Partners for Peace’s Support and Education Groups address the problems survivors of domestic abuse struggle with in transitioning from crisis to self-sufficiency. Isolation is a common controlling behavior of abusers, causing survivors to feel they have no one to turn to and making them ashamed and reluctant to open up to relatives, friends, or co-workers. Participation in support or education groups help break down the feelings of isolation by connecting women who are experiencing or have experienced abuse in their relationship and give them a safe, confidential forum in which to speak about the unspeakable and draw comfort from those who understand; providing the acceptance necessary for women who are unsure of their next step, even if that next step involves remaining with the abuser.
In June of 2015, Leah contacted the Alliance for legal and housing support. For 11 years, she had been married to an emotionally and verbally abusive partner, and he had suddenly filed a protection from abuse order against her, forcing her out of their home and leaving her homeless three weeks after she had a major cancer operation. It was through her medical treatment that she found a caseworker and learned about the resources available to her at Spruce Run-Womancare Alliance, including the transitional housing program.
Because of a history of abuse in previous relationships, her health problems and the constant abuse from her husband, Leah was experiencing agoraphobia, severe anxiety, chronic PTSD, and she had had suicidal thoughts. The days when she couldn’t leave the bedroom in her husband’s house made her feel half-alive. By separating from her abuser and receiving support from her caseworker and an Alliance advocate,r she regained the ability to go outside on her own again. Being in the world and interacting with other people has been transformative. She loves to take walks while listening to music on an MP3 player that she purchased with funds donated to the Alliance’s holiday gift program.
Leah found a safe, stable home in transitional housing, and has attended support groups where she feels a renewed sense of purpose and spirit. Helping other women by sharing what she has learned has inspired her to apply to a peer support training program so she can advocate for other people who are experiencing mental illness. She hopes to use volunteer experience to transition back to the workforce, which she was forced to leave because of her illness and the abuse at home.
For Leah, the sense that the advocates she worked with at the Alliance were on her side was critical. Except for one teacher who helped her when she was young, she says she cannot remember another time in her life when it felt like someone was fighting for her. Her abuser convinced her that no one would believe her stories and would take his side if she sought help, so finding out the opposite was a true was a revelation. If she could change one thing for other people facing abuse, she says, it would be to let them know the Alliance can help them get the resources and support they need to be safe.