Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Lives We Touch

Recently, I received an email from a member of an area congregation. Her message was one of thanks to me and my staff at Renewal House for the work we do providing shelter for families and individuals. She made a point to also thank us for our efforts around community outreach and education, particularly with churches. I asked her if I could share her story (anonymously, of course), and she agreed. I will call her Laurel, and here is her story:

Laurel lived in a suburb of Boston and was well connected in the community and within her congregation. About six months ago, she had to leave it all behind because of the domestic violence in her home and the havoc it caused in her life. She moved to the Western U.S., where members of her family are able to support her and her two small children. But before she moved she tried to talk about her experience in her church – and received little support or understanding. She tried to seek out domestic violence resources locally, but was turned away due to lack of space and because the abuse was not physical. She even reached out to a local psychiatric hospital for supportive services, but when she called to do an intake they told her she needed to go to the emergency room. She called the mental health clinic and left a message, but never received a return phone call. She felt as though she had nowhere else to turn. She knew she needed to get out, but it seemed like a fight just to accomplish that.

She has since moved and has found great resources where she is currently living. Her family and friends have helped immensely, as have local domestic violence programs that understand what she went through and include her experience in their definition of domestic abuse. She has since contacted the local Massachusetts program to share her concern over their limited understanding of the reality of domestic violence. I was pleased to hear that the staff person stated that things had changed and they were sorry for not helping her in her time of need.

In many ways, things are looking up for Laurel. However, she still has interactions with professionals who do not understand her experience. There was the OBGYN, for example, who responded to Laurel’s story by saying “well, good luck.” And her primary care doctor simply said to her, “you really need to find some support for yourself.” These interactions aren’t quite as tough for Laurel now as they would have been in the past, but they are a constant reminder to her of how painful it is to reach out and receive no understanding or support.

Laurel told me that even her family had been affected by the abuse. She was isolated from them as a result of her relationship and her partner had made it difficult for her to maintain a healthy, close relationship with anyone. Fortunately, when Laurel returned home to her family, they were able to recognize the abuse for what it was and not blame her for its impact on their lives and relationships.

Laurel is healing and moving on in her life now. She wrote me to share her story and to thank me for the work of Renewal House. In doing so, she also provided us with an excellent example of how the “system” and well-meaning individuals can still fail them during times of real need.

Laurel’s story is a reminder to all of us in the domestic violence field that there is much more to be done in terms of awareness, education and service delivery. Sadly, there are others out there right now who are struggling to find the right person or place to help them leave an abusive situation and begin to heal.

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