I am often struck by the power of a phrase or an expression. Those few words can convey and embody a person’s experience so poignantly at a time in their lives when most words fail.
I have worked for a number of years as a caseworker assisting people with complex disabilities, asylum seekers, refugees and now at Bonnie’s.
Refugees and women escaping family violence share a similar journey: seeking a safe haven and the dream to rebuild their lives. It can be difficult to articulate what they are going through – carrying their own trauma, their escape and the ramifications of their decisions. Yet a simple phrase can be so powerful in expressing powerlessness, exhaustion, shame and uncertainty that these women feel.
I remember one woman I assisted after her and her family’s release from Nauru, an immigration detention facility where she had spent 3 years of her life. In her limited English she said, “The island cried for us”. Others may have rationally thought the reference was to the tropical rain that deluged on the island daily, but to her, the rain was far more meaningful for it wept for her suffering and uncertainty of her future.
Another expression that has always stayed with me was a young asylum seeker who said “the Taliban kills me with a gun and the Australian government kills me with a pen”. This encapsulated the feeling experienced of ongoing waiting for a bureaucratic decision that could change the asylum seekers life.
Recently, a woman who had experienced DV, visited Bonnie’s outreach at Liverpool Women’s Health Centre for assistance as she was in dire financial hardship. This woman at first seemed jovial and assured but she later explained, through tears, that this is “the face she puts to the world”. She told me that some years before her ex-partner had tried to choke her – ‘I haven’t breathed in 4 years’. She went on to explain that even though she had left him soon after, she had felt choked by the financial hardship and the history of the trauma ever since.
Another young woman and her children came to Bonnies: they were homeless due to family violence. She described how she had gone from being in an abusive family in childhood to an abusive marriage as an adult and felt that she was “a ball thrown between people”. After seven weeks with Bonnie’s assistance it was heartening to hear her say “I feel in control, not a ball”, “ I am a better parent” and “ I feel I can cook a meal”.
These are some of the very moving phrases that we all hear in the work we do with families facing difficulty and trauma.
Written by Margy who feels privileged to be privy to the journeys of women and children at difficult times and the smiles on the women’s faces as their life takes an upward turn.