The handbags were beautiful. All different colours, styles and sizes, sitting on the table as we came into the room.
Each week when we entered the room of the women’s Building Resilience group counselling session, there was soft relaxing light and friendly welcomes from the counsellors as we started by making a cuppa.
On the table there would be an assortment of a few dozen picture cards of different images. We would select a card that represented how we felt when we walked in. In the group, we would explain why we had chosen that card. Then we would share something we had done to care for ourselves in the past week since we had last met.
This day was different.
The counsellors explained that the bags had been donated and prepared for women who had left domestic violence. They were full of toiletries, and we were welcome to choose whichever one we liked.
I almost stopped breathing.
I knew this charity. I had many friends who would have prepared and donated handbags. I was now this woman who was receiving a handbag.
If I used the bag, I wondered, would someone I knew recognise the bag they had donated?
The handbags were so beautiful and expensive-looking, I almost
couldn’t believe that we could just take any one we liked. I picked a bright pink cheery one that was a good size.
When I brought it home, I unpacked the items on my kitchen table. Shampoo and conditioner, toothbrush and paste, combs, soap, deodorant, sanitary napkins, and lip balm…
The hardest part of seeing all of these thoughtful and generous donations on my kitchen table? I really needed them.
I was trying to cover up what had really happened so that my children could still have a good childhood.
I had some casual work, was studying, and now renting a townhouse I could hardly afford close to their school. And I was broke, struggling to buy food. I laid everything out on the table and took a photo.
I needed to remember this – that I had become the woman who needed this handbag.
Once a week I met with the father of my children, who I still loved and had spent decades trying to love so much that he would treat me better.
Each time we met at a coffee shop in a busy public place, I now took the handbag with me. He didn’t know where it came from, but I needed that bag with me.
In moments when he was generous and loving, reminding me of everything that had been good in our relationship, the handbag would remind me of the reality of my situation and to be extremely cautious.
The handbag also reminded me in those coffee shops over the next year, that although I needed to be aware of my safety and my situation was challenging, I also had so much to be thankful for.
I was now living in a safe home where I was not frightened. I could sleep at nights. I was no longer in physical pain.
I didn’t know how my life would improve, but I knew that I was now free and could, with time, work out how to live a better life.
Four years later, that handbag is worn and old looking. My life is good now, and although I still have challenges I have to work through, I no longer need the reminders it provided.
I will never know the person who gave me that handbag. But it represents many special people who helped me along my journey to build a new life. It was only when I stopped hiding what was happening and told people that they could actually help me.
That handbag was so thoughtfully donated to help provide items I really needed. But it also gave me something very special. It reminded me to keep being brave, and that I could be strong. And most importantly, to ask for help.
There are many caring people who will help if they know you need it.
Blogging STARS program
This Blog is a part of the Broken to Brilliant Blogging STARS self-care program, which supports domestic violence survivors to practise the self-care strategies of Sleep, Tapping, Activity, Regulation and Support, (STARS). As they practise the strategies, they blog about it. You can read their survivor STARS Blogs: