Above & Beyond Adds Women’s Trauma Group to Provide Safe, Supportive Healing Space
Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center has continued to grow its program by offering new therapy groups based on its clients’ needs. For women seeking help for substance use issues, many of their addiction behaviors developed as coping skills to block out trauma as a result of domestic violence.
As they struggled to work through these issues in Above and Beyond’s trauma program, it became apparent their unique situations made it hard to be open and vulnerable in a co-ed environment. The women’s trauma group was formed to give them a safe space to share the different-yet-similar experiences that brought them to use substances to block out their pain.
Melissa Hernandez, 39, is now serving as Above and Beyond’s Director of Outreach, but led these trauma groups when they first started. The women’s trauma group meets Wednesdays for one to two hours and anywhere from 15-20 women may attend at one time. About 95% of the group is Black or Hispanic. Topics addressed include
- Physical Abuse
- Psychological abuse
- Financial abuse
- Fear from stalking
“I encourage them to communicate from the heart when talking about the situation. I identified it as a healing group,” Hernandez said. “Growing up, a lot of women were hard on others and called them stupid for not leaving. The group’s main focus is changing the narrative of women supporting women, instead of shaming them; this isn’t common in the Black or Brown communities.
“Even if their experience was different, even showing empathy is uplifting. It is beautiful to see women connect in breaking the cycle, and they are grateful, and it is healing. It helps them grow in recovery from alcohol or drug dependency.”
Hernandez is uniquely qualified with her training in crisis intervention and a survivor herself of both domestic violence and sex trafficking. In her nine months at Above and Beyond, she said she has seen a handful of active situations that required immediate attention or to have a safety plan in place.
Breaking the Cycle of Domestic Violence
Domestic violence (DV) is a disturbing scene when a person in a family hurts another physically or emotionally. Domestic violence can take many forms: a parent harming a young child, a grown son hurting his mother, a father beating his teen daughter, or a woman saying intentionally hurtful words to her husband.
According to the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV), there are multiple ways to experience abuse:
- Physical Abuse
- Verbal Abuse
- Controlling Behavior
- Sexual Abuse
- Emotional Abuse
- Financial/Economic Abuse
Intimate Partner Violence Has Many Roots
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a form of DV where one sexually or emotionally intimate partner harms the other through physical beatings, implied threat of violent behavior, or yelling or whispering threats or painful words.
The “why” behind IPV has long been interpreted in many ways and has often been seen as power and control by some and by others as learned behavior and by yet others as related to rage issues.
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) points to four main levels of links that contribute to IPV behavior based on
- Individual personalities involved
- Relationship dynamics
- Community environment in which individuals reside
- Expectations and examples of their society or culture
Human Development and Family Studies Professor Jennifer Hardesty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was interviewed by the Illinois News Bureau in May 2020 on her interpretation of existing research related to risk factors for IPV.
“Generally speaking...studies indicate some consistent factors that elevate women’s risks, including social norms that condone violence, discourage intervening and support women’s subordination relative to men; rigid gender norms and harmful beliefs about masculinity; women’s economic dependence and lack of access to resources; childhood trauma/exposure to IPV; and gender inequity at the relationship, community, and social levels.”
In a personal interview with Above and Beyond, Vickie Smith, the ICADV President and COO, said systems that support IPV behavior need to change before individuals might change.
“Right now, it puts it on the individual, but you have to look at the systems that were created and allowed it, such as schools, the medical field, and the judicial system.”
Survivors of IPV have had emotional and/or physical trauma inflicted upon them, and for many people, it affects them long after in various ways:
- Emotionally, they may endure shame, anger, fear, self-loathing, worthlessness, and/or loneliness.
- Physically, they can develop or elevate existing health conditions such as asthma, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, and difficulty sleeping.
If trauma is not addressed, there is an increased risk of turning to substance use to cope and potentially developing an alcohol or drug use disorder.
Realities of Intimate Partner Violence
The list of sad stories goes deep, as 20 people per minute across the country are victims of physical domestic violence.
Psychological abuse is another form in which a partner uses emotional abuse or financial access restrictions as isolation tactics.
