I Couldn’t See How Courageous I Was

Life began for me the moment my feet hit the pavement at JFK airport drop off. As I stepped out of the car to hug my husband farewell, a surge of anxiety overcame my body and I wanted to just bolt—RUN—but where to? I never felt so lost, exposed and alone in my life. Prominent quotes and life-changing lyrics from songs that had comforted me leading up to this day were swirling through my head as I hesitantly made my way through the airport like lost child. Quotes like: “Life begins at the END of your comfort zone” and boy was I far from it, and lyrics from the song Oh My Soul by Casting Crowns kept me grounded until I landed in Utah. Then, doubt began to creep back into my overwhelmed brain as my eyes searched for those women my soul would already know upon meeting. The ones that looked like, well, ME—uncertain, lost, and scared—who wore the plastered friendly smiles that send the message “I’m good, I’m fine.”

This is something I learned that many survivors learn to do flawlessly in order to remain strong and cover up a past that needed to be released, shared and heard. As I stood there looking at all the women that slowly recognized one another gravitating towards The Younique Foundation Staff, I thought Who am I kidding? because on the inside I was a mess. My walls were crumbling uncontrollably and putting on that smile all of the sudden became extremely difficult. This literally terrified me because my hidden, “under the surface” ME, was going to be exposed. In that moment I had to do something I don’t do very well….be 100% vulnerable and TRUST! At that moment I couldn’t see how courageous I was, but now I realize what courage it truly took.

This fear of “trusting” was instilled in me the day I was tricked into playing a “game” at the innocent age of 4. I needed let go of this fear once and for all. My whole life I convinced myself memories of that day would never resurface if I just believed it never happened. At 18 that all changed when I endured a sexual assault on my college campus. I sadly resorted to lying to myself again just to survive, but like a cancer it caught up with me. I began battling triggers daily. Sexual assault and abuse stories in the media, the upcoming presidential election, fears as a Mom, and attempting to explain my triggers to my husband and children were all taking a mental and physical toll on me.

During my stay at The Haven Retreat, I took some time to absorb everything I was learning and ground myself, so I would take long walks around the beautiful property hugged safely between the mountains. As I walked, I would ask God to help me leave fear behind. One morning after I watched the sunrise, I spotted a wooden swing hanging from a low branch of a tree I had passed under. I noticed how worn it looked…like me. It was so low to the ground it didn’t have the function as most swings do…broken like me. For me it symbolized a hidden stolen and broken innocence that had worn me out for over 36 years. I photographed the swing. When I looked at the photo before leaving the retreat, I envisioned myself swinging on it as high as I could, and then jumping off…leaving the broken, fearful, silent and worn little girl behind.

The Haven Retreat gave me HOPE for a brighter future. I learned that there was a bigger purpose to my pain that I had yet to fully understand. I will forever be grateful beyond measure for the compassionate staff, the life-altering education, the tears and laughter shared with some of the strongest women I will ever know (now lifelong friends), the wellness classes, the pampering, and the opportunities to ground ourselves through nature and art. For the first time it felt safe to be “seen” because the staff and attendees genuinely cared for and understood my hurting soul…my story mattered, my brokenness mattered, and my desire to make positive change was validated.

The retreat was a true test for me. I had to face the storm in the valley in order to grow my faith so that I could start the hard work of reaching the mountaintop. It was in this moment of testing at The Haven Retreat that my character and true self was being developed and my pain was being turned into purpose. From all of this, I have gained so much wisdom. I WAS fearful and tormented in shame, but with newfound wisdom I AM confident and empowered, and I WILL never again be silent, but will FIGHT and THRIVE for those that have yet to break their silence.

-Stacey, Survivor