How reading and writing can help survivors of domestic abuse

Dr Sally Olewe-Richards, Treasurer of Broxtowe Women’s Project (BWP), explains how reading and writing can be powerful tools for survivors of domestic abuse:

As both a survivor of domestic abuse and a trustee of the board, one of the things I know BWP does really well is understanding that leaving an abusive relationship is often just the beginning of a woman’s journey. It takes time, understanding, having the right tools and a community of supporters to start the process of healing mentally and emotionally.

BWP offers a number of wellbeing groups women, who’ve been helped by the charity, can join for continuing support, friendship and confidence building. These provide an important opportunity for women to remember the strengths and qualities they have and to learn what they’re capable of achieving.

One of these groups is Reading Friends, which meets fortnightly, to bring women together and share conversation and friendship. During the sessions, a book will be opened on a random page and using that as a starting point, the group will talk about what they associate with the contents, what it reminds the women of and the conversation evolves naturally. Using literature in this way can be a powerful way to connect to our own thoughts and feelings, as well as to other members of the group.

A number of the women in Reading Friends also enjoy writing. There is an ever-growing body of research that shows expressive writing can be deeply therapeutic after trauma. It can help with managing anxiety, reducing stress and coping with depression. Journaling can become an outlet to release pain and find the answers we seek. We have them inside of us and journaling helps by connecting us back to our own deep knowing and wisdom. When we lose ourselves in an abusive relationship, writing about our experiences is a way to come home to ourselves once more. It can help to validate and make sense of our experiences, so we learn to trust ourselves again, perhaps after years of being made to doubt our own reality by the abuser.

Expressive writing, such as poetry, is another powerful tool some survivors use as part of their recovery. Together with being a good way to release and process their own experiences, sharing their words can help others on their healing journey. Three members of Reading Friends will have their work included in a forthcoming collection of women domestic abuse survivor’s poetry from around the world. The anthology, titled My Red Quilt, is due to be released January 2021 by Women of Wisdom and CourageⓇ.

Here is a poem by one of the members of the Reading Friends, describing the impact BWP’s work has had on her life:

This group has been amazing
I’ve made so many friends
Learnt a lot of facts, I didn’t know
I never want this to end
I’ve gained much more confidence
My self esteem has soared
Our little group of Reading Friends
Has helped to lower my walls
My future is now a blank journal
Its pages just waiting to be written
Along the way, I’ve grown so much
The tears I once felt have subsided
I’d like to share my new found strength
To help others and to guide
I couldn’t have achieved this at all
Without BWP by my side.
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