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Group helped woman regain self-esteem and respect


COLLINGWOOD -- For seven years, it was all her fault.

But now that's she's been through the Education, Action and Support Group run through My Friend's House and New Path, Peggy -- not her real name -- has come to realize she was the victim of an abusive relationship.

"It started off as verbal (abuse), with putdowns, and gradually became physical," she said, sitting in the office of Karen MacFarlane, a partner abuse counsellor with New Path.

"Because I was constantly told that it was my fault, I truly believed it."

About 300 women have been through the program in its 15 years of existence. It's run about three times a year, with six-to-10 women in a group -- though when it started, MacFarlane and another counsellor were running two groups at the same time.

"Those groups were not offered back then, and a lot of people came forward," said MacFarlane. "People are more aware, and more willing to be aware of violence against women."

Another 12-week session is about to kick off next week -- and Peggy wants to get the message out to other women that support is out there.

In Peggy's case, it was a gradual process that eventually left her feeling isolated from friends and family. She had a job, but left because her husband didn't approve.

"When you're in (an abusive relationship), you're not seeing the whole picture even though you're living it," said Peggy. "You just keep hoping it will change.

One day, she told her doctor -- and he referred her to My Friend's House.

"The group really opened my eyes; I knew something was wrong, that it couldn't be my fault 100% of the time.

"The group was just so supportive and respecting," she said. "I was hesitant to join because this is a small town, and what if someone I know sees me."

However, those concerns slipped away after a couple of meetings, as the women in the group came to know one another -- and realize that in spite of differences in age, or whether or not they had children, they weren't alone.

"I had incredible growth, and gained courage," said Peggy. "It was empowering, and I was able to think clearly and realize that I have options.

"We laughed and we cried together, but we needed that sort of stuff. The group was very interactive, and I learned a lot from the other women."

The first couple of sessions are spent outlining the topics that will be covered -- though, according to MacFarlane -- those topics have rarely diverged from common themes that have emerged over the years.

"Over the last 15 years, it's the same issues," said MacFarlane. "Once you experience abuse by the one person who is supposed to care the most about you, it does something to your selfesteem.

"You become isolated and you lose that feeling about having a choice."

The sessions cover off how to cope, how to deal with the legal system--and the grief at the loss of the relationship.

Peggy is still in her relationship, though now, she's been empowered to seek help. She's been meeting with a lawyer and an accountant to try and plan out the next stage of her life.

"I'd like to get my stuff in a row before I make any decisions," she said. "But this has been about getting the knowledge and information so I can make those decisions.

"It's a lot to absorb, and I'm doing it carefully," she said. "I think of the women who haven't done this... when I stood at the front of the shelter, I realized there was no going back."

It's only recently that Peggy has found the strength to confide in a couple of close friends; however, she notes her mother is in denial about how she's been treated.

"He's lost a lot of power over me, and that was a big step -- getting my selfesteem and self-respect back."

The next group kicks off next week. For more information, call 705-446- 1120.

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