Younique Foundation: A Haven

It has been a while since I have posted. I maintain blogs and write for other sites, making it difficult to find time to write for my own.  Alas, Irony.


Image belongs to the Younique Foundation.

However, I wanted to write about the Younique Foundation and their work at the Haven Retreat for woman traumatized by childhood sexual abuse.  If you have visited this site before, you know that I am passionate about women’s rights and about fighting sexual abuse whether institutionalized abuse, such as was experienced in the Laundries and mother and child homes, or in our everyday lives.  If you have read my book, The Diaphragm Blues, you know I was sexually abused as a child in more than one circumstance.

Although I had accepted that early childhood trauma was my normal, and the norm for several family members, what I did not realize was the impact this trauma had on my life and continues to have on my life.  Like many other victims of Sexual Abuse, I felt that acknowledging it and forgiving my attackers, because who wants to hold onto that hate, was enough.  It wasn’t.

For as long as I can remember, I have had panic disorder, anxiety disorder, and PTSD. After my divorce and my move to Hawaii, my symptoms got worse as I started to feel insecure and unsafe.  What I discovered through therapy and the Younique Foundation, was simply that I was wired to live in the fight or flight dynamic because of my childhood trauma.

When children are traumatized, sexual abuse or otherwise, the limbic system of our brain (which seeks survival, pain avoidance, and pleasure), stores and associates those trauma memories with our senses.  When trauma occurs, our limbic system stores these memories to protect us later from other potential threats. Later in life, survivors of trauma start to associate every day happens with danger, survival, and pain avoidance reactions that are connected to our memories of trauma experienced.  Thus, connections between the limbic and the neocortex (our rational brain) become hypersensitive to danger alerts in situations where no real danger is present (PTSD).  Childhood trauma is a bit different than trauma occurring in adulthood, because in childhood our brains are still developing, and these feedback loops, as I am now thinking of them, become programmed during brain development.

The science is complicated, but the Younique foundation does a good job breaking it down for the rest of us. You can read more about “Trauma and the Brain” on the Younique Foundation Resources, but there are scores of studies regarding the brain on trauma, and a bit of simple research offers a great deal of enlightenment on this topic. The key study for these findings originated with the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego.

But now I want to tell you a bit about the Younique Foundation.  I discovered them through my boyfriend’s sister who knew of someone who had attended the retreat.  The Younique Foundation is the love child of Younique, and the Dream of Shalane Maxfield.  Younique the company works to empower and validate women through the use of cosmetics, and helping women establish their own business.  Founded by Derek Maxfield (CEO) and his sister Melanie Huscroft (COO), Younique the makeup company was formed in the hopes that it would eventually fund the Foundation and heaven retreat, and so it is not an afterthought but the reason for Younique. I had the opportunity and privilege to meet Shalane Maxfield, Derek’s wife, at the end of my time at the retreat.  Her passion for helping women is one of pure altruism, and this is such a rare quality nowadays.

The Haven Retreat at Younique is free for women who apply and who were sexually abused before the age of 18.  Although you have to get yourself there, travel expenses, they handle the rest.  The Younique Foundation specializes in helping women understand their brains and why they may have certain coping behaviors, and why they rely on coping behaviors rather than healing. For myself, I discovered several coping behaviors and PTSD triggers that I was unaware of before. Haveing awareness of how your brain works, your actions and triggers is the first step in being able to confront and heal from a trauma that is literally embedded and programmed in your brain. Programming that can be changed.  That’s the key!

Awareness, in fact, is the first of 5 strategic steps in helping a survivor heal from trauma. The other measures include acknowledgment, power through surrender, mindfulness, and faith.

At this point, I feel I need to alleviate any potential worries about these steps in connection with religion. When I first read the steps, I was worried I might be entering some religious establishment wanting to save me from myself. Since some of my trauma happened in the Catholic Church, you can imagine how I was a skeptic.

This concern, however, was not the case. The Foundation bases all they do, the theory, information, and therapy on science and personal spirituality, which is not to be confused with institutional spirituality. If you are religious, no matter what path you are walking, that is fine. But it is also fine if you are not religious. The Foundation does explain how a connection to something larger than yourself is helpful in the healing process, but that something bigger than yourself can be science, the earth, nature, or God. The connection is what is important.

For me, the Foundation’s Haven Retreat was a life changer, hands down. In four days participants are exposed to some intense therapy, classes to help you understand yourself better and why you do what you do, the whys of the traumatized brain. Most importantly, participants receive tools for the road to health: resources, skills, new habits to create, and help for recovery and a successful life.

If you are a survivor of early childhood sexual assault and you are ready to make some positive changes in your life, apply. The process could not be simpler, and you will be provided with a safe environment to start your road to a happier life.

A Mother’s Advice

Like many other mothers, Mom had golden rules that she set forth for her children. Some of them were quite profound, some of them were baffling, and some of them were downright strange, but entertaining. Yesterday, as I sat on the airplane ready to take off from NJ to Seattle, I was remembering one of her rules.  A woman next to me was eating a banana and I wondered if she was hitchhiking her way home. Mom’s rule went like this:

Never pick up a hitchhiker unless he or she is carrying a bunch of bananas

When I was young, hitchhiking was a common phenomenon, and it was only just becoming truly dangerous. My mom, when she was a very young girl, around 15 years of age or so, hitchhiked out of Alaska, and out “the Alcan.” She was running away from a bad situation: she had been sexually abused by her stepfather, ignored by her mother, and was seeking safety or, at least, escape.  She took a large, serrated kitchen knife for protection, and she took off. I still have that knife.  It sits in a drawer, flung in there with other more mundane knives, knives used for butter or bread cutting, paring knives and plastic ones.  If only cutlery could tell us their history.

Mom was not alone when she took off on her bid for freedom. The first time she hitchhiked out of Alaska she went with her friend “Kathy” (they were “Kathy and Kathy”), and they had each other’s back. Mom talked little about this time, but from the little I heard, I gather it was an adventure, but a dangerous one. They hitchhiked from Alaska to San Francisco, and at some point she also went to Washington D.C. More than once she had to threaten somebody with her kitchen Knife, or so I was later told. I would gather to guess that none of these drivers had a bunch of bananas on them.

I liked to romanticize her adventures, but I know that this is foolish. Regardless, during that  time in her life she hitchhiked to see Dr. Martin Luther King speak in Washington DC (yes, she was at the “I Have A Dream” speech), and hitchhiked back to San Francisco where she slept in a rundown hotel with Ginsburg and other poets.  She too was “On the Road.” Mom allowed me to romanticize her travels until just before she died, when I heard the rather sadder portions of her adventure. Sexual abuse, robbery, and, at times, great life-threatening dangers.

Still, hitchhiking was in her blood, as it was in the blood of many young people during the 60s and early 70s. The philosophy of hitchhiking was not unlike the philosophy presented in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the universe is big baby, and you got to get around somehow. Besides, if you have a good towel, you can get out of most scrapes. 

So hitchhiking was a given joy to embrace for many people in Mom’s generation. After Mom was married and had two young children, she again hitchhiked from Arizona to Woodstock, hooking up with some hippies in a bus who were also going.  Many, many years later, after I turned 21, while at a New Year’s Eve party with my folks, an old hippie walked up to Mom and started talking to her. He remembered her, and he remembered their adventure. My mom’s face dropped, and so did mine as he proclaimed moments, stories that she had told me from my childhood. They had all taken the bad brown acid you see, and they had all survived, all but one who ended up in a coma. Mom ended up under the stage, waking up and holding onto a large column that echoed with psychedelic movements, while Jimi Hendrix played homage to America above her – that’s a trip! Watch: Hendrix at Woodstock

But, let me get back to the bananas – and Mom’s Golden rule:

Never pick up a hitchhiker unless he or she is carrying a bunch of bananas

Where on earth could such a rule come from? After receiving my bachelor’s degree in acting from Cornish, I went to work for a children’s theater company in Idaho. At one point I drove from Idaho to Reno in order to play the slots, do a show, and have some fun. I went with a dear friend, and as we drove we passed a young man holding bananas. He was hitchhiking. What a strange sight … it seemed kismet… expected like destiny. What were the odds after all, to see a hitchhiker on the side of the road carrying a bunch of bananas? I pulled the car over. I picked him up. I took him with us. He was kind.

Many years later I told my mom of this event, and asked her why she gave us her golden rule about hitchhikers. Her answer? She said was playing the odds that it would never happen, and so we would never pick a hitchhiker up (the 60s being, after all, a memory of hippy love). Since mom was playing the odds with this particular golden rule, it seems only fitting that the one hitchhiker I have ever picked up in my life was on the way to Reno – a city made for odds. He shared his bananas. They were tasty.