‘This is a silent epidemic’: Child abuse survivors work to start supportive retreat in the Shuswap

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A family packed up their lives and moved to a farm in Salmon Arm to help women who were sexually assaulted as children find healing in a free retreat. Sydney Morton reports. – Nov 21, 2020

Crystal Wood and her family gave up their city lives to move to a 33-acre farm in Salmon Arm and build a retreat that she hopes will help other survivors of child sexual abuse.

Wood said she was abused as a child but buried the feelings for many years.

After she gave birth to her daughters, she said it all came flooding back.

Read more: Man found with thousands of child abuse pictures sentenced in Penticton court

“At that point in my life, I started falling apart, everything was falling apart, my marriage was falling apart,” she said.

“So then I decided enough was enough, I needed to get back into therapy,” she said. “And so I dedicated myself to what I called my journey to heal.”

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Wood said she ended up at a retreat in Salt Lake City, Utah, for female survivors of child sexual abuse.

“It was life changing. At the beginning of the retreat, we started with the brain science behind what happens to survivors of child sexual abuse,” she said. “And for me, that was my lightbulb moment.”

“I was sitting in that first class, tears just rolling down my face, recognizing myself in all of these different patterns and behaviors,” Wood said.

Wood was inspired to bring the retreat back to Canada. She’s now the co-founder of U Grow Girl and director of the Time to Heal retreat.

Read more: Police say global child sex abuse ring centred in Australia has links to Canada, U.S.

She ended up purchasing a farm in Salmon Arm with her family where they plan to build it.

Wood is now fundraising for the money to hold the retreat.

“To be able to actually start hosting these retreats and start giving back and see this dream come to fruition, that in itself just brings me so much peace and so much healing and so much joy,” Wood said.

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The retreat will be a five-day, five-night clinically-directed retreat for female survivors, Wood said.

Read more: How do you know if your child is being sexually abused? Here are the warning signs

Classes will include the brain science behind trauma survival, mindfulness, healthy eating habits and overcoming addictions.

“When going through trauma, specifically, and especially childhood trauma, your body stores that trauma,” Wood said. “And so somatic release techniques, things like trauma-sensitive yoga, muy Thai and Tai Chi, these are all ways to release the trauma physically that you have stored.”

Following the retreat, there will be a 12-week survivors group that meets online, Wood said.

Read more: Child abuse concerns higher during ongoing COVID-19 pandemic: experts

“When you’re in the retreat, and when you’re experiencing all the love and the healing, it’s just phenomenal, it’s amazing,” Wood said.

But that’s not real life, she added.

“Then you have to leave that environment, and you have to try and incorporate that all into your real life,” she said. “And so the part that comes after the part where you meet with your group, that’s the part that changes your life.”

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Wood, her brother Justin Marshall and sister-in-law Leha Marshall started raising money by selling flowers grown on their land at the local farmers market.

When COVID-19 shut that operation down, they jumped online to U Grow Girl, selling flowers in an effort to raise funds for the Time to Heal retreat.

“I believe that this is a silent epidemic,” Leha said. “It’s uncomfortable. You don’t want to even conceive that something like this could happen to a child.”

Organizers have started a GoFundMe page to help fund the retreat.

Read more: Child abuse reporting down in Alberta amid COVID-19 and agencies warn that’s not a good thing

“We’re launching our Time to Heal campaign with our power of two challenge,” Leha said. “This is where you donate $2 and you challenge two friends to do the same.”

“A single $2 donation doesn’t seem like a lot, but collectively as a community, when we come together, we can do amazing things.”

It costs about $3,000 for one woman to attend, Leha said.

Read more: Child sexual abuse expected to rise amid COVID-19 pandemic, experts say

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“Everything is taken care of: it is so important for it to be a gift.”

The waiting list is growing day by day, she added.

Wood and Leha are hoping to host the first retreat in the spring of 2021.

–with files from Sydney Morton

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