What I’m hoping the Women’s Survivor Retreat will do for Me

By: Amy Thomson

Kyra Burke remembers the day that everything changed for her.

One day, she was a happy, independent 24 year old living on her own.

The next, she had survived a car accident that required seven surgeries before she could recover.

Because of the injuries suffered in the accident, Burke wasn’t able to use her left arm. Unable to work, she also lost her apartment and was forced to move back in with her parents. She couldn’t support herself and that combined with less frequent contact with friends caused her to become lonely.

It was at this time that a prior acquaintance made his move and exploited her vulnerability. Prior to the accident, he had actively pursued her but to no avail. However, the dramatic changes and the aftermath from the car accident had compromised her emotionally. In her loneliness, it had become easy for him to manipulate her into a relationship. They moved in together in January 2004.

At first, the abuse was mainly control. Before forcing her to drop out of college, he would drive her to class and wait for her outside, and he forbade her to speak to any men. For three more years, Burke would endure the abuse that escalated to include brutal physical attacks, after which he wouldn’t let her get medical treatment. He killed two pets and threatened her that he would kill her family if she tried to leave him. When she was finally able to get away, it was because she and her abuser had been arguing, and when his friend heard her suddenly stop screaming, he called police.

“Thank God his friend, and now mine, had called the police, because I believe that if he had not, I would not be alive today,” Burke said.

Despite the abuse she suffered, she said that she felt as though she had betrayed her abuser and that her loyalties were confused as a result of the trauma.

She connected with Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence through the FaceBook page, and she began to read about stories of other women who are survivors of domestic violence. Many were posting about the annual women’s survivor retreat and included thoughts on how attending the retreat benefited their emotional well-being and helped guide them on their journey to heal. She said she longed to be able to connect with other survivors.

Burke said she has made some progress on her journey to healing but acknowledged it has been a rough road along the way. She has resumed her education by pursuing a bachelor’s in social welfare and hopes to maintain her progress so she can quality for a seat in the university’s Masters of Social Welfare Program.

Education has played a vital role thus far in helping her growth. She said she has finally reached a point where she fully understands that she was never at fault for the abuse she endured, and that her abuser was and always will be sick. She said she plans to work with women and children after completing her degree and has a genuine desire to help others recover and heal from domestic violence. She has cast off being labeled a victim and has taken ownership of being a survivor.

“This experience has changed me permanently,” she said. “I am not sure that I will ever be as carefree as that 24-year-old girl again, but I believe that the knowledge I’ve gained will help others who have been through similar experiences in the future.”  

She will be attending the annual women’s survivor retreat in May with BTS for the first time. Even with the progress she has made, she still admits to having some fear and anxiety mixed in with her excitement. She said she is looking forward to the experience, because she is eager to meet other survivors and witness their strength in person. By sharing in what she calls a positive sisterhood, there is common understanding in the pain that has been endured, and through these connections, survivors help each other become stronger.

She said she also hopes that the retreat will help fortify her efforts to be responsible for her own healing process. Only then will she be truly effective in helping other women and become “the best social worker possible.”

While she is excited about being able to attend the retreat this year, Burke did express some reservations related to latent trauma and the risk of being triggered. About 10 years have passed since she has shared extensively about her abuse, and she has concerns that reliving the trauma during the course of sharing her story will bring repressed traumas back to the surface.

Despite this, she said she is ready for the experience. Being able to connect and spend time with other survivors is a key part of the healing process. An atmosphere of unconditional support will provide her with “permission” to cry and perhaps grieve the experience without being burdened by fear or worry of shame. This can only occur in the presence of others who have experienced the pain and shame of abuse and have tried to hide it. She said she looks forward to connecting to soul sisters who not only understand the pain but the strength it takes to be a survivor as well.

Watching videos from past retreats has been an empowering experience for her, who readily admits that seeing these videos has had a profound impact on her emotionally. She said she is eager to gain the confidence of challenging herself to be outside of her comfort zone and succeed and fully believes attending the retreat will enable her to do so. She expects the experience to be “challenging, amazing, and life-changing!”

As her anticipation for the retreat grows, she realizes the critical role self-love plays in the healing process. She wants those who have been abused to take time to heal and embrace learning who they are now after the abuse.

“Your future is waiting! Don’t let yesterday determine your future. We are beautiful butterflies, perfect in our imperfection,” Burke said. “Freedom is amazing, and surviving that which could have killed us, makes us unique and strong!”

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