Two years ago I could not leave my house, let alone tell my story. But after a lifetime of abuse, alcoholism and deep despair, I have finally found peace.
Every morning I get up and head to Community Ministries at Levin Salvation Army corps (church), where I volunteer. I’m there to support whoever walks through the door, with whatever they need help for
—whether it’s a food parcel, Work and Income appointments, going to the doctor, or just being there as a support person.
But before 2015, I could not leave my house. My anxiety was so bad that if I tried to go to the supermarket, I would end up abandoning the trolley in the middle of the aisle and running away. I would go hungry rather than face the outside world. The only place I could bring myself to go was the liquor store—out of desperation.
I am the youngest of 11 siblings, but by the time I was born, the older ones were already married with their own families. We were a farming family—we would go to school in Whanganui during the week, and in the weekends we would join my dad on the farm. My father was a devoted and loving family man. I loved being with him while he worked the farm on horseback with his dogs.
When I was five, my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. One day, when we were all away, Dad took himself down to the back of the farm and took his own life. A search party took three days to find him. He left a note saying he didn’t want to be a burden on us. I was never told anything, and felt very confused as to where Dad had gone. I just thought he had left us and never come back.
There were three of us children still at home, but my father’s death left my mother bitter. Her anger would turn to a full-blown rage, which would turn into violence. We were punished with a riding crop that left searing welts. If her rage was out of control and left visible wounds, we stayed home from school. I was frightened of my mother and needed her at the same time.
My mother started drinking heavily and was often out at dances, bringing the party home late at night. The sexual abuse started when I was seven. I would hear the cars arriving and the music start. I would try and hide in the cupboard, wardrobe or under the bed. But I was usually found by one of the two main offenders. They said that if I told my mother, she would leave just like my father did. I believed them.
When I was nine, I finally found the courage to tell my mother what was happening. Her response was to slap me so hard across the face that it fractured my jaw. My mother didn’t take me to the doctor for a week, but I couldn’t eat. Finally, she told the doctor I had fallen off a horse. By then, the fracture had set at an angle, and as a result I lost my right-side bottom teeth as I grew up.
At 15, my bags were packed, I had to leave school and find a job and somewhere to live. There would be no further education. I was told that I had to go to work, as education was a waste for a female.
At the same age, I was gang raped by four teenage boys I thought were my friends. I had taken a bus after work that would take me to my little bedsit. They had seen me get on the bus and were following it. They offered me a lift to my front door, and I thought nothing of going with them. But instead, they took me to some bushland on the outskirts of town and raped me. I was left catatonic and injured. Eventually, I walked back into town and told no one of my ordeal.
I did well in my profession as a seamstress, and found good jobs. I had some relationships, but they were not good ones, as I did not trust anyone.
I attempted suicide twice. One day, after an argument with my partner, I was driving home, took my hands off the steering wheel, put my foot on the accelerator and went down a deep ravine. I was stopped by a tree and left with only a strained wrist. I was so angry I hadn’t died.
My condition was diagnosed as PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). It was in hospital that I realised my brain was not functioning the way it should and that I needed help. I decided to go to the Salvation Army Bridge for help with my addictions. I was so scared and the first two weeks were the hardest—others on the programme walked out. But I knew that if I wanted to get better, I was going to have to do whatever was asked of me. The programme was interesting and it was great to understand different aspects of myself. I would recommend it to anybody.
At the Bridge we could go to church meetings, including Recovery Church. Since I was 10 years old, I had been interested in church. I tried to talk to my mother about it, but she wouldn’t have any talk of religion. In my 20s, I had tried to read the Bible but it didn’t make any sense to me.
I decided I didn’t believe in God. Surely no God would allow such abuse to happen as I had experienced? But I started to realise the Devil had his part to play, and I had to sit down and re-think everything. It was at the Bridge that people helped me to look within the pages of the Bible, and I started to make sense of it. This is when my faith really began to grow.
Things settled for a time, and at 35 I married a man I had known for 13 years. However, after five years, our marriage broke up. He didn’t really want to settle down, and I just didn’t have any fight left in me.
I became deeply depressed again. My home became my only haven. I closed my curtains, locked my doors and hid from the world. My anxiety was off the scale. I would rather go hungry than go to the supermarket or dairy. I did go to liquor stores, purely out of desperation, and I started drinking heavily.
I was self-harming again, and that affected my physical and mental health. I knew that, once again, I needed to seek help. I found a residential addiction programme, and as part of it, attended Recovery Church again. Once I had finished the programme, I continued to attend The Salvation Army and Recovery Church. I loved hearing other people’s stories, and to know I was not alone.
I began working through the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. This required me handing my life over to my Higher Power, and it really grew my faith. I also worked with a psychiatrist for nine months—I still keep a folder of our notes in my car, that I can refer to them if I’m having a bad day. But I was still associating with the wrong people and knew I needed to get out of my hometown.
In 2015, I decided to move to Levin and live with my mother-in-law. She needed someone to live with her, and I knew living alone was not good for me—so it’s been good for both of us. We are very close and enjoy each other’s company.
I went to the Levin Salvation Army, and the people were so open and welcoming. I was lacking confidence and feared going back to my old habits, but Community Ministries helped me and I did the Positive Lifestyle Programme. I have not had a drink since 2015. My life became less chaotic, which I put solely at the Lord’s feet.
Here, I have found my little corner of the world. I am at Community Ministries most mornings. I support people who have difficulty understanding their appointments. I help people with addictions, giving them advice on where to find assistance. I go with them if necessary. This is my way of giving back; to support the church that has supported me over the years.
When we began Recovery Church in Levin, I was one of the first one there! I read my Bible almost every day and am learning to understand God’s ways. I am stronger than I have been ever been. I am calm, and have found peace. I feel blessed, and my life’s journey with God continues.
Many things have got me where I am today—counselling, the Bridge programme, AA, Recovery Church, and other addictions programmes. I hope my story helps other people who are struggling, to realise they can get help. And that within the pages of the Bible there is hope.
by Jill McKenzie (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 15 July 2017, pp6-9
You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.