Women Healing Women – why vulnerable women need specialist services

5th February 2020, words by Lisa Newman

When I arrived in Bristol after having run away from an abusive relationship, I had a drug habit to feed, I had nowhere to live and I was losing my mind.  Not just in the everyday sense – I was completely out of touch from reality.  My Bipolar was rapid cycling through the roof and I was riddled with shame.  Shame I felt as a result of being told I was useless and that I was lucky to have had “him” who could look after me.

In some twisted sense, he probably protected me from harms that would have come from dealers taking over my house (which they had done) and dangerous situations I put myself in on a daily basis.  But by the time I managed to get away from him, I had blisters and burns over my hands and was hobbling due to him smashing my knee in the door as I tried to let myself back into my house.  I still felt embarrassed about reaching out to emergency services in Bristol as I didn’t feel worthy or ‘bad enough’.  I compared myself to friends that got beaten and hospitalised.  But inside I felt like a broken mess.

Reading Gender Matters – the new report makes the case for specific services for women facing life’s toughest challenges. The number of women who experience domestic abuse alongside mental ill-health is really worrying. I don’t like to think in numbers – we aren’t numbers – but more than one million adults, mostly women, have been found in this academic report to experience a mix of domestic violence and abuse AND mental ill-health. This is not OK.

Turning back to me,

when I arrived in Bristol with nowhere to go wasn’t the first time my life was in a state of emergency.  This was my ‘normal’.  I was used to chaos and uncertainty.  This time though I was extra broken and was just about giving up.  Once again, I was being sent from pillar to post having to get all the documents, sitting through hours of triage questions about my whole life.  I can’t even begin to explain just how traumatic that experience is – we are asked about our childhood, relationships in our lives, mental health diagnosis, hospital admissions, physical injuries and illnesses, prison and criminal behaviour, history of our addiction, then we are asked to measure from 1-10 how we feel.


I would feel ruined and somehow violated that these questions were being asked so matter of fact when the very act of having to talk about them would make me just want to give up on life there and then.

Thankfully after a rapid response team picked me up off the streets many months later, I was given a support worker, Jude, who got me into a women’s only hostel, she supported me to get stable on my methadone, into detox and eventually rehab.  I won the jackpot when I was placed in The Nelson Trust – the ONLY women’s only treatment which was a trauma-informed therapeutic community.  I had no understanding of what “trauma’ really meant. I certainly didn’t classify myself to have suffered from Trauma.  I thought that word was associated with war veterans or people who have grown up with horrendous upbringings.  I had been given a ‘privileged’ start in life.  I soon learnt that trauma comes in many forms as the reason why I kept in the cycle of destruction.

I got to learn all this while I went through treatment in Nelson Trust. We did courses that were gender-specific, delivered by women – many of whom had walked my path and found a way out.  Permanently.  Not just for a few months.  They taught me that true freedom from my dark past WAS possible.  We did courses from Stephanie Covington – Helping Women Recover, Beyond Anger and Violence, Patten Changing (which looks at destructive relationships), to name a few. I was given EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing psychotherapy) for my PTSD, had proper mental health support, I was given tools to empower me and lift me up from my shame and past and I learnt resilience and how to manage my everyday emotions.  All this alongside a timetable to creative courses and workshops which I now know helped me to understand and express my emotions and inner world.

I now work for Nelson Trust in their Communications department and business development.  It matters to me about how services are delivered and how important lived experience voice is to shape these services.

It’s so important that those in charge of commissioning and shaping services understand that a gendered approach does matter. If you’re a woman hobbling through life, misshapen by abusive relationships with men, hurting psychologically from mental health problems, where drugs and precarious housing are your norm, what you need is other women around – as trained staff and in the healing community. Gender Matters isn’t the first to say this, I hope they will be the last. It’s time that policymakers see women-specific services are the best way to tackle the specific challenges faced by women like me.

Maybe it wouldn’t have taken me nearly 30 years of bouncing in and out of mixed-sex community services with unrealistic expectations.  Maybe if I’d had the right kind of support I wouldn’t have almost lost my leg twice, wouldn’t have overdosed (deliberate and accidental) wouldn’t have served 18 months in prison, not continued in abusive relationships, been eaten away by guilt for the hurt to my family and those who tried to help along the way. Need I go on? Trauma work for women is essential – we need to be looking more at the wound and not the problem.

About the Author:

Lisa Newman is a communications officer for Nelson Trust Hub Enterprises.  She loves nature, her dog, yoga, cooking, travelling and is passionate about empowering women.



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