Yesterday morning I was at the group I attend every week, the one that is open to past residents of Inasmuch House (a shelter). There were quite a number of us that had gathered together to drink coffee, eat sweets that we don't really need and talk about how things are going. As usually happens, we got chatting so much that we ended up with only a little bit of time to discuss the topic that was actually planned for discussion. That's OK though because sometimes the most important thing about attending these groups isn't that we learn more about how to improve our self esteem or how to set boundaries but it's that we get to sit together and simply share.
I really can't reinforce enough how important it is to have support. Going to a woman's shelter was my first ever experience with a support group and I wasn't at all sure that I liked it at first. I didn't know the people and I hadn't yet learned to trust the group leaders.
I remember the first time I attended: I went to the basement of the shelter, to the big room that we were to meet in; I saw some big leather couches and arm chairs, the walls were painted in a warm neutral tone with nice art work and there were candles lit on the coffee table. There was a mix of women gathered that day - some had been in the shelter for a couple of months and were getting ready to transition out while others were like me, new and cautious. The ages were all across the board as well - elderly to teens and everything in between. I poured myself a coffee and took a seat in the corner of one of the big, black leather couches. I remember being so pleased to get a seat at the end of the couch because that meant that I felt safer and not as exposed as I imagined that I would be if I had to sit in the middle. The room slowly filled and I remember feeling like an outsider when some of the women who had clearly developed a friendship came in laughing and joking. I remember thinking that I didn't belong there. So it was that I sat, fighting back the tears.
That first support group meeting was about as diverse as they get...different personalities, different ages, different socio-economic backgrounds, different cultures and even different sexual orientations! My children and I had been in the shelter for four days at that point and I had been cautiously keeping my distance, smiling when smiled at but pretty much coming to eat then retreating to our room. I'm not an anti-social person at all but I was afraid of these people and I was afraid of what was happening to me. I had this idea that my going to the shelter was just some big, horrible mistake and that I just needed to fix everything by going home. How ironic considering I refused to leave the safety of the shelter and the only fresh air I allowed us to get was from within the safety of the securely fenced back yard. I was a real mess.
The staff leading the group that morning were wonderful. They had seen the look on my face on hundreds of faces before mine. It was like they knew that I was incredibly fragile and could break into a million pieces if wrongly handled. I didn't say much at first, just listened. I can't remember what the topic was or what anybody else said but I remember that at some point I offered information about a local fruit and vegetable wholesaler that I had found out about where you could get a big box of fresh produce for cheap. The other women smiled and thanked me, asking if I could write the name down for them because they would like to check it out...I felt good. I felt that I wasn't such an outsider after all because although I didn't know their stories and they didn't know mine, we all had things in common other than Domestic Violence and that was a welcome relief.
Gathering together with other survivors, in whatever form you choose, is not just about getting help with coping with the effects of DV on yourself and your children. Gathering together is a wonderful way to connect on other levels that allow us to remember that there is so much more to us than what has been thrust upon us by our abusers. Sharing recipes, parenting stories, even where to find cheap bananas - link up with some other people and try it out, you may feel shy at first but I highly recommend it.by