Two factors stand out when substance use is involved:
- Either substances like alcohol or drugs are being offered in an attempt to gain control of the intimate partner
- Or the substance use of either party is the abuser’s excuse to condone the intimate partner violence
Substance Use ‘Excuses’ Intimate Partner Violence
Domestic violence survivors share many similarities and some differences, but substance use was found to co-occur during 40-60% of IPV events. Physical violence was 11 times more likely in both parties, according to the American Society of Addiction Medication.
Substance use can cause a person to lash out in anger— physically or emotionally — and impact their decision-making skills, often resulting in making poor decisions.
If a partner witnesses those poor decisions and is under the influence as well, it is like fire on a windy day, with their anger growing out of control and displayed with rage. If the partner is not under the influence of a substance, they may act righteously afterward and make the victim feel they deserved the punishment for drinking or using drugs and making poor choices.
The regret afterward is often at the heart of the abuse cycle of the abuser asking for forgiveness, perhaps with an extravagant gift, the first time. The behavior continues and becomes a learned pattern for both the abuser and abused.
Substance Use Coercion Used To Gain Power and Control
Substance use coercion is a premeditated process, according to the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health. It released a series on the topic for advocates and mental health and substance use treatment providers in 2020.
Statistics for IPV
Treating DV and IPV has moved from being considered a private matter and encouraging a “cooling off” period in the 1970s to now being considered serious, life-threatening, and charged as a criminal offense.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADM)
- One in three women has been a victim of some type of physical violence (shoving, pushing, etc.).
- One in seven women suffered an injury due to IPV.
- One in 10 women has been raped by their partner.
- One in four women has been severely physically abused (strangulation, burning, beating).
- One in seven women has been stalked by a partner to the point they feared for their life.
- IPV accounts for 15% of violent crime.
- One in four victims of IPV identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ/National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs).
- Nationally, about 33% of women experience sexual abuse in their lifetime, and 25% experience physical violence. Nearly half of all men and women experience psychological aggression.
- According to statewide statistics in Illinois
- The ICADV estimates one in three women and one in seven men experience domestic violence every year in Illinois.
- The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey reports 41.5% of adult Illinois women report being physically abused.
- According to statistics from the city of Chicago
- Locally, there were 5,046 cases of lesbian, gay, and transgender (LGBT) related domestic violence in a national nine-region area including Chicago.
Struggles To Find Domestic Violence and Substance Use Disorder Help
Women at Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center seeking treatment for substance use have been referred to outside agencies if they need immediate assistance with domestic violence.
As she mentioned earlier, Melissa Hernandez has seen several cases where such help has been needed. In her role as Director of Outreach, she vets outside agencies to which Above and Beyond refers. A full list of domestic violence shelter referral partners is available at the end of this article.
Supporting Women in Breaking Through Barriers for Help
Many people with substance use disorders struggle when seeking help with treatment. When considering men and women though, women often have additional challenges and worries.
Children are a big part of the picture and if the woman is pregnant, she may worry about her living children or an unborn child. If treatment were possible, lack of childcare is often at the forefront. Fear of losing custody is right alongside.
Fear of public stigma due to maternal shame can be paralyzing to someone who knows they need treatment but don’t feel their situation makes it possible. Lacking family support to lean on temporarily for home care, childcare, and possible loss of work income — all of these factors pile on their load of worries.
A large part of domestic abuse is rooted in control. Seeking a partner’s approval to get treatment may be difficult under these circumstances as the abusing partner may worry:
- personal secrets will be shared regarding abuse.
- their control will weaken with outside interference, even though they continuously rage on the woman for her substance use.
- the woman will no longer tolerate abuse and may leave with the children.
Lasting Effects on Mental and Physical Health
Simply getting out of a relationship doesn’t solve all the problems that occurred before and during the relationship. Victims are at higher risk of developing an addiction to tobacco, drugs, or alcohol, and their mental health is more likely to be affected by depression, thoughts of suicide, and post-traumatic stress disorder due to prolonged exposure to stress.
