By Survivor, M., member of the Survivor Speakers Bureau
Domestic violence awareness month (DVAM) is here. For me domestic violence looks like a marriage of 20 years. I am a member of the REACH Survivor Speakers Bureau. For me, this month also includes speaking engagements arranged by REACH staff. It is a chance to share my story, to be believed and to be heard. I am always grateful for these experiences. Grateful for people I don’t know personally but through their involvement with REACH I know that they care. I never take that for granted. REACH is a community; it is my community.
I had the opportunity to talk to some of you at the REACH for the Stars gala this year. We made friendly chit chat in the ladies room and in the garage waiting for cars to be delivered from valet services. I wanted to tell you how very, very thankful I am to you for supporting REACH- for supporting me and my children when we had no one else. I didn’t want to appear crazy so I just smiled a little extra at you. The work that went into the gala humbles me. Everyone who works at REACH devoted so much time and effort into making it a fun and successful night. I saw it firsthand. When my fellow survivor speakers and I arrived that night we were greeted with personalized handwritten notes and an exquisite piece of jewelry made just for us by a local artist. I struggle to feel worthy of such kindness. As I relaxed and enjoyed the evening, I watched REACH staff making sure our survivor group felt comfortable and welcome. I saw them miss dinner to be there for everyone else. I guess you could say that it’s their job. But you can’t pay someone to care and have the commitment I witnessed that night and in all my experiences with REACH staff. It is apparent to me every time I walk through the door. Everyone at REACH sees me. And I want you to know you are seen too.
I want you to know how thankful I am for your presence in my life. Your support of REACH has meant so much to me. It has meant my kids had a thanksgiving and birthday gifts while in shelter. I am getting “back on my feet” and I depend less on REACH for these meaningful but material things. I know though, sadly, there are many women and children who still need them. I see them in my REACH support groups. My heart breaks for them. My greatest wish is that I offer them light and hope. And a sense that they are not alone. I offer these gifts because they have been given to me when I desperately needed them. Even if we haven’t been formally introduced, I want you to know that what I continue to receive from you and REACH is a common purpose and a community.
And it is a warm & welcoming community. There was a time when I would call my REACH advocate to safety plan or to ask for a gift card to buy food for myself and my children. I have worked hard to dig myself out from that dark place. Now I have more good days than bad days. And REACH is still in my life and by my side to share the good days. REACH was my first call when my daughter was accepted into college last year! REACH rejoices in the good times with me because they have been there in the hard days. And it’s not just me. I see it in my support group. I see survivors who have made it through the hard times like me doing our best to support other survivors who are maybe just beginning this journey and everything in between. For a lot of us REACH is the first place we felt valued and respected. When I began to have a sense of my own self-worth, my world opened up. I was able to lead my children into safety and a life free of fear. We are healing and growing in ways I never dreamed of. So I am not exaggerating when I tell you how grateful I am to everyone in the REACH community. Your help made it possible for me to save myself and my children from a life of violence. And I am proud to stand with you. I share my joys with you and I use my experiences to help others. I know it’s not easy. But we are in this together.