by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Beverly Collin has just one word for women who have suffered sexual trauma: hope.
Collin — who suffered sexual abuse herself — found hope and healing through the love of fellow parishioners, the ministry of the church and the grace of God.
“Although you never, ever forget [the abuse], the impact that it has becomes less and less, and the memories fade,” said Collin, assistant director of the Cedarbreak Retreat Center in the Diocese of Austin, Texas.
Collin offers that same hope and healing to other women through the Healing Hearts Retreat, to be held from Aug. 22 to 24 at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kansas.
“This retreat is designed specifically to help women who have suffered some kind of sexual trauma, whether it be rape, incest, inappropriate touching, sexual assault or whatever — to help them begin to heal from the trauma of sexual abuse,” said Collin.
Generally, the retreats are limited to about 15 women, so each individual can receive the attention and support she needs.
“We want to provide a gentle, loving and supportive atmosphere where the women can feel comfortable sharing their stories to the degree they want,” said Collin.
“When they first come, we try to set boundaries and make them feel comfortable,” she continued. “This is a safe place. This is their time to be with the Lord in whatever capacity they feel called.”
In addition to presentations, a healing service, a Mass, and the opportunity to go to confession, the women are given the opportunity to tell their stories. A counselor is also available during the retreat for the participants, should they desire one.
At the end of the retreat, participants are often given a token — such as a prayer shawl or a rosary — to serve as a physical reminder of the peace they discovered at the retreat, and to help them reconnect with the weekend as they move on with their lives.
In terms of aftercare, Collin keeps in touch with the participants through emails and encourages those who would benefit from it to get counseling and spiritual direction.
Sexual trauma can cause nightmares, depression and anxiety. It can also can affect a woman’s relationships with other people — particularly her spouse — and with God.
“Your relationship with God is harmed, because we grow up thinking that God is there to protect us and keep us safe. So, how could this happen?” said Collin. “We can begin to question God and withdraw from God, and maybe reject God. Part of the retreat is reconnecting with the Lord . . . [to] experience his love again, and [to realize] that he never really left you.”
Collin has often seen participants be profoundly affected by the retreat experience. That said, no weekend retreat can provide instant healing or solve all problems.
“Sometimes the healing occurs weeks and months later,” she said. “I tell them, ‘You’re here, your heart is open and God will touch you and heal you in his time and yours.’”
“You don’t have to worry about what you have to do or not do,” she continued. “You simply open the door a crack and say yes to the Lord, and let the Lord do whatever needs to be done.”
The cost for the Healing Hearts Retreat is $125, and scholarships are available.
For information, call Deacon Tony Zimmerman, lead consultant for the archdiocesan family life office, at (913) 647-0329.