By: Christina Rodriguez
A box of Kleenex, a non-judgmental attitude, and women each with an abusive story to heal from, share tears and laughs at the Women’s Healing Circle.
Survivors of violence and sexual abuse share their stories, but choose to stay anonymous. A survivor grew up in a home that was dysfunctional, father was violent, and was sexually abused as a child. This has affected her social life, love life, studies, even the way she walked, she said.
The Women’s Healing Circle is supported by a grant from the office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. East Los Angeles College joined forces with the East Los Angeles Women’s Center to provide counseling and help for women who need a support group.
“While I was in college, I never saw any support groups. I thought it was amazing that ELAC has a support group such as the Women’s Healing Circle,” said Meliza Gandara.
Gandara, is a sexual assault counselor and case manager at ELAWC. She also works at the on-campus office, where people can seek help for sexual, physical or verbal abuse.
Survivor hopes to never go back to the place she once was, that state of mind was her lowest point in life. The abuse she allowed her ex-boyfriend to do and say, are moments she can not erase from her son’s memory.
Each woman had a different story, a different background, different ethnicities, but all could relate and share a common ground, abuse by a loved one.
“Everyone encourages themselves, supports each other, laugh and cry together, they cheer each other on,” said Gandara.
Every week, ELAWC counselors focus on different topic’s. This meeting’s theme was “Changing my Future”. Gandara asked the circle what positive changes have they made in their lives after deciding to take a stand and heal from their abuse.
All seven women, one by one shared positive changes they have made to grow and heal from the traumatic events they have encountered.
One survivor shared the story of her new couch purchase. Small changes can help and motivate new chapters in life, she said. She no longer wanted to look at that old couch, where many things happened, where she was abused. Her apartment manager also came in and covered all of the holes that her abusive partner made in the walls. Not seeing those small reminders helped her move on, she said.
Gandara thanks everyone for sharing, to her, it is extremely meaningful to be open and verbal about traumas. “In order to heal victims must talk about their stories,” said Gandara.
Survivors say they feel alone, like they are the only ones who have gone through these events. Listening to other survivors share their own intense stories helps the circle feel support and comfort.
“When you join a support group, you find out you are not alone and hearing other women share their positive changes, helps survivors remember they too are worthy of positive change,” said Gandara.
The women encourage each other, to be strong for their children, for themselves, to pursue school and never give up.
Some survivors explain school to be and has been a get away from abuse. Going home is difficult and hearing parents fight gets depressing. A woman says, she think it’s an Asian thing, a lot of her Asian friends have dysfunctional families too, she said.
An attendee laughs and comforts her by sharing that in her Mexican family, “Machismo”, the male ego also runs their home.
The men sit at the table and wait for everything to be served and handed to them, said an attendee.
All families have issues, cultural cycles and obstacles to overcome. The women share their challenges and through the healing process their mentalities begin to change as well.
The women speak of thoughts of anger and believing others have easier lives than them. Through the circle and sharing their experiences, they laugh at the overwhelming obstacles of life.
Attendees say it is difficult to see others on social media, living a “normal” life, getting married and having children. Gandara reassures the attendee’s everyone has a different journey and there are no deadlines in life. They too can get married, have kids, travel and accomplish their goals, Gandara said.
A survivor shares her positive change of being able to recognize a healthy relationship over an abusive relationship. There are always red flags, they are controlling and move too fast, she said.
Gandara had the women participate in an activity in which she put on soothing music, handed out paper, envelopes and colored pencils. Write a letter to your future self five years from now she said.
The women spent some time writing their letters. Some cried while writing and others decorated their envelopes when they finished.
“You can do anything you want with your letter, you can save it as a reminder, open it in five years, or share it with a loved one,” Gandara said.
She then asked them if they would like to share the emotions the letter made them feel.
It was exciting and a feeling of hope, said a survivor. The women saw light at the end of the tunnel through this letter.
They share tips, advice to cut toxic people out, and to use school as a distraction. Some women realized through the circle, that they would like to help other survivors. After finding their own healthy healing methods they feel the essential need to share.
A woman said her ex-boyfriend made her feel as though she was a sexual object, but because of the support she found in the Women’s Healing Circle she realized that was not love.
Each week the Circle focuses on different interpersonal relationship violence topics. They come alone seeking happiness and leave with motivation to heal.
Although some women speak of school and career goals, other solely seek healing, forgiveness and contentment. They want to feel “normal” again and move forward with their lives.
Attendees share a special bond at the meetings, some say good-bye, others exchange phone numbers, but most won’t forget the support they felt. Some survivors will return, some may bring friends along and others will continue to persevere on their journey of healing.
The Women’s Circle meets every Wednesday at noon in F5 209 or 213. ELAWC has an office on campus opened Monday through Friday and a 24-hour hotline (800)585-6231 for anyone in need of help.