'On the day I left, when I sought refuge, there was not one available space nearby. Refuges are underfunded, under resourced and under-staffed. Abused and often very disturbed women are wandering around without purpose. It is so tragic that when they have been through so much and been so brave, they are rewarded with a void. No wonder there is a pall of doom hanging over the place and they return to what is at least familiar.'
In what seemed like a spiritual desert, one woman found hope and support in the pages of our Survivors' Handbook. This is the email that sparked our initiative to supply every refuge in the UK with a Restored handbook.
My experience in the refuge is probably typical, especially in Covid. The boxes are ticked of course, you have a caseworker, but few activities are arranged. Traumatised women sit together chain-smoking and are often secretly still in touch with their perpetrator, who will be in the 'Persuader' phase of his abuse and employing it with zeal.
During my months in the refuge, I witnessed two women return to 'perps' and one leave the refuge for a private let. The rest seemed to be languishing in a purgatory of sorts waiting for social housing, whilst perpetrators continue to live in the house they fled. Some had been there for over a year. I was lucky in that I have a solution- based approach and this kicked in, enabling me to temporarily override the horror and utilise the services available to me - and faith.
Abuse is cyclical and, as anyone knows from childhood, getting off a whirling merry-go-round is a dangerous affair. Sometimes it is better to cling on for dear life and hope it slows down enough for you to make that leap. In a refuge, if staff are not proactive enough in trying to slow the merry-go-round (which is what they are employed to do) most will just cling on, as they do not have another option.
'Love is patient and kind. We survivors of abuse have had ample and daily examples of what love is not...'
— anonymous survivor —
In prisons there are chaplains, where those who are without hope can find comfort and seek redemption. In my refuge, however, there was none of this spiritual support in all the months I was there; no Wi-Fi, no Zoom, no church visitor. Being able to connect relies on an individual with a phone, and if you already have faith you will strive to make this happen. If you have lost your faith or have not explored it yet, there is precious little to encourage you to do so.
Again, I was lucky. I met a Christian in the refuge who told me about her church, so I decided to watch the service on my phone. I have continued to do so and have experienced God's grace through kindness and support. As yet, I have not been asked to forgive. I'm sure I would be affronted if I was, but the chapter on forgiveness in Restored’s Survivors' Handbook has helped me so much - thank you.
When someone has dismantled you, forgiveness is too difficult to comprehend. The task at hand is to try to mend what is broken. There is an order to this, it is nuanced, and you are right where God wants you to be. God does not want other people forcing their view on you, and this chapter has highlighted for me that church and well-meaning church members can and do get it wrong.
What feels right at this time is kindness. Love is patient and kind, and we survivors of abuse have had ample and daily examples of what love is not, as well as the indignity of having to suck it up. We have very little bandwidth for more of the same. Guilt-tripping or frightening us into an action we are not ready for is not what God wants for us.
'Before, I too felt so isolated and alone, but now I feel Jesus is with me every day.'
— anonymous survivor —
I am still flying into the air every time the doorbell rings. I have fled over 200 miles and am now in a part of the country where everything is unfamiliar. People are friendly but naturally quite loud, and I mistake it for anger. In fact, I mistake everything for anger! I feel like I am in a cocoon in my new little flat. There is a fluffy little dog next door who clearly has separation anxiety and a grating yap - poor thing, how he suffers when he is alone! Before, I too felt so isolated and alone, but now I feel Jesus is with me every day; I talk with him, I pray, I read, I eat, I sleep.
I have spoken to a counsellor who says I have PTSD, which I fear might not ever go away. I have left my home, my job, and given my dear dog away. However, when you lose something you gain something, and my faith has been restored so I am full of gratitude. I am hopeful about my life now, which is a blessing.
I want to thank Restored for creating such an insightful handbook for survivors. This is a powerful publication, beautifully written, and needs wider distribution. I have found my faith and hope – I’m not unique. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if this book led others in the direction that I’m now headed?
Thanks for the book - I'm going to lend it to my friend to read!
Give a gift of hope
One really practical way that you can begin to restore dignity and hope is through gifting a woman with our Survivors' Handbook. We would love to see a handbook in every refuge in the country and we're working to this become a reality. But, we need your support to get there. We’re raising funds to enable us to donate hundreds of copies of the Handbook. Can you donate to help us change the story for survivors of domestic abuse in refuges across the country?
Just £5 can help us provide a woman with a Handbook, and help to change her story.