I’m Living Freely and Openly for the First Time

It has almost been 7 months since I attended The Haven Retreat. When I arrived at The Haven Retreat I was a proud mom of two incredible boys, thankful for the life I had, and 6 months separated from a 20-year marriage. I questioned whether I really needed to be there and wrestled with if I was taking a spot that someone else needed more. I have waited to write my story with the hope of having an ending of restoration because everyone loves a happy ending, right?

I guess I was using my separation/marriage as another deflection from myself or maybe as an achievement…as if there could be no victory if the marriage truly did fail. However, I do have a story of restoration: the restoration is ME. I am being restored and what a precious gift that is in itself! I am learning how to live freely and openly for the first time in my life. It’s not easy but I can tell you, it is worth it. Child abuse can carry such a heavy weight. That weight was unrecognizable for me until I started shedding it.

I went to The Haven Retreat as a way of putting myself in time out, away from everything and to see if my childhood really was the root of many underlying issues. I needed clarity. My childhood, from the age of 4 through young adulthood, consisted of being sexually abused multiple times by a loved and trusted family member, living in an emotionally/verbally, and at times, physically abusive home, and rape.

Yet, I lived and carried on as though none of those things ever took place or were ever a big deal. I had pushed so much down and to the side, made myself so small, that I barely recognized who I was anymore. Oddly enough, even though my then-husband is not an abusive person, our relationship took very unhealthy turns and twists from early on and continued until it ended. I had become stuck in what we now know as a fight, flight, and freeze cycle. So much of our married relationship had become triggers of all of these feelings, dreams, and anxiety attacks I couldn’t fully connect to or logically explain why they were happening; except that somehow he and his behavior were the cause and I wasn’t doing enough, being enough or missing the mark on how to fix it all. However, the root was so much deeper than behavior and lack.

My subconscious “push down and carry on” coping mechanisms were no longer working. Unrecognized shame and fear also took i’s toll on myself and relationships, including parenting to a degree. I am talking more about my then-marriage and parenting because I think this is such a huge but hidden issue in many households, including my own when I was a child. We went to many counselors and only once touched on the possibility of me having similar feelings of PTSD but it was presented in a way that couldn’t be fully accepted. I had “coped” and “carried” myself so well, the other counselors just couldn’t put their “finger on it.”

Attending The Haven Retreat connected what none of us could put our finger on which was trauma and underlying shame. I now understand trauma, recognize it for what it is, and will not allow myself to get stuck again in the unseen. I also was able to leave every ounce of the responsibility I had been carrying of other people’s actions at The Haven Retreat and in Utah. I finally felt peace and met some amazing new friends. I allowed someone else to do my hair and makeup, without me being able to see what was being done, for the first time since I was a little girl. I felt a much-needed release in practicing Muay Thai and saw the importance of connecting with our body. The staff and counselors went above and beyond for everyone. The education we continue to receive is invaluable.

Now almost 7 months after the retreat and 13 months single, I am still the proud mom of two incredible boys, feeling blessed for this life I have been given, enjoying the friendship and co-parenting relationship with their dad, living a happy/busy life, and doing everything I can to bring awareness/prevention of child abuse while trying to help adult survivors thrive; living unashamedly restored!

-Susie, Survivor