After being victimized, readjusting to a new normal can be challenging. If a new living arrangement is needed, it may take a while to feel comfortable in a different environment. Developing new relationships or re-establishing family ties may take time, as would returning to school.Without receiving counseling and treatment, devastation can be lifelong and even affect the next generation in the family
Above and Beyond Assesses for Substance Use Before Addressing Domestic Violence
American Society of Addiction Medicine assessment guidelines are the driving force behind Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center’s intake process. They assess for a history of exposure to violence and trauma, ask if they feel safe and heard during arguments, but not specifically calling out domestic violence.
Counselors do rely heavily upon this evaluation to further explore trauma history or need for mental health treatment, according to Intake Specialist Alicia Gattis, who also serves as an art therapist and lead counselor.
Above and Beyond also provides housing services for the homeless population. That assessment does specifically address domestic violence situations and assists with housing for those seeking to separate from an abusive partner.
Gattis said Above and Beyond works with Housing Alternative Systems (HAS), which also provides substance treatment, but in addition, has programs for counseling services for families who are in need.
“We can’t do everything. We do a lot trying to have as many purposes met on-site or have a referral, so everybody can walk out with something to assist them. Organizations have different specialties and combined, we can all refer to each other.”
Marisela Gomez is a counselor at HAS and says her organization shares a common goal to be accessible and offer services for a diverse population.
“I think it matters on having accessibility and being open and having multiple locations, so the word can be spread and raise awareness for the neighborhood. People can call the main office for a screening. We offer individual and group counseling to educate survivors on domestic violence and offer advocacy when needed.”
“We actively screen for domestic violence for both men and women and work closely with HAS to handle issues,” Gattis said. “We do have people that come into the program together, and it turns out the situation isn’t the best, and we make sure they are both safe. Those who meet those needs are referred to seven shelter partners who have either emergency housing for the women and children, if any are involved, or supportive housing options.”
If the couple is prone to arguments, but both feel safe and want to get help for substance use, Gattis said a marriage counselor may be an appropriate resource.
When asked whether to treat the substance use disorder that may have initially prompted the visit or the IPV situation they may disclose, Gattis emphasizes safety is the first issue to be addressed before anything else.
“What we find a lot of times is that they kind of develop around the same time. Someone may have left home and got into drugs and connected with someone in that world, and it goes downhill. They go hand in hand.”
Gattis said Above and Beyond staff will sit with the person if they need to make a call to the domestic violence hotline to show support and comfort.
“It’s hard for us to be hands-on because they need to be secretive for a reason. We offer flyers throughout the building with the number ready to be torn off by someone that may need it. The helpline is the expert and knows exactly what to do and where to have them go,” Gattis said.
Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center is open to all people — especially the homeless and underserved in the community — seeking substance use treatment, housing, and job leads.
If you have been experiencing domestic violence, but do not feel you are in imminent harm, you can call the recovery center to learn about our substance use counseling services and receive more information during intake. Call us at (773) 940-2960 or walk right in Mondays through Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 2942 W. Lake St., Chicago, Illinois.If you can contribute a charitable donation to assist with the no-cost services Above and Beyond offers its many homeless and poverty-stricken clients, visit our donor page. For all ways to contribute time, materials, and services, visit https://anb.today/get-involved/.
Above and Beyond’s Domestic Violence Shelter Referral Partners
- Primo Center for Women and Children (supportive housing and services) https://www.primocenter.org/
- Neopolitan Lighthouse Garfield Park/Humboldt Park (shelter for individuals experiencing domestic violence) http://neopolitanlighthouse.org/
- Apna Ghar (shelter for individuals experiencing domestic violence) http://www.apnaghar.org
- Rosenthal Family Lodge (shelter for individuals experiencing domestic violence) https://familyrescueinc.org/programs-services/rosenthal-family-lodge-program/
- Connections for Abused Women and their Children (shelter for individuals experiencing domestic violence https://www.cawc.org/
- Deborah’s Place (not emergency shelter, only supportive housing) https://www.deborahsplace.org/
- Heartland Alliance (not emergency shelter, only supportive housing) https://www.heartlandalliance.org/