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IT'S NOT OK
By Emma Hulme
As a team we are regularly asking staff to think about how we tell WoW’s story. How we share what we do, who we work with and who ‘we’ are. Mike, one of our Co-Directors, told me when I first joined WoW that writing is active; it’s doing something, being involved and that thought has always stuck with me when I talk about our work. Writing is turning up, committing, and creating change on the page.
In a moment of mass pause I’ve found myself avoiding writing, too afraid all my emotions and worries will be realised as soon as the words hit the page. That for once I might actually have to stop and feel.
I’m a talker you see and I often mistake that as me working through my emotions when, actually, it can be a technique to distract me from what’s going on beneath the surface. A show. A way of telling everyone else that I know how I feel instead of actually feeling it. I always try to rule with my head regarding my trauma instead of my heart.
It’s Not Ok is a 12-week creative writing course that works alongside women who have experience of domestic abuse. The project is part of our What’s Your Story? (WYS) programme that employs a groupwork methodology to help communities come together, share, write and publish their work. We have been doing projects like this for over a decade and our new online writing centre The Writer’s Bloc has allowed us to deliver three new WYS projects, It’s Not Ok, Time to Breathe and Write Minds. Our group meet online weekly, for writing sessions led by scriptwriter Margy McShane. At the end of these 12-weeks WoW will publish an anthology of the work and the book will be on sale for the general public.
I have been in my job for nearly five years now. I’ve worked on at least twenty WYS projects, each always critically important and deeply moving. These projects are the coming together of individuals with shared life experience and often trauma. It’s the uncovering of new creative tools that helps us express ourselves, communicate our histories and, perhaps most important, our hopes. But the key to all of this really is the group. The magic lies in the sharing and listening. In finding common ground, celebrating difference and the reaching out to support someone that means the group moves forward together.
This project was different for me, I had that shared experience here.
Within two weeks it was obvious what a special group we were working with and how vitally important it was in this moment of enforced stillness. Many of us sat alone, forced inside with a real threat to our physical being right outside our very windows. But what was inside the confines of our homes could potentially be worse. I don’t know if any of the group are living with an abusive partner, that’s their decision to share and not my place to intrude, but what I do know is that lockdown forced us to revisit our trauma. Some of us had brand new realisations, often like a freight train screaming past in the middle of the night. Some of us where forced to confront our fear of being alone, maybe we learnt to trust ourselves a little more, practice self-care (which isn’t always pretty) but our common ground was that we were all feeling. Sometimes so intensely we couldn’t make sense of it.
A dear friend of mine always tried to coax me to shut myself inside, close the curtains and feel everything. Really go through it. ‘Unlatch the defences and get to know this new version of you.’
I kept going because that is what we do, isn’t it? We just keep going. But then the world stopped and we couldn’t escape the stillness any longer.
I work for a writing charity. I know writing is important, I see it in action every single day but somehow, I couldn’t force myself to make it a routine. I refuse to do hard things even if they are good for me, because I’m still not sure that’s what I deserve. One of several lightbulb moments endorsed by lockdown.
The group are present. They are lively, vivacious women who are learning to love themselves. To look inward and celebrate every last inch. I found that committing to this group was hard. Don’t get me wrong it was SO easy in many ways. It’s two hours a week, working with a master like Margy, alongside other like-minded women cheering each other on, it’s easy! But what I mean is actually committing to writing, exploring, being creative and looking inward was hard. And we must do hard things in life. Especially when it comes to feeling.
In the group we’re all on different parts of our journey and it’s been truly inspiring to watch. The group writes and shares every week and session after session they turned up. Homework done. Hard work done. And the epiphanies kept coming. Some days it was ‘I thought I’d dealt with that but actually I’d just buried it’ for others it was ‘Look how strong I am, I did that’ and then back to ‘I’m tired. This is difficult.’
And how the writing improved. As we felt, we wrote. We made sense of ourselves, our worlds and we found our voices. When we didn’t commit to the writing for a week, we knew and we helped each other. Turning up can be hard too. And we do hard things together.
I’m not sure where the book will take us. Blue sky thinking wants national publicity and audiences across the country to really hear our stories. The work is more than worthy of this. What I do know though is someone somewhere will read it and see their experiences unfolding in front of them. Resonance will beat in their chest and they’ll know in that moment they are not alone. That their truth is real and we see them.
Most importantly I know what this course was for the group. That even in the smallest of transformations, we felt. That great power lies in our vulnerability. We are courageous beings. That we allowed ourselves the space, time and breath to feel.
Simply by writing.
Listen here to a piece by Cheryl Cain "Earn My Love"
Earn My Love
To whom it may concern
You really ought to know
I won’t hand it on a plate
This will be a bumpy road
I won’t try to understand you
I won’t heal your broken heart
I won’t tell you all my secrets
Or share my broken parts
I won’t let you make me feel bad
I won’t let you take control
I won’t let you isolate me
You won’t make me feel alone
I will never change to please you
I won’t worry if we clash
I will stand true to my boundaries
To the ground they’ll never crash
If I like you I won’t invest yet
My empathy will be on ice
My judgement will be reserved
It never pays to be too nice
As we chat I will observe you
Be aware of every move
Look out for red flags flying
Reject you if I choose
I won’t offer you an apology
It’s just the way it is
I made a pinkie promise to me
I sealed it with a kiss
I demand that you are worthy
I insist that you are whole
I must know that you respect my freedom
My passions, my loves, my goals
To know me is a privilege
To earn my trust a prize
To be part of my world
Patience would be wise
I’m looking for an equal
A man who is complete
To stand side by side together
With ease adversity defeat
Is that too tall an order?
Perhaps you don’t exist
But of one thing I’m certain
I won’t take second best
If I cannot find you
I’d rather fly alone
I’ve left the cage behind, you see
My wings have spread and grown
Ifyou find the courage
Ifyou’re strong enough
Come find me in the autumn skies
Embrace my hard-earned love