Empathy for people in crisis
6 June 2017
“I just wanted to write a letter to let you know how much of an impact you had on me and my life at a time when my faith in human beings and life in general was waning … I was questioning whether I wanted to continue living or not. But through your beautiful, kind, loving, accepting (true) nature, you gave me the strength to continue on and gave me a new faith in humans. You are an angel in disguise.” – letter from a client to Kate
Three years ago, Kate* sat in a Salvation Army office, a broken and desperate woman. Today she is on the other side of the desk, working for The Salvation Army helping people in crisis get back on their feet.
Kate is a coordinator for Doorways, a Salvation Army program that provides practical assistance for people experiencing troubled times. But it wasn’t long ago that she was the one needing help.
“I had to come in here for help with food and bills a couple of years ago when I was trying to get my life together,” she recalls. “I was embarrassed, but the (Salvation Army) officer’s pastoral care was just absolutely amazing. I just sat down and cried and cried.”
Kate’s story – like so many that turn to drugs – began with deep, dark and unrelenting childhood trauma. This trauma involved sexual abuse, Kate says, from a very young age by a number of people including a trusted medical professional. She blamed herself for the abuse, and grew from a fear-plagued child into a wild drug-using teenager.
At 17 she fell pregnant, but she was also diagnosed with cancer and was told she had to terminate the pregnancy.
Amidst the darkness, Kate says there was one brief moment of light. A friend invited her to Sunday school, church and then youth group. “That’s when I gave my heart to Jesus,” Kate says. “But because we then moved, I didn’t see my friend very much, and I drifted from God.
“I soon started drinking and taking drugs and just doing things that were really out of control. Then came the bulimia after I lost weight with illness and morning sickness. I was working for a government department at the time and my boss started very (overtly) sexually harassing me.
“I ended up in a psychiatric ward. I just couldn’t cope with life.”
Kate finally found acceptance and a sense of family in an outlaw bike club until she fell pregnant again and ran away to protect her child. Over many years, Kate married, divorced, moved state, and made multiple attempts at rehab.
“I made lots of serious attempts to take my life; brutal attempts. The only thing I can put it down to is God had angels there and every time I survived.
“I ended up in Salvation Army rehab a number of times, and probably all up over the course of 10 years I’d spent about three of them sober ... (but) all this time, all this stuff was me getting closer and (slowly) turning more to Jesus and God.”
Kate’s life turned a corner when she met and married “an absolutely lovely man”. Around this time she underwent one more round of rehab and specialist counselling, and she and her new husband became part of a Salvation Army church. She was living and maintaining a sober life for the first time.
“I look back now and without God and Salvation Army support (plus specialist therapy) I would be dead – definitely,” Kate says. “I’ve got the scars to prove it. I wouldn’t have stopped. I wouldn’t have given up.”
Kate says a combination of counselling, faith and care has lifted the heavy burden she carried around her whole life. Working in a positive environment at The Salvation Army in North Queensland, surrounded by Christians and their care, is also helping her to get through every day.
Kate is well qualified for her role, holding a Certificate II and Diploma in Community Work, a Certificate III in Nursing, a Certificate IV in Mental Health Care, a Diploma in Drug and Alcohol and Mental Health Care and a Masters in counselling.
But it is her empathy for people struggling with similar problems she experienced that is most beneficial.
“When you are facing starvation – food is the most basic need; then shelter. I have had people come in here who haven’t eaten for days and we can give them a meal. We can also assist them and link them to the agencies that are available in our area. It’s essential to be helping with those most basic of human needs – food, housing, clothing.”
Speaking to those who support The Salvation Army, she says: “It directly helped me. I know much of the money that goes to rehabs comes from the Red Shield Appeal; so if I hadn’t had those opportunities I wouldn’t have the opportunity to sit here today and connect with people when they come in here and they’re in crisis. Those donations also support them when they most need help.”
*Name changed for privacy
By Naomi Singlehurst