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SSTEP Program helps
victims cope with abuse

by Beth Hutchinson
For the Pathfinder
December 11, 1997


"I'm great at coping. I've got survival down to an art."

"Recently I've begun to wonder if I don't almost steer my course to ride that fine edge of survival...if that's not the only place I feel I function."

Grettle L. (not her real name) is a "survivor". She's a survivor of abuse. She's been a victim directly and a victim indirectly. As a child she was sexually abused and emotionally abused. She was a witness to physical and psychological abuse of her sibblings and mother. She was a victim to the self-abuse of an alcoholic father.

This abuse follows her as an adult, both internally in memory and the shaping of her perception and externally in her relationships with the world around her.

Grettle is one of our many neighbors who copes with the experience and scar tissue of abuse. Grettle is a survivor ...and she's strong. She's a winner. She's alive and she functions within our community in good (but not always so good) ways every day. She is a survivor.

Grettle is also beginning to heal.

"Last winter I saw a notice announcing the formation of a group for the survivors of abuse. I was in one of "my stages", meaning that on the outside everything looked fiine in my life, but on the inside I had a sense of discomfort. That sense of discomfort that seems to slip in at the oddest times and wears a numbers of faces..... Low key anger. A sense of being cheated of something. Fear. Frustration with myself. A feeling that I just never quite really fit in. I could go on and on..."

"In any case, I saw that notice, and I thought, 'Well, I've survived abuse. I wonder what a group for survivors of abuse does?' I sort of wanted to call and find out. For a while I was too embarrassed. But I kept seeing the sign and thinking about it. Finally, I called."

Grettle did become a member of the first "Survivors of Abuse" groups in Seeley Lake. She took advantage of the opportunity to begin to heal. It was scarey, but she's strong. She had to be strong to survive.

"I was all nerves and camoflauging it perfectly (she laughs to herself) when I walked into that first meeting. I'd met the counselor once to talk over whether being in the group would be good for me... and the others, but I didn't know who else would be there. It was wierd. I wasn't sure maybe if knowing them or not knowing them was making me more nervous."

"Looking back, I'm so proud of myself for choosing to go. It was somewhat of a hard choice because I wasn't used to being open about myself in public, but it was a good choice because I left a lot of 'crazy, unrealistic, harmful' ideas there once a week for those ten weeks."

"I learned a lot. At first, the hardest part was to learn to trust."

"I learned to feel...and not to run away from my feelings."

"I learned ways to hear others' feelings, how to deal with my reactions to them and how to be supportive of my partners (and myself)."

"I began to look forward to our meetings and I was sad when the ten weeks was up. And, yes, I was proud to be able to be sad and to say I was sad and to share that sadness with others."

Grettle and the others in the group deserved their feelings. They had worked hard for them. They'd found anger. They'd found fear. They'd felt hurt. They'd also felt pleasure, pride and love. They'd stepped onto the path of healing. Not one of them knows quite how long that path is or quite where it may lead, but each knows that there is a path and that the first and hardest step had been taken some time before when each had managed to survive.

A second "Survivors of Abuse Group" is being formed this winter. Whether you are female or male, young or not so young, you are invited to inquire. Confidentiality lies at the heart of the process. A counselor interviews each interested person to see whether the group would be a good experience at this time or to recommend and assist the person in finding some more appropriate kind of support.

Once the group begins to function several key goals apply:

*Keep group a safe place

*Be honest

*Keep confidentiality

*Be heard

*Be able to speak your truth

*Be accepted for who you are

*Make no judgments of others

As participants in a survivors' group gain an understanding of healing as a process which progresses along a continuum, they frequently deal with issues relating to the presence of a subtle shame and consequent fear of exposure as well as an avoidance of the risk of engaging in intimacy and sharing. They examine the roles of power and powerlessness and begin to identify ways to get out of destructive patterns.

Are you a survivor of abuse? Do you value the strength of your coping skills yet continue to sense that even with this strength something is blocked or missing in your life? Do you tend to equate intimacy with pain? Do you experience confusing fears or anger that you can't quite express?

As Grettle found, "It is possible to heal. I know that it's going to take some time, but it's such a relief to believe that I can get on with my life without the weight of all those destructive patterns I endured for so long. My strength has a new and more rewarding focus."

If you have taken the critical step and moved to a point in the relationship where your life is not in danger, perhaps this group is for you. The time may be right for you to focus on healing.

Call 677-3177 to ask questions or request an appointment. Confidential interviews will be scheduled for the first week of January. The group, sponsored by Seeley Swan Talk Educate Protect (SSTEP) Program, will begin meeting soon after interviews are completed.

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