A Rape Survivor's Insider Perspective: Breakthroughs at Sunlight Retreats

Artwork created by a Sunlight Retreat Team 2 Member

Artwork created by a Sunlight Retreat Team 2 Member

Imagine every waking moment in fear of not knowing what can trigger you into a sobbing mess for the next couple hours. It could be someone’s tone of voice, a vehicle, a group of men, someone approaching you from behind, or even the sound of a gunshot. You wake up in a pool of sweat with an elevated heartbeat, screaming on the top of your lungs from the vivid dreams every night. These could all be triggers that put you into a downward spiral and leave you undefeated again. In your head you wonder if you will ever get back to being “normal”. The only time you feel “normal” may be when you are a couple drinks in and you can stop thinking for a couple hours. The dreaded feeling of not being able to breath and your heart trying to climb out of your chest. Your heart is beating so loud and fast like a drum, you swear others can hear it, and at the same time not being there in the present moment. Every second feels like an eternity of hell and all you want is to breathe but the breaths are getting shallower and harder to control by yourself. You realize you need help but what you really need is to feel safe. You finally feel relief after the hysterical sobbing and your breathing gets slower. You swear it’ll be over with time but it’s not until you defeat the demons inside you, will it ever possibly leave. This is PTSD.

Some people think they cannot get past PTSD and live life to the fullest. They are stuck in the past and blame themselves for the events that happened to them. Unfortunately, in life bad things happen to good people, is what I have learned.

I grew up in a dysfunctional household and endured all abuses possible. I was emotionally, physically and verbally abused growing up and when I was a naïve 17 year old girl I got raped by a group of men. Some of my closest friends who were of the opposite sex molested me in my sleep. I let all these things define me and the only way of coping with all of this was to block it out. I didn’t want to face my demons at the time and forced myself to go to college. I did poorly in school for the first two years and lived with constant panic attacks. I tried different counselors at school to receive the help I needed but none of them understood what I was going through. It took me eight years to get the help I finally needed, and it was gruesome going through this alone. The only reason I knew about this retreat was because a school counselor at USD recommended it to me and gave me the information for a scholarship to attend.

The moment I walked into the Sunlight Retreat for woman who have been sexually assaulted and have PTSD, I felt like I was at home. I was greeted with a yellow bag of goodies and a kind message on the front of it. I was very nervous and anxious because I had no idea what to expect but it was soon alleviated upon meeting the guest speaker, Dr. Shiva Ghaed. She had this presence that was assertive but at the same time nurturing and kind. The moment she started to speak I was engaged and wanted to feel the empowerment which she granted. The next two days were filled with seminars teaching us the skills required to overcome PTSD.

Its amazing how in these two days I absorbed her methods and apply them to my daily life now. I have noticed a significant decrease in my triggers and have been able to cope with my daily life activities. I am not scared of life anymore and instead I am pursuing my dreams and living life to the fullest. I am currently in the nursing program at USD and I am in the honors society as well. I have incorporated Dr. Shiva’s methods in my daily life and its been life changing. I’m asking to give future survivors a chance at life and I believe this retreat will give them what they need. I just wish I was able to attend something like this after my attack but I am so happy to have received it now.

-This awesome essay was submitted by a Sunlight Retreat Team One Member

brittany Kirk