Many times over the years I have heard such horrible traumatic situations that people have lived through and with in their lives. I have always prayed for the strength and courage to walk with them as they journey back in time to heal from this. The most challenging times were the ten years I started and ran the first group in Hamilton for women who had been sexually abused. My reasons for wanting to start this group were both personal and based also on what I was hearing while doing community development work in the core of the city. Very interesting, open-ended position which put in my hands the ability to put into fruition what I felt needed addressed. Basically, it was a one year contract to look at the issues the general public were dealing with in one of the hardest areas of downtown Hamilton, Ontario. I was hired in 1987 by a very interesting man who was active in Hamilton politics and development... Rev. Forsythe, of First Pilgrim United Church.
On the 13th of September, 1969 Hamilton's First United Church was consumed by a tragic electrical fire. The church, which occupied the land between King Street and Main Street, was destroyed, leaving behind only a shell of the once lavish structure. The church had two insurance policies and as a result ended up with a large settlement. They put it to good use and established many social programs benefiting the city's core.
Fast forward to 1987...this is the year I was working this community development position. Rev Forsythe took an immediate liking to me , hiring me on the spot when I went for my interview. I had asked him what exactly the position would entail, as to me it seemed rather vague. He said that it would be in my power to make this whatever I felt needed the most attention in the core area...Well, that was not really too helpful, but I was gathering that he was putting his faith and trust in me to explore this further and make some wise choices.
My approach was to walk the streets and actually start getting to know the people living in the area. I had organized a free BBQ, thinking that would attract a lot of people to come and eat free...it did... and from there it grew...I connected with so many that day and after followed up by going to their homes to talk one on one with them. I had arranged for many to come to my office to talk and spend some time in the library . I also set up a community kitchen to help the ones struggling to feed their families.
As you gain trust with people, they start to open up to you and tell you their life stories. Over and over, I was hearing so many women telling me about sexual abuse they had lived through, having never gotten the proper help to move past it. I am the kind of person who will listen to what my instincts are guiding me towards, and I felt this was the area that I most needed to address. The group was named Survivors Of Life. I choose the name to honor their strength, to make them know they were not just victims, but would be survivors... I had already done my research on what the guidelines would be and the format this group would take. I had run many other groups, so I understood the dynamics and issues of transference which often happens in these core areas. In a therapy context, transference refers to redirection of a patient's feelings for a significant person to the therapist.
I debated whether it would be for males , as I knew many men had also been abused. In the end , I made the choice to make the first group for females only. My reasoning on this was the trust issue. Many of the women would not of been able to feel safe and open in a group with males also. I was hoping that when they had been able to move past some of their trust issues, both the men and women would actually really benefit interacting in a group together. The groups were set up specific to stages of recovery, consisting of three parts. The last part was a group for both genders.
The year contract I worked gave birth to this group and after the year I kept this going for over ten years. I did not want to walk away when I knew the great need and understood that it could be life changing for survivors.
There was a television show on Fridays nights called Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll. At the end of the show, they ran a list of groups that dealt with these issues. I had listed my group on there, and every Friday night I would spend answering the many calls which would come after the show aired. Most Friday nights I got little sleep, as my phone rang at all hours of the night.
I will write in more detail another time on some of amazing survivors I had the privilege to know and walk with on their path to heal . This was the beginning of my journey which took me where I needed to be. I realize not everyone would agree with this, or see life in the fashion I do... but for myself, I very much need to know I am living with a purpose that holds meaning to me.
There were many times the intensity made me want to run away...but somehow, you are given strength when you need it most. At least I believe this. We all have our destiny to fulfill, this was part of mine .