Picture this: What if you walk through the front door of a house you’ve never been inside? Now, imagine that before setting foot inside this house, you committed to living there for a solid year. For the next 12 months, 52 weeks, or 8760 hours this foreign house will be your home. As you walk in, not a soul in the house is familiar. But, you know that your ability to live a healthy and whole life depends on your ability to complete the assignments that someone inside this house will give you.
Kinda scary, right?
This is the experience of many women who come to Safe Harbor hoping to heal their lives and escape their substance use disorders. They have been abused by partners, abused as children, or trafficked for sex. They have been homeless and at the mercy of people uninterested in their welfare.
As a result, their ability to trust another person is nearly nonexistent which is often visible in their eyes and on their emotionless faces. For many, showing emotion has landed them in big trouble in the past. Therefore, they will lock away their emotion, not allowing their eyes or faces to betray anything they are experiencing inside.
When you consider this, it is a miracle that these traumatized women ever come to Safe Harbor and trust the program with their scarred lives.
Now, imagine again. What if, once inside this scary, foreign place, you are warmly greeted by a staff member and presented with a beautiful floral arrangement? You are given a tour of a lovely, old home and shown to the bedroom that has been carefully prepared for you with a thoughtfully-filled basket full of personal care items on your bed.
However, in your experience, anyone who has ever given you anything or has done something nice always expected something (often scary stuff) in return? Or, what if experience has taught you that someone can do nice things for you but turn around seconds later and beat the living daylights out of you? Still nice? Nope.
But then, these warm staff members and the entire community intentionally show day after day that they genuinely want the best for you and are on your side for the long haul. Your barriers start to crumble and your suspicions may disappear as you begin the long journey of learning to trust and to heal.
It often takes a couple of months, sometimes more, for a new resident to trust Safe Harbor and the staff members. Over time, the woman’s experience with staff as loving and trustworthy begins to break through the wall she constructed to keep out pain and suffering. This same wall that was meant for survival in the past, will prevent the woman from accepting help, forming healthy relationships and support, and understanding how much God loves her.
And so Safe Harbor persists.
As the wall begins to crumble, there is a spark of light in the woman’s eyes. A flame catches fire, and her face comes alive. The resident now has the hope that life can be more than the living hell it has been.
Without the consistency of Safe Harbor’s trauma-informed care, women would be unlikely to begin their journey toward healing. It takes a feeling of safety for a woman to let down her guard enough that healing can take root, and Safe Harbor provides this.
Within the safety of the home and with supportive staff, the women who enter Safe Harbor focus their efforts in the first phase of stabilization. This often takes a few months to achieve as there are physical and mental health issues as well as recovery and trauma issues that must begin to be stabilized.
Once stabilization is achieved, Safe Harbor residents turn their attention in Phase 2, digging into their healing. Healing is painful. It uncovers many things that residents have buried and wish to never see or confront again.
But without examining their deep, heart-wounds, they cannot heal.
Without attending to these core issues, our residents will not recover from their substance abuse. So, Safe Harbor residents sink their teeth into the meat of healing. In reality, it is a life-long progression toward greater wholeness. They will be chewing on this meal for many years to come.
In Phase 3, Safe Harbor residents begin to center their attention on developing the life skills they need to be successful. They have already started to find relief from trauma and many have made significant inroads to core issues that precipitated their substance abuse. In addition to continuing their pursuit of healing and recovery, residents are working part time and learning to budget and save money. They are learning to balance work with their personal/recovery life, and exploring what it means to have healthy relationships with friends, children, and potential mates. With these skills, sustained recovery is possible.
When women enter the final phase of Safe Harbor’s program, they have already learned more than any long-term recovery program could teach them. But, Safe Harbor pushes the limits of progress even further.
Safe Harbor desires that all residents dream into their futures, to build on who they now know they are: beloved of God and born with a uniqueness that can bless the world.
Safe Harbor wants them to soar, taking the bird’s-eye view of themselves and the world around them. Does pursuing their dream mean going back to school in order to pursue a specific career path? Does it mean fanning into flame the dream of starting a nonprofit to help women who have been trafficked? Or does it mean something entirely different?
Regardless of the dream, this is often the first time in a resident’s life that she has experienced enough hope to imagine herself doing more than subsisting for a few years. Many have never planned for any kind of future, believing their days on earth to be limited to a few years, months, or even mere days. Before, life was a day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute kind of existence. Now, there are beautiful and exciting possibilities ahead. And Safe Harbor has blessed them to move forward into their dreams and dreams alongside them.
Picture something with me one last time.
What if you could say that you have conquered something that seemed invincible? After a lot of labor, with a few steps backwards at times and a whole lot of hard work, you have taken hold of a new life. But you haven’t done it alone. You have partnered with a sisterhood that will last a lifetime. You belong to a loving God that has collaborated with you. And the hallelujahs raised are many as you step out into the freshness of a life repaired and a self restored.
Linda Mortensen | Executive Director
Safe Harbor House