Earlier this year Sally escaped a domestically abusive relationship after 19 years. She was alone and filled with anger. Yet what a difference a few months with a supportive circle of women can make.
“I just found myself,” Sally (not her real name) said, describing the group’s impact. “I really didn’t know myself before I started coming here and I’m just so grateful. Without the group, I’d still be stuck in nothing.”
Sally said it wasn’t easy fronting up to ‘Breaking Free’, a group for women who have experienced violent or abusive relationships. She’s now attended that group and two others, Boundaries and Women Exploring Anger. Sally said along the way she’s left feelings of depression and anxiety behind and seen them replaced with self-esteem and understanding.
“It was very hard to voice, to put into words – it was scary,” she said of talking about her experiences to begin with. “But the discussions helped me feel I’m not the only one and listening to other women’s stories gave me strength.
“It helped me to realise if we know ourselves we can cope a lot better with life and I’ve learnt to look at my true feelings and look at why I think the way I do. They helped me to identify and express my feelings, and I understand the aspects of anger and how to control them. It’s helped my whole family; I’m more aware of how to respond to my children, how to talk to them, so they can communicate their feelings back to me. It has opened my eyes to so much.”
Co-facilitators of Breaking Free, Naomi Schuelein and Monika Obirek, are both palpably proud of Sally and the change in her since she joined the group. They want other women to know that support is out there.
“To see her journey from when she walked through the door to now, to see the huge shifts, from the way she communicates to her body language and how she relates to her children… it shows the power of programs we deliver,” Naomi said.
“For me, it’s really beautiful seeing women blossom – and it’s physically visible,” Monika said, gesturing to Sally. “There’s something very enlivening about being with a group of women who have gone through similar things; to talk about things that have never been verbalised. It breaks down shame and isolation.”
Both acknowledged that the thought of sitting in a circle of women can be scary and confronting for people, but they describe how the group is simply about having a respectful and safe place to be heard, in a forum where judgement is left at the door.
“We’re sharing stories, we’re unpacking, we’re looking at layers, we’re offering support,” Naomi said.
“Yes, we’re not telling people how to live their lives,” Monika added. “We’re empowering them to make better choices for themselves.”
Sally said, if there’s any message she can send to other women who have experienced domestically abusive relationships, it’s to push past the fear and give it a go because the healing is so worth it in the end.
“It’s helping yourself so you can become a better person,” she said. “It’s given me my life back.”
Naomi and Monika invite women to join the Breaking Free group on Tuesdays from 10am to 1pm in Lismore. For more information or to take part phone them at the Men & Family Centre on 6622 6116.