In a few days time, on September 13th, I will be breaking new ground, swapping the relative safety and anonymity of my keyboard for face-to-face interaction with survivors in a self-help group I helped define under the auspices of Bedford charity, ACCM UK – an unforeseen consequence of the publication of my book, Fractured: Memories of a Survivor (Volume I).
A friend read an advance copy last December and invited me to join his new self-help group for people 'wanting to overcome any form of limitation,' a kind of personal development group located at the offices of ACCM UK, an organisation providing health and wellbeing services to vulnerable and minority groups.
“Why me?” I enquired, puzzled.
“I want someone who can help make it work,” he replied in a mild-mannered tone, partially obscured behind a prickly undergrowth fringed with frazzled silver-streaked wisps, giving him more than a passing resemblance to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings wizard, Gandalf. “It's the fact that you've written Fractured and are planning a sequel. You're a good listener; you seem to understand.”
I attended a few sessions, saw the group find its feet, bond and grow, and it wasn't long before Gandalf – aka Richard, suggested I run a group of my own for people with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress disorder (CPTSD) if the charity would agree to it, and he felt sure they would.
“I thought that having come through your own trauma, you might be a good person to guide others,” he said, when I asked him what gave him the idea. “You could be an inspiration, help people see there's a way out.”
A CPTSD self-help group
Richard's unwavering belief and confidence in my abilities struck through self-doubt, and I soon realised that this was something I passionately wanted to do. Running a survivor’s support group aligned with a long held idea that there must be a higher purpose to my years of turmoil and bewildering emotional/physical malfunctioning (known as 'dysregulation'); that my life's purpose extended beyond self-healing, the gut-wrenching marathon maze I'd traveled towards achieving a sense of embodied wholeness, and freeing myself from entrenched adrenalisation. I had already put my name to Complex PTSD through the book; that was where my 'expertise' was written in black and white, in Debs' story. Through this and my role in supporting Richard's group, I had acquired a vague authority to start a group of my own.
By now, the charity had got to know me a little, seen me interacting with people reporting a range of mental health issues, and become familiar with some of my ideas on psychological wounding gleaned from a combination of experience, observation and study. We received a positive response from the management who asked me to send them a list of objectives and outline what I hoped to achieve with the new group.
Hopes for the Hub
In a document entitled Building Resilience After Trauma I set out my goals. Creating a gentle, relaxed environment in which people identifying with symptoms of Complex PTSD, the legacy of childhood abuse and neglect, could congregate and feel safe, would be a priority. The group, to be called: The Survivors Hub, needed to be a place where adults of all ages could express their feelings and feel validated and supported. It should lift them up, help them release negative self-concepts and beliefs, provide explanations for symptoms, and offer coping skills and healing tools – simple things they could do at home. There would be absolutely no pressure to speak, in recognition of the social anxiety that is so prevalent among survivors, especially those stuck in the freeze and dissociative responses to constant danger, the most numbed out and disconnected strand of the four survival strategies (the 4F's - Flight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn).
For those who feel misunderstood and abandoned, or who have opted out of the National Health Service (NHS) system, the group could provide a longed for sense of community, a feeling that there are real people out there who care. A tightly knit group meeting face-to-face on a regular basis could provide a buffer when challenges feel insurmountable, brainstorm perspectives on seemingly impossible problems. Successes – big and small - can be acknowledged and celebrated, building a ladder of positive feelings, helping to deconstruct the negative pathways so often ingrained in people with Complex PTSD. When the Hub closes its doors, members will be able to continue their recovery, sharing their experiences – some of which may be too painful or triggering to verbalize - in anonymity with other survivors, accessing research and guidance, on the carefully moderated OOTS online forum, available 24/7.
None of us are doctors or medical professionals, and we don't claim to be. With the exception of ACCM's experienced facilitator, Sat Paul, who will be at my side, our expertise derives from our own lived experiences of managing and recovering from complex trauma. I hope the group will be able to fill gaps for people in therapy, offer back-up after particularly tough or painful sessions, provide a safe harbour for those on NHS waiting lists, and be a net for people failed by the system, whatever form that may take. The Survivors Hub is for anyone embarking on a journey of recovery with the ability to listen without judgement and the desire to learn and move on with their lives. In time, and with the right backing, there is a chance for the group to play a wider advocacy role, raising awareness of Complex PTSD and helping to break the silence, shame and stigma surrounding child abuse. The potential is there; now it is up to us to make the group a success.
For further information contact ACCM UK on tel: (01234) 356 910, www.accmuk.com
About the author - Anna L. Bragga is the author of Fractured: Memories of a Survivor (Volume I), a coming of age novella available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon. She has a BA (Hons) First Class in Marketing Management and Business Administration & Management from Oxford Brookes University, and a PG Cert. in Journalism Studies from the University of Westminster. In 2010 she founded Conscience Media and now offers integrated PR, graphic design and film making services. For more information see her website: www.consciencemedia.co.uk. You can also find Anna on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Illustrations by Stephen J. Browne.