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Writing Your Way Home From Domestic Violence

June 28, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 307

By day, it was a typical conference room with moveable tables and stackable chairs. By night, or at least this night, it became a salon, a home away from home. The tables made a cozy U-shape, so everyone could see and be seen. Tablecloths covered each, and antique-style lamps shed soft light. Plates of sweets and coffee took up a table near the door. Wordless music played quietly in the background. The words would come from the dozen women who filed in, late because there was childcare trouble - too many kids with too many needs, more than had been expected. The chaos of resistance and misplaced toys and unfamiliar places took its usual toll on both mothers and kids. New childcare recruits were summoned to help, and we could begin.

These women looked tired. They had all experienced domestic violence and were finding their way out, either through shelter or education and counseling or groups for moms and kids. They had children to care for, jobs to find, homes to make. Homes that would be safe.

Each one of them seemed to exhale as she entered the room and looked around. Some wandered to the art exhibit that had been produced a couple of years before by another group of women, and their children. Others went straight for the tables and a few minutes of solitude. A frisson of anxiety hung in the air. Each had volunteered to be here, and we, the organizers, had implied certain promises: Come, write, tell your story. It will do you some good; and if you choose to share, what you write will help others understand.

Karen called us to order, offering words of welcome and assurances of confidentiality. She introduced John the facilitator, a writer himself and teacher of writing. He first went around the circle and asked each woman to share her past experiences with writing, which varied from lifelong journaling, to nothing since middle school, to college creative writing classes, to songwriting. He listened, asked questions, used their names. His message: No matter what you have or haven't done about it lately, you are a writer who deserves a place at the table.

Meanwhile, the rest of us organizers sat in an outside circle, checking our watches and tapping our feet. We started late, Childcare ends at nine, Let's get them started our brains chattered. It turned out that John was getting them started.

He played a video that his high school students had prepared for the occasion. A succession of students read poems they had written in his class. Each line began with "I remember... " (a prompt that was originated by artist and writer Joe Brainard in 1975 and is often used in writing circles.) Some of the poems were lighthearted, some painful to hear. The students modeled honesty and courage.Meanwhile, through his conversation, John was busy establishing himself as a safe and peaceful man who had respect and appreciation for his wife. More exhaling.

We'd given each of them a nice journal, but when it was time to write, most requested the copy paper we had stacked in the corner. More space? Easier to crumple and discard? Anyway, they wrote in silence, right away, I remember... The music clicked off in the middle. No one noticed.

John called time about 25 minutes in.

"Now, who would like to share?" he asked.

There was an immediate volunteer who read her recollections of childhood summertime, her grandmother, and fireflies. Another followed with remembrances of high school, another on the births of her children. The reminder was clear - these women were far more than domestic violence survivors. They had lives beyond trauma.

As each read, the rest listened intently. They laughed together. As each finished, she received a thank you from John. As time passed, the volunteers came more slowly. The tone changed. Imbedded between the fond memories started to appear darker and deeper things. The poems began to speak of red and swollen eyes, and wishing to turn back time, and feeling like an outsider even at home. Vivid details appeared, the kind that people focus on to escape the intolerable, a red flower pot, rainbows of light on the rug.

The room transformed again, from writing salon to sacred space, where the truth could be told in safety.

When John brought the evening to a close, we asked everyone to evaluate the experience to guide us for the future. They wanted more writing, more participants, more chances. They wanted us to share the project with colleges, museums, radio audiences, Facebook, schools, libraries, and online.

We asked everyone who would be willing to share her words to let us make a copy to keep. Some did, others almost did but held back at the end. Some wanted to expand their piece and turn it in later. Now a box sits in the office labeled Our Story Project, locked for privacy but open for submissions anytime day or night.

They left to pick up their children with goodbyes and thanks. The organizers stayed to deconstruct the salon and turn it back into a meeting room so it could host a breakfast for donors in the morning. We didn't need to deconstruct the evening. It was a success and there would be more.

We were just about done with the cleanup - the leftover cookies were packed for the next day, the lamps and cloths and power strips set aside for pickup by the volunteers who had supplied them, and the tables were rearranged into a breakfast-friendly layout.

One of the organizers came back in with a message from the child care staff.

"I don't know what you did to those women in there," she'd said, "but do more of it. They were completely different people when they came back to get the kids. They were smiling and calm. It was like they'd all had massages."

Another transformation. We had invented the first writing spa. Come. Make yourself at home. Think of only yourself for a couple of hours. Express yourself. Find out you are not alone. Be heard.

Carolyn B. Healy is a therapist and author who has long been involved with community and therapeutic efforts to stand up to the traumatic effects of domestic violence. She helped originate Our Story Project, a Chicago area program that invites those affected by domestic violence to share their stories, so that they can be heard and others can understand. Please subscribe to to follow the growing collection of voices. Carolyn has authored two journals that help support the project. My Journal, My Voice, a guided journal for all, and A Shared Journal for those who have experienced the effects of domestic abuse will be available soon. Check the website for ordering information.

Source: EzineArticles
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Writing Spa

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