Guest Opinion Column published in the Gazette & Herald newspaper – February 2014
Time never stands still at Doorway. Not only are the lives of our guests constantly changing but the very fabric of the organisation is also developing, adapting and evolving. We are always looking at ways in which we can improve on the services to our guests according to their own changing needs.
And so, in June 2012 we launched a new initiative, a women’s group (separate to our main open access drop-in sessions) where we could provide a safe and supportive environment for women with complex needs to express themselves through a variety of artistic activities.
I think really, my main objective was to allow women to find a space where they could abandon the masks and barriers that are so often set up as a means of defence and self-preservation against the men in their lives. We had found that so many of our female guests were victims of both physical and mental abuse and their ongoing support needs tended to get overlooked in our main drop-in sessions, sometimes due to the quietness of their nature but very often also due to their dramatic displays of aggression, anger and frustration.
By offering them a separate space we were able to encourage them to slowly start trusting each other, to open up and share their life experiences and their histories with each other. We quickly found that the women are remarkably less guarded and, whilst knitting or being creative in other ways, they feel more comfortable sharing who they really are, the person they were before they became homeless, substance dependent or with complex mental health issues. Photos have been brought in and shown – “this is who I was”; “this is where I lived”; “I was beautiful once” – and their emotional stories come tumbling out.
Various subjects tend to come up in conversation each week, naturally and fluidly, without any previously conceived remit or requirement for a resolution or outcome. And these are the conversations that can be emotionally devastating but also simultaneously have a very strong element of healing involved.
One such subject recently discussed was the issue of adoption, although from the dual perspective of both being given up for adoption themselves (bearing in mind that this occurred decades ago) and also giving up their own children for adoption.
The results were extraordinarily powerful. We were giving the women a unique chance to express their rawest emotions and the comments make for difficult reading. As a mother of teenage boys myself the experience has given me an insight into emotions I could never imagine.
One woman stated that she felt like she was programmed to over care for the children that she has now failed by giving one up for adoption. By over caring she had pushed them away as well.
“If you have been given away, had a bad time and then lose a child how do you understand all that? It F**ks you up.”
“What can you say to a child you gave up and now is grown up? You loved them before and you still love them but you don’t know who they are now.”
All of the women who spoke that day experience ongoing complex issues and most have endured very difficult childhoods themselves. Many had been placed in care or adopted. The relationships that they have all subsequently had, with either their parents or the men in their lives, were challenging and extremely abusive.
“You become an adult and crave the childhood you never had with you birth mother / father, especially if it has been a very difficult relationship with the adopted family.”
And so, 20 months on from the launch of the women’s group, we can look back on the development of the group and recognise that although it has been a huge learning curve for everyone involved – guests, staff and volunteers – it has also evolved into a unique and very special place.
Additional quotes not included in the original newspaper article on being given up for adoption:
“Why wasn’t I good enough to be kept, what was wrong with me.”
“The knock on effect is never feeling good about yourself and then spoiling your own kids to get the love you’ve never had.”
“Just not understanding why you were given away.”
Additional quotes not included in the original newspaper article on giving their own children up for adoption:
“You know it’s for the best but it doesn’t mean that you don’t care and those people who think you’re rubbish need to be in that state and then they might understand why it happened.”
“More respect to a mum who is able to let that child go if they know it will be better off.”
“Forgiving yourself is the hardest part and for mums you never do and then you have more children you just feel you’re no good at it.”
“Birthdays and Christmas are the hardest time. That’s when you focus on what you did and you don’t think that you were a good person for doing it or most people don’t. I know I think I am a rubbish mum.”