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Poetry and art help woman emerge from abuse and illness

by Dierdre Jacobson

While Cheery Arquero’s faith in God wavered many times in her life, she believes God’s presence was always close at hand, even through her experiences of physical, sexual and verbal abuse that several times shook her desire to live.

“I gave up on God, but looking back, I can see that God never gave up on me,” she said.
Cheery’s journey of faith and healing brought her to the Women’s Hearth, a drop-in center for women at 920 W. Second in downtown Spokane a year ago.

Her story is similar to many who gather there to find a safe, welcoming place for them to struggle to mend their lives.

Cheery Arquero
Cheery Arquero

Founded in 1991, the Women’s Hearth brings women together with volunteers to form a community that nurtures relationships and self-determination, and empowers them to challenge systems that oppress women. As women share their stories and lives, they grow and heal.

The Women’s Hearth is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday to nurture women like Cheery.
Now she seeks to devote her life to helping others heal by sharing her story as a catalyst for their healing.

She facilitates an art group at 12:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the Hearth and encourages the women in her class to express their deep emotions on paper.

Sorrow, shame and rage can find expression through the use of color and design.

As she releases her own pain, she finds she can reach out to help others heal.

Cheery has found both art and writing are ways to channel the fantasy life that once helped her escape her bleak reality.

She realized that her fantasy life became her reality and kept her from experiencing real life and relationships.

As a participant in the writing workshop at the Women’s Hearth
, she is writing her life story.

“When memories and feelings are deep, sometimes they are difficult to express verbally. Writing in a journal or composing a poem provides release,” she said.

In her journal, Cheery details her experience of sexual, physical, verbal and emotional abuse in several contexts during childhood and into adulthood, including rape and domestic violence.

She shares how she found comfort from her confusion and shame by developing a fantasy life as she wrestled with a foster home, returning home, inner struggles, suicide attempts and hospitalizations.

“The more I tried to figure out how to act, the worse people seemed to think of me. My escape was art, poetry and my fantasy world,” said Cheery.

Her third husband’s compassion and love, she said, has been part of her healing.

“When I want to talk, he listens,” she said. “At first, I was shocked.”

After having three children and starting to reconnect with God, Cheery continued to struggle with the addictive nature of her fantasy life and with suicidal thoughts.

Honoring her dream of teaching geology,
she went back to college at age 31 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree. Upon receiving a fellowship at Eastern Washington University, she moved with her family to Cheney, where she now attends church.

Connecting with a Christian counselor, she began to feel that God was telling her not to be afraid.

“The prayer group at my church prayed for me and with me. I worked with the counselor, painfully recounting my experiences and journaling—pouring out my memories.”

As the fantasy and suicidal thoughts have lessened, her counselor urged her to embrace a further step of healing—forgiveness.

In March 1993, she decided to forgive.

“I knew that anger and bitterness kept me a prisoner. I made a card for each person who had hurt me and read it out loud. Then I put each one in a coffin and gave them to my therapist,” she said.
“Now I want to help other women in their healing journeys through poetry, art and sharing my story,” Cheery said. “I want every woman to have hope.”

In her poem, “Abuse: Why Are You,” Cheery invites others into her experience of abuse that led her from reality into fantasy and back to reality.

The poem expresses how abuse, whether subtle or blatant, stirs fear that “blasts your soul away,” so “you become nothing, an object of someone else’s delusions.”

Despite resorting to fantasy, the poem continues, reality and pain catch up: “Where did all the hurt surface in the center of who I am?” Recognizing the distinction between fantasy and reality, she chooses to live with other people even though she cannot change or control their behavior as she can with the fantasy people.

Cheery’s poem ends with an affirmation to let real people play their part in her life of reality.
At the Women’s Hearth, she has developed friendships and conversed one-to-one with women, learning from and with them as they delve into each other’s lives and souls, sharing from the depths of their hearts.

For information, call 455-4249.

The Fig Tree - Copyright © November 2007