At sounddelivery we work in partnership with charities that want to build and support networks of expert citizens- people with first hand experience of the social issue the organisation aim to address to give the support, skills and confidence to tell their stories and and get their voices heard in conversations that affect them. We’ve worked with VOICES of Stoke to put expert citizens at the centre of finding new approaches to supporting people who have multiple needs. At the heart of this work has been powerful storytelling.
In this guest blog Jo Cutts from Expert Citizens (part of the Voice of Stoke project ) talks about being a survivor of domestic violence and how she has started to tell her story to be a voice for those who don’t have one.
I am not a listener of The Archers on Radio 4, but the recent storyline which has put a spotlight on domestic violence has really made me reflect on my own experiences. The programmes have left me feeling emotional but the accuracy and authenticity in the portrayal of Helen’s experiences have been really important.
My name is Jo and I am a Volunteer with Expert Citizen in Stoke On Trent, which I have been doing for the last two years. Expert Citizens are a group of people who have lived experience of multiple needs (we define multiple needs as addiction, mental ill health, homelessness, offending behaviour, domestic abuse and poverty). We all have powerful stories to tell, which we use to be a voice for others. Story telling has helped me, as part of my recovery from an abusive relationship, to gain confidence and feel empowered as a person. These stories, I hope, will then empower others that are currently, or have been through similar situations to myself.
This is my story, about how I became an Expert Citizen, and how I became the person I am now.
“Happy Birthday Jo!”
It was my 41st birthday, Sunday 2nd March, 2014. I was ‘allowed’ to watch the film ‘Grease’ in the afternoon, as long as I didn’t sing along as he was sleeping. The film ended. I had been good enough as to not sing along the whole way through, but found myself quietly humming to the end credits impulsively. BANG! A punch hit me in the side of the face, “I told you, no singing!”, then another punch, followed by another. Not even my birthday stopped the beatings I’d been receiving for two and a half years, which were slowly getting more and more violent. I had become isolated, cut off from my family and friends, I was drinking more than I should have been, having anxiety and panic attacks quite severely, and I had tried to take my own life.
I’d become a shadow of my former self
I was drinking to block out the pain I was feeling, inside and out, but in the end alcohol only made me feel worse. I’d called the police before, on an occasion that I had fled, but they only seemed bothered about the fact I had been drinking, not that I was in a complete stranger’s flat hiding with my face busted up. This experience stopped me from calling them again for over ten months. I’d become a shadow of my former self, unrecognisable. I was a mobile hairdresser but because of my mental health, and the bruises I had all over me I would cancel appointments, resulting in a loss of vital income and adding to my isolation. I’d lost weight and could go days without leaving the house, I was trapped, alone and feared for my life. I didn’t know where to turn to.
“You’re not going back there”
After that beating I’d had enough so I called the police once again, this time it was two female officers. They took me away and said, “You’re not going back there, please let us take you somewhere safe.” I felt sick and ashamed. I’m going to have to come clean and tell my family truth, I thought, even though they already had an idea what was happening as they had asked me four months prior. I denied it. I sat in the back of the police car as one officer spoke to my mum, giving her an incident number and telling her to get me into a women’s refuge. With my head hung low in just a t-shirt and shorts, barefoot, I broke down and told them what I’d been through. They didn’t know what to do or say, but nor did I.
The next morning I had to go to the council to see about getting into a refuge. I’d borrowed clothes from my mum and I was having a panic attack. Not knowing what my future held I felt so scared, I even started to think it would be easier to go back to him. Thankfully I didn’t. I had to sit in a side room as I couldn’t handle being in the waiting room. The two nearest refuges were both full, so I was given the domestic violence helpline phone number and sent on my way. I called the helpline straight away, who called me back at 10pm that night, giving me a list of phone numbers for refuges in the midlands. I felt so exhausted and numb by this point, but I still could not sleep.
I felt like a child being abandoned alone
The following day I started to contact the refuges one by one. The first two were full, the third didn’t answer, but the last one I tried did, in Stoke On Trent. After a lot of questions and waiting around for call backs and various checks, they finally got back in touch at 4pm to say they would accommodate me, but I had to go there today. My Dad took me there, we arrived at 8pm. I had a few things, like towels, some food that my Mum had given to me along with a pair of pyjamas. I had no I.D, no personal things, I felt like a nobody and my Dad wasn’t allowed to come in with me. I felt like a child being abandoned alone, I was scared and didn’t know where I was.
I met some great friends who welcomed me with open arms
The next few weeks were hard, but I had help getting medication for my mental health issues and went to MIND for counselling. Slowly but surely I started to become my old self again, and six months later I started to volunteer with Expert Citizens. I met some great friends who welcomed me with open arms, I felt like I belonged. I started to feel like I had a purpose in my life, helping others.
Three months after that I got my own place again, and since then my life has gone from strength to strength. As well as volunteering as an Expert Citizen, I also give my time twice a week to cut hair at a local homeless hostel and travel the country telling my story at various events and conferences.
I hope that by sharing my story I have inspired and encouraged you to share yours. Do let me know.
Being the Story – Friday 16th September, Conway Hall, London
As part of our quest at sounddelivery to get people to understand the power and impact of first hand storytelling for their own organisations we’ve curated an event to give a platform to important storytellers. The Archer’s storyline was informed by the experiences of Mandy Thomas, who as a survivor ambassador for Women’s Aid campaigns for awareness and systems change around domestic abuse. She will be sharing her story at this event. Please do not feel the day will be all doom and gloom but powerful insights which will provoke ideas and stimulate conversations that will inspire charities and other organisations to think about how they tell their stories. We hope that many of you will join us
Being THE Story takes place on Friday 16th September 2016 in London. www.beingthestory.org.uk #BeingTheStory