I had been with my partner a year before she was ever physically violent towards me. After the first incident I wanted to leave but she apologised, told me she loved me, and promised to never do it again and I believed her. However, this pattern continued to repeat itself and I found myself stuck in a cycle of physical and emotional abuse and manipulation and coercion.
Whilst undergoing CBT I mentioned about an incident of violence to my therapist and she referred me to a small LGBT Domestic Violence charity. After months of support and encouragement that in order to get better I needed to get out of my abusive relationship and heal myself, I took the plunge and decided to get things in motion. After a very long two weeks of toing and froing between the council, my GP, the hospital, housing services and a rejection from one refuge on the grounds that they did not have the right support in place for my mental health needs, I was very fortunate to be given a room in Solace’s specialist refuge for complex needs.
My experience of being in an abusive relationship has had an unimaginable impact of my life. When I moved into the refuge I hugely struggled with self-harm, depression and anxiety and my sleep was plagued with nightmares and flashbacks to what had happened. To add to this I used various substances as a way of coping with what had happened which only further impacted on my mental health. When I arrived at the refuge I had zero confidence in myself, virtually no self-esteem and had been coerced and manipulated to such an extent that I believed what had happened was my fault and that I had deserved it.
Solace’s specialist refuge is for women with multiple disadvantage – complex mental health issues and/or substance abuse issues, and with 24 hour support staff. Given the nature of the service, there were times when the refuge was incredibly chaotic however, it felt incredibly safe and for the first time I felt at home somewhere.
We had various groups throughout the week ranging from art therapy to tai chi to how to cope with trauma and on Fridays we all had breakfast together as a house. Support at the refuge came in various forms but the most important factor was that each service user was in control of what they wanted to happen and we were empowered to make decisions and choices that reflected our individual needs. Having someone give me a hand up and guide me towards independent living meant so much to me and gave me a huge amount of confidence in order to achieve things in a way that would not have happened if I was simply handed something to do. I genuinely felt like my keyworker believed in me which enabled me to make positive changes in my life and go on to maintain them.
After 6 months in the refuge, I spent 2 months in a low support refuge and have now secured a job and am planning on moving in with some friends in the next few weeks. I would not have got to this point without the support from Solace Women’s Aid.