I read about The Younique Foundation and The Haven Retreat, I knew this would be a place to help me continue and accelerate my healing path. I cried my first day at The Haven Retreat when I saw all the women in their 20s/30s/40s because it means they are getting about the task of healing sooner than I did, thereby saving themselves lost decades!

Don’t get me wrong! There are women in their 50s/60s/70s too at the retreat and I applaud them (and ME!) too for the courage to stand up and show up for yourself! But I LOVE and celebrate starting the healing as early as possible.

The family message of “forget about it” and “let’s not talk about it” only feeds the shame. Silence is never golden when it comes to child sexual abuse.

So many powerful moments or takeaways during the 4-day retreat, but the makeover/photoshoot caught me off guard with an awareness about never feeling beautiful. I looked a lot like my abuser – as a little girl I was told that repeatedly by family and others. He was an awful, terrible, evil person. As a 5-year-old I internalized that notion and that became my self-talk. At some point, I dropped the connection with my abuser and just thought I was ugly and awful. I had forgotten that I had only believed that because little 5-year-old Susie was doing her very best to handle things. I had carried some aspect of that narrative for 56 years! Making that connection allows me to see only me. I love me and I am beautiful!

I am forever grateful for The Haven Retreat experience, The Haven Retreat team who made me feel cared for and about, for my Forever Sister Tribe, and for adding HEALING tools to my toolbox for life.

It has been said that child sexual abuse is a wound that lasts a lifetime but I now think it’s a wound that can start to heal.

I am a Survivor/Warrior with scars. I love that I have the courage to heal. I love that I can help others with my journey. I love that this is MY story to tell. I love that you are never too old to figure stuff out – I am 61! I love that I am more than enough and I am beautiful and I am a grateful spirit!

-Susan, Survivor

How Can I Help?: Wear Your Hope Edition

Matt, an employee here at The Younique Foundation, had the following experience wearing his purple “No More 1 in 4” shirt while at an amusement park with his family:

“We were standing in line for a ride, and a lady behind me, who was probably 19, asked me, ‘Hey, what is that shirt about?’ I told her that I worked for The Younique Foundation, which is a charity that works to stop childhood sexual abuse and help survivors heal. She started to tear up, came right over to me, gave me a big hug, and said, ‘I’m part of the one.’ I got to tell her about The Haven Retreat, and I encouraged her to apply. I don’t know if she ever did, but I hope she knows that there is a group of people out there fighting for her.”

When you buy an item from our store, you are helping The Younique Foundation in three ways:

  1. You’re showing your support. Every time you wear your shirt, you let the world know that you support The Younique Foundation. That you support ending child sexual abuse. That you support survivors of childhood sexual abuse. That you care.
  2.  You’re spreading the word. Like Matt in the story above, when you wear your shirt, it can lead to questions and conversations. You’ll be able to spread the word to survivors and supporters, as well as help break down the stigma of talking about childhood sexual abuse.
  3. You’re helping survivors reclaim hope. The money that you spend on a shirt or a water bottle goes to help survivors. As a nonprofit, we rely on donations, but when you buy a shirt it’s like you’re getting a gift for your donation. You get a comfortable and cute shirt, and we get to help more women find healing.

So if you’re looking for a way to help The Younique Foundation make a difference in the lives of survivors of childhood sexual abuse, consider looking through our shop. When you wear one of our shirts you’ll not only make a difference; you’ll look good doing it.

don’t run from the past, run through it

Guest Blog written By Annie Smith, Image Manager at The Younique Foundation

Life is interesting, isn’t it? One second you can feel like you’ve got it all together… and the next second you are looking around wondering how all the chaos snuck it’s way in. This was my experience as different forms of trauma decided to start piling up on me seemingly begging to be let out.

As if the depth of pain from a divorce wasn’t enough, I found myself surrounded by another dark cloud. I was experiencing PTSD from trauma I faced as a little girl. I was sexually abused as a child and never really dealt with the pain and scars it left behind. I shut out all emotions related to that experience.

I thought I was handling it just fine, until I couldn’t anymore—until I was experiencing trauma in another area of my life and the pain all came flowing out. I hurt. I remember lying in bed rolling around, aching from the pain of it all, wondering how I’d survive.

In the beginning of all of this, someone told me, “You can’t go around the healing process. You have to go through it.” So, that’s what I did. I ran right through it.

For hours, I would run. For miles, I would run. There were times when I would sob so violently that I would have to grasp onto each side of the treadmill and lift my legs to curl over and weep until I could gain my composure enough to safely return to running.

Running became an important therapeutic tool for me as I dealt with the trauma of my divorce and my sexual abuse. It seemed my life was falling apart into tiny little pieces so small that I couldn’t hold them together no matter how hard I tried. I felt like I was trying to piece together a puzzle made of dust. I found myself a single mother of three small children. I was terrified. I was scared. I was lonely.

I didn’t know much about therapy or self-care at the time, but I knew that exercise can help your mental state. I would tuck my three little kids into bed, put on my running shoes, hop on my treadmill, turn off the light, and be surrounded by nothing but my own thoughts.

Self-care is a huge part of my healing process. Making time for myself each day to do something physical turned out to be more beneficial than I could have ever imagined. Sometimes I would get stuck on a certain memory or a certain experience. Running helped and encouraged me to safely process through those memories and release the pain that had been residing in me for many, many years.

I sought therapy after a while. I did talk therapy, group therapy, and EMDR. What I realized later is that running, because of the consistent alternating right-left slap of the feet, seemed to have the same effect on me as EMDR in creating pathways between the left and right hemispheres of my brain thus allowing me to process and release trauma. I wanted to jump for joy when I made that connection for myself!

As I’ve put the pieces of my life back together, I continue to use running as a way to process.  Sometimes I go months without it and it takes a second to build up the muscle memory so that I don’t hate it like I did back in high school, but it will always be my go-to therapy.

I Am Powerful and I Can Do Anything

The Haven Retreat was breathtaking and the most perfect thing I could have done in the moment I was in. When I signed up to go I was in a rut of hating myself, feeling like I was stuck and couldn’t accomplish anything in my life because of my PTSD.

Walking into a place where I felt understood and accepted instantly by all the people I was surrounded by was, by itself, so healing. I learned how to manage my PTSD symptoms and I found out that I have a loud, strong voice! I am powerful and can do anything as long as I keep taking baby steps forward.

I can’t even explain how amazing this experience was and continues to be! It changed my life and in return I will help make a difference in people lives, to pay it forward, as much as I possibly can!

-Natasha, Survivor