My Smile Is No Longer My Shield

Margaret, survivor of childhood sexual abuse, who hid behind her smile until she attended The Haven Retreat and found true love for herself.

Smiling was my coping mechanism, as people don’t tend to ask a smiling person, “What’s wrong?” I hid behind my smile for the longest time, ashamed of what happened to me. I believed that if I ignored it, then it never happened; but my heart was broken and I needed to face that.

I had always deluded myself by expecting the worst in everything, because anything above that worst-case scenario you just built in your head is going to be a plus. Right? Wrong; I left myself open for more wrong than good using my trauma as a baseline. Getting yelled at for something I didn’t do is not as bad as my trauma, but not good as well. I needed to find the courage to stand up for myself.

My brother actually encouraged me to seek help at this retreat and made it near impossible for me to refuse, because I had so completely convinced myself that I was fine since I was a very successful person in society. He knew I needed to truly let go and I’m forever thankful he knew me better than I knew myself. My journey began at this retreat and I am reinvigorated for life’s lessons.

I was so shocked at how four days can seem such a short time but have such a lasting impact. Going to a place with other strangers seemed daunting, but I went. I signed up for everything they offered and expected to see multiple surprise cry sessions added in the schedule upon arrival, but was so relieved when I got there and was instantly put at ease with the relaxing mountains, massive lodge surrounded by lakes, streams, and just peace (no cry sessions at all).

My favorite part was the art journaling. I learned to reconnect with an artistic side of myself I had lost in my childhood; I draw, paint, and build more now than I ever have before. I had met some of the most amazing survivors anyone could ask to meet and I am still friends with them all. I found courage, strength, forgiveness, and motivation in myself while there at the retreat. I am worthy and I am enough. Two years later and I’m still growing stronger and helping as many survivors as I can along the way.

I smile now, not to hide. But for the first time in a long time, I am truly happy with myself and with where I’m going in life. No longer a victim, but a strong survivor.

-Margaret, Survivor

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