For the First Time I Found a Community, a Tribe, a Sisterhood

How is it that four short days could be such an unexpectedly life-altering experience? As I approached my 60th year on this planet, I had resigned myself to never feeling relief from my deeply-ingrained feelings of shame and inadequacy. But for the first time in my life, I feel that I have been given the tools that I needed to truly heal from my childhood sexual abuse.

On the outside, I have always been the cheerful and optimistic one. And I have a wonderful life—a treasured family, a comfortable home and a rewarding career. But the smile on my face obscures the inside “me” that has always lurked in the shadows—the me that has felt less than, the me that has been so utterly alone even while surrounded by family and friends, the me who has constantly worried that others would discover that I have only been impersonating a normal person.

The Haven Retreat offered me a new beginning. From our first tentative introductions on day one to our tearful goodbyes at the end of the week, we were pampered, showered with support, and surrounded with love. For the first time in my life, I felt validated, not misunderstood, when I shared my feelings. For the first time, I felt empowered, not ashamed, to speak my truth. For the first time, I felt hope, not despair, about my ability to cope with my trauma. For the first time, I found a community, a tribe, a sisterhood, none of whom would have chosen to join this club, but all of whom are warriors in their determination to move from surviving to thriving.

My breakthrough moment at the retreat came when we learned about the physiological impacts of childhood sexual abuse, including the changes to the developing brain that result from such an overwhelming assault on a child’s senses. For the first time in my life, I learned why I can’t just “get over it.” For the first time, I could forgive myself for the reactions that I can’t control. For the first time, I learned healthy and effective techniques for releasing the trauma that resides within my cells.

I wish I could have had this experience 40 years ago. But, as I learned during those amazing four days in the snow-capped mountains of Utah, it is never too late to heal. For the first time, I feel like there is hope for the inside me to match the outside me.

-Sue, Survivor