In the last week of August this year, I went to The Younique Foundation retreat in Utah. The retreat is held nearly every single week Monday through Thursday, and is for women who experienced sexual abuse at the age of 18 or younger. You have to be 18 and out of high school to attend. The actual retreat itself is free. You just have to get yourself there. They will even pick you up from the airport. All food, and lodging, and supplies and everything else is free because the wealthy owners of the estate pay for it. Bessel Van der Kolk who wrote the Body Keeps the Score and is an expert in traumatic experiences reviewed the program to ensure it is properly trauma sensitive.
I wasn't sure about this retreat, I just knew for some reason that I needed to be there. During dinner the first night, I had a de ja vu moment, a reminder that I was where I needed to be. I was unsure what it could offer me because I am so well read in the area of childhood trauma and PTSD, and that I have been getting PTSD specific therapy since January of 2016.
Quick note on the food: the staff is high key sensitive to dietary needs. People who were gluten free or vegan would have alternatives made for them. I have foods that give me migraines and they made sure there was always something for me. I didn't have to use any of the emergency food I brought with me!
The first day was rough. I wanted to go home. On the drive to Utah I wanted to turn back. While stopping at a hotel before continuing one, I cried, feeling terribly homesick. I wanted Robert, my spouse of 19 years, the man I have been dating and intimate with for 21 years.
There was an activity that I just could not do, but for others it was exactly what they needed so I decided to let it lie and not participate in the first activity. I was not forced to do the activity, or any activity. They simply checked in to make sure that you weren't triggered and if you needed extra support.
That night I started shaking uncontrollably. It wasn't too cold, so it was out of the ordinary. I kept shaking, but I was able to get up and down from bed (I was on the top bunk, my little girl self gasped in delight at being on the top bunk so I was like, okay, let's do it). I had read in Bessel's book and Peter Levine's book In An Unspoken Voice, that allowing the body to shake it out is one of the key components to not trapping the trauma, that it has to pass through. So instead of trying to stop it, I allowed the shaking to keep going and I just cuddled down in the blankets with my tardigrade stuffed animal, and the extra comfort blanket TYF gave us to take home and stayed cozy while shaking my arse off in bed, despite the temperature in the room being wonderfully cool.
The following day was okay, and I felt better after taking a nature walk outside on the estate grounds. I also took a nap. That day was also the first day of group therapy with my group (there were three groups of eight) that took us off the estate grounds which allowed me to call Robert really quick just to hear his voice and I felt better just from that. I felt a little less homesick. I also started writing a letter to Robert, each day, in a sort of prose way, for each day. It really helped. That night, I slept well, and I slept well for each day.
I completed an art piece in art therapy that I was proud of. Robert hung it up over his computer. I enjoyed Muay Thai and hope to get into it next year and see if it works from me outside of a trauma sensitive environment.
While some good insights came from this retreat, the best part was the kinship that developed between me and the other people in our group. All eight of us now text one another and support one another. It's really quite wonderful.
I have been to group therapy before and it was fascinating to see that we all understood the symptoms of PTSD - nightmares, hypervigilance, constant fear, etc - no matter if it came from being a war veteran, child abuse, domestic violence, car accident, refugee. We all understood the symptoms even if our triggers were different.
At TYF we had people with the same kinds of symptoms to varying degrees but everyone had the same type of trauma and that was an interesting experience. We didn't have to do any explaining. We understood in a more intimate way what was going on.
I highly recommend this retreat to any woman* who has experienced childhood sexual abuse. One person in my group had never had any kind of therapy for it before, and it was a great experience for her. And then there's me, already well versed in many of the things offered, and there was still something for me. There's also a retreat in Georgia now. So, hope you check it out and can get yourself there. Whatever your healing path, I hope you find the love and support you need. You deserve it. We all deserve it.
*I know, some men would need this too, same with nonbinary peeps. I hope you can find support in other ways.