Disability Network offers Women’s Support Group, DAWN.
Sometimes members laugh, sometimes they cry, sometimes they drink tea.
Each meeting serves a purpose for helping the retired trauma nurse cope with her post-traumatic stress disorder.
Hughson is a regular at Disabilities and Women North, a support group the Disability Network of Northern Michigan launched in January for women with visible and invisible disabilities. Monthly meetings from 1-2:30 p.m. range from tea parties to tae kwon do lessons.
Sometimes they’re simply a chance for Hughson to socialize when she’s feeling lonely.
“I’ve actually been able to meet new friends,” she said. “That’s all I can ask for.”
Other times they serve as an outlet to discuss darker parts of her past, including experiences as a trauma nurse and with domestic abuse incidents that can trigger her PTSD.
She and other DAWN members take to the group as a safe place to voice their past and present disability struggles in confidence.
“Women with disabilities are more vulnerable to both physical and emotional abuse,” said Demarie Jones, founder of Disabilities and Women North. “It was kind of our way to reach out to some of the women experiencing a less than perfect home life.”
That took on a new meaning when Jones learned many of the women at her first group meeting were or had been homeless.
“I was not prepared to deal with the number of homeless women with disabilities,” she said. “It shocked me.”
It was hardly a surprise to Hughson, who said she was homeless years ago after post-traumatic stress drove her to retire early from nursing.
“I couldn’t handle what was happening and I was falling fast,” she said.
The Disability Network became her sanctuary, and she volunteered there to keep busy. Hughson said she’s found similar solace in her newfound DAWN support system over the last few months.
“It helps when you’re sharing those feelings with the group to have another woman speak up and say they know how you feel,” she said.
Jones said she strives to create the type of atmosphere where the women could relate to one another and bond over their hardships.
“We’re not really set up to be a counseling service, so we thought a peer-to-peer group would be a better way for the women to talk about their lives,” she said. “It’s a pretty open forum.”