Running away to hope
While Christmas in a women's crisis service could be depressing, Shirley* says celebrating Christmas with The Salvation Army was full of joy.
Shirley could not have imagined in her younger years, that she would find herself homeless in her late 60s.
As Shirley’s health deteriorated – after a stroke – so did her marriage, as her husband showed little interest in her care.
I just started to need him more and the more I needed him – that’s when he really didn’t want much to do with me. I had to get homecare in to shower me and help me around the house, because, in the end, he would not do anything for me.”
Then came verbal abuse and threats.
Shirley shares: “He was mainly mentally (abusive) but sometimes he would raise a hand. In the last year he kept having affairs and, in the end, he was bringing them home to abuse me – to try and get me out of the house. In my mind, I didn’t have anywhere else to go so I just put up with it.
“I felt absolutely worthless; a no hoper.”
Vulnerable and unwell, Shirley finally escaped, but her new situation remained almost as difficult.
“I was absolutely terrified. I honestly didn’t know where to go. My mind was a total mess,” she says.
Then Shirley heard about The Salvation Army crisis centre – Still Waters.
“Walking into Still Waters, for the first time, I was terrified of the unknown, but I also felt safe. Honestly, Wendy, my caseworker, was the angel. She was wonderful and got me a psychologist. I went to the empowerment group, which was marvellous and helped a lot of us women open up. That was wonderful.
“It helped me with my past. I had a really bad experience when I was a young girl and I was able to, step by step, cope with what was hiding inside.”
Shirley wrote in her diary in the early days of her stay: “Rock bottom is that dark place inside you where despair seems to have blackened every path; where you feel like you keep hitting a brick wall and just don’t know what else to do, or where to turn.”
She says that while she still struggles with illness and chronic pain, she has found peace. She is now living in community housing and stays in touch with Wendy.
Finding much more joy and normality in life, she says: “I can (now) do my art, I’m doing painting and that means a lot to me. I’ve got a really nice friend who came through Still Waters. She makes me go out (or did until the COVID-19 pandemic). I still talk to Wendy on the phone.”
Shirley also celebrated at Still Waters on Christmas Day. The staff had decorated and worked hard to make Christmas special.
“It was absolutely wonderful,” Shirley says. “Just wonderful. The staff put on a beautiful spread, they were so happy … and the girls in there were lovely. I do ceramics so I took a whole lot of ceramic mugs that I’d made to give as gifts.
“Honestly I was blessed, completely blessed.”
She wrote in her journal towards the end of her stay in the crisis service: “Still Waters found me broken, and put me back together.”
“I learned so many things, including the fact that you can’t always control your circumstances, but you can control how you react to them. You can’t change where you came from, but you can change where you are now and you can set the course for where you go from here!”
*Name and some details changed for privacy
Find a community to spend Christmas with this year. Search for your local Salvo social and community programs, Christmas lunches or online church services.