At a Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) event in late October, some of my colleagues from other organizations noticed how tired I looked and began to commiserate. “DVAM is just so crazy every year,” and “I just can’t wait for November” statements were shared throughout the evening. I listened and laughed with them about all the educational materials living in the trunks of our cars and the late nights spent giving trainings while sneaking bites of pizza during pauses of conversation. But inside, something felt different. Because for us at REACH, this hasn’t just been the standard craziness of DVAM; it hasn’t just been another busy October. For my colleagues and I, the fall of 2014 has challenged us personally and professionally.
In late August, our team learned that two of our colleagues- two members of our REACH family- had received medical diagnoses that meant brain surgery for one and chemotherapy for another. Learning this news all at once was overwhelming, scary, and a whole range of other emotions. In concrete ways, we had to make plans to divide out work tasks, figure out how we could keep the organization going, our doors open, and our programs thriving. In more human and abstract terms, we had to process that two people we love and cherish were undergoing medical treatments that were physically and emotionally difficult; we wanted to make it better for them, to alleviate any pain that they or their families would experience.
In our work, we often use the term “Trauma-Informed.” We understand trauma as being a profound and meaningful loss of control over our life experience, and that is what some of us have been feeling. When we care about someone who is going through something challenging- like an illness or an abusive relationship-we feel this loss of control and we instinctively want to take control back. We want to fix the problem; we want to save and protect our loved one. The realization that we can’t- that feeling of powerlessness- can be overwhelming. We can offer rides and make meals and bring flowers, but it never feels like enough.
Throughout September and October, we accomplished an incredible amount of work. We responded to media requests and added our voice to a national conversation brought on by the NFL’s response to domestic violence. We met with survivors, ran support groups, and provided legal advocacy in court. We provided trainings for community members, ran educational workshops for youth, and hosted the 5th annual Waltham Neighborhoods Fall Festival, bringing together over 300 residents. We trained 15 new volunteers and staff, giving them legal status as domestic violence advocates in the state of Massachusetts. We wrote grants, posted blogs, and provided our Silent Witness Exhibit for dozens of organizations who used it to raise awareness all over the Commonwealth. We answered the phone and opened the door. We worked late nights, and we came in on Saturdays. We cried together, tears of frustration, overwhelm, and even tears of happiness; because throughout this challenging time, there was also much for which to be grateful. We celebrated the wedding of one of our colleagues. We hosted the largest fundraiser gala in REACH history and raised more money than ever before. We saw survivors move towards safety and independence, and we heard two survivor speakers share their stories with audiences for the very first time. We listened to the people who came to REACH for information and support, and we listened to each other. We worked harder and we worked longer and we may have accidentally referred to the office as “home” on more than one occasion. And we did it with our hearts and we did it for each other. We couldn’t take the medical diagnoses away, but we could show our beloved colleagues that we were there for them, so they could focus on their health and on their families. And each accomplishment we celebrated, and each challenge we faced, we did it with them and for them and we did it together.
Many of us at REACH are ready to put 2014 behind us and welcome in the hope of a new year. Halfway through November, I am still pretty exhausted and definitely fantasizing about the holiday break. But I also feel enormous gratitude and pride. I have never felt more proud to work for this organization and with this incredible group of women. Not every day is easy or glamorous, but every night I drive home from work filled with gratitude to do the most meaningful work with people who inspire me and make me laugh. I feel blessed to have been able to support my colleagues, my REACH family.
It has not been just another October, not for us. And there will probably never be an October like this one. At this time of saying “Thanks” I’d like to thank my colleagues for sharing their Octobers- every challenge, every frustration, every fear, and every (rare) moment of peace- with me. And a special thank you to everyone who has shown our team support over the past few months. Our work would not be possible were it not for the incredible kindness and generosity of our friends, families, and community.