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Irish Tour Day 3 – And my heart got fuller

Updated: May 9

Today I joined the very first women’s addiction service to train to deliver Own My Life! Coolmine Limerick offer residential and ongoing support for women in addiction.  Unlike some services, women are able to bring their children with them into Coolmine’s residential recovery services.   


I arrived at Coolmine’s offices and was greeted by lots of beautiful treats (including Own My Life CUPCAKES!) and the wonderful Aine O’Brien and others within the Coolmine team.  Alongside running Own My Life with brilliant results, Coolmine have also worked with us to develop supplementary course materials for women in addiction, which explore the ways a partner may have used drugs or alcohol as part of their abusive behaviour.

The event included around fifty people, including professionals from across Limerick and beyond, who were interested to learn more about Own My Life and about domestic abuse, there were also Own My Life facilitators from Coolmine and other organisations within the region and most importantly, there were Own My Life women who have attended, or are attending, Coolmine's Own My Life course.


With Kirsteen and Theresa, Own My Life facilitators

After being kindly introduced by Áine, I invited the audience to discuss what they understood abuse to be and why they thought someone would behave abusively to a partner.  After utilising the Own My Life “Biderman Behaviours” model to show how abusers control their partner, I addressed some of the myths about abusers.  For instance that he abuses because he is insecure, or because he has mental health issues, autism or had a bad childhood.  Given the event was taking place in an addiction service, I made it especially clear that alcohol and drugs do not cause abuse, and that sobriety will not cure abuse.  This is especially important for addiction services to understand when they are working with men; otherwise there is a real risk of colluding with abusers, affording much greater empathy to the abuser than that offered to or felt for his partner or children.  Explaining that an abuser’s behaviour is fundamentally advantageous to the abuser, I spoke about how abusive behaviour is rooted in an abuser’s beliefs of ownership and entitlement; he thinks he owns his partner and has the right to do what he wants to her.  It is in holding these beliefs, and demanding his partner adhere to his rules which is the problem.


The audience were then invited to ask me questions and one after another, women who had attended the course volunteered to tell the gathered group how Own My Life had enabled them to take back ownership of their lives.

The average teenager’s bedroom has at least a foot of clothes strewn all over the floor (my kids call it their floordrobe). An abuser keeps us so confused and messed up that our brain is a bit like a bedroom with a three foot deep floordrobe.  I explained to the group that Own My Life is a bit like giving women a wardrobe and some coat hangers. The facilitator helps her to sort through the clothes and work out how to organise them, “These are the trouser hangers…these are where the t-shirts can go…shall we pair up the socks?”  It’s wonderful that Own My Life is enabling women to make sense of their lives, with no further need to wade through mountains of emotional and psychological clothes, and it is the courage of women doing the work to hang up those clothes and make sense of their lives.  Each of us should get all the credit for doing the work to take ownership of our own lives.


A woman in the room raised her hand.  Her baby girl sat quietly in the pram next to her; a gentle little soul with huge eyes and soft curls.  This woman explained that she had attended Own My Life after a fourth relationship with an abusive partner.  She told us that she thought she knew everything there was to know about abuse until she attended Own My Life.  Through it she had learned so much, and told us how that knowledge had equipped her to avoid a fifth relationship with an abuser as she was able to recognise early red flags about him.  That was not all.  She said that due to the abuse perpetrated by her fourth abusive partner, her little girl had been place in foster care at a few days old. As a result of the work she had done with Own My Life (and the wider support from Coolmine), that little girl with the huge eyes would be permanently returned to her brilliant, brave and capable mother. 


My heart grew so much fuller.


After the event finished, I hugged her and her little one and tried my best to not fall about in a puddle of tears and joy.


With little time to catch my breath, I drove ninety minutes north west to Killarney in Country Kerry to spend the afternoon with Adapt Kerry, in their beautiful new building, Mary Potter House, which is in the process of becoming a Centre for Healing from Coercive Control. 


I was greeted by their brilliant manager Catherine Casey and Own My Life facilitators Catherine Gayson and Siobhán Coffey.  They have recently finished an Own My Life course for Irish Traveller women and so it was a privilege to meet with women who attended the course and some of the team from Kerry Travellers Health and Community Development Project who are excited to see how they can co-facilitate Own My Life in partnership with Adapt Kerry.  I was delighted to meet their Project Manager Brigid Quilligan and to learn from her and the other women present that there are forty Irish Traveller women registered to attend the next Own My Life courses in Killarney and that there are other Traveller organisations across the region and beyond who are keen to see Own My Life available for women within their communities.


After explaining some of how I came to write Own My Life, I showed the group our new Irish context Intersectionality video, which tells the story of Tommy, an Irish traveller whose family are deeply proud of him, and of Siobhán, a white Irish middle-class lesbian woman.  While I had worked with Irish organisations to develop the video, I was keen to learn from the women present about whether the video was meaningful for them.  After watching, the group agreed that it was a really positive resource for having helpful conversations about how we can be proud of who we are, while also recognising the ways that prejudice and discrimination can hurt us.


With Adapt Kerry women including Own My Life facilitators Siobhán and Catherine

We finished our time together discussing plans to see Irish Traveller facilitators trained up to deliver Own My Life locally and my heart grew even fuller as I learned of the ways attending Own My Life had made a difference to some of the women present. 


After a lovely dinner with Catherine Casey (and more pie crusted apple crumble), hearing all about the brilliant work they are doing across County Kerry, I settled down for a night in Killarney, with a heart full of love and hope, inspired by the precious women and little one I had met.

CLICK HERE to read an article in the Irish Independent about our visit to ADAPT Kerry.


 All the blogs from my Irish Tour:


·      Day 0 (Sunday) - Travel Travails

·      Day 1 (Monday) - Brilliant Women and My Trusty Trolley

·      Day 2 (Tuesday) - From Teenagers to Tipperary

·      Day 3 (Wednesday) - And My Heart Got Fuller

·      Day 4 (Thursday) - Women Are Not "Hard To Reach"

·      Day 5 (Friday) - Women Are Badass




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