Freedom of being me
24 March 2020
“I wouldn’t be the strong person I am now if it wasn’t for the Army. They worked their magic.”
Sarah was in hospital, again. This time it was particularly bad. She had cuts and bruises all over her body and only survived the vicious attack by her partner because her neighbours called the police. Yet, broken as she was, she was planning to return to the relationship.
She felt unworthy of anything else, such was the psychological abuse that went along with the physical beatings. She also felt trapped, and very alone.
“At that stage I felt dumb and stupid,” she remembers. “My former partner used to tell me that I was dumb, that I couldn’t do anything […] I was isolated. Cut off from family, friends, anybody. He came to all my appointments, like medical appointments, with me. I had nowhere to turn.”
Sarah’s partner would also control all her money, including her Centrelink disability payments and bank cards. Even though she had studied accounting and finance, she was powerless to take control of her own money out of fear for her safety.
It wasn’t until a caseworker visited her bedside at the hospital that Sarah began to feel a glimmer of hope. “She actually put a mirror in front of my face and said, ‘Sarah, look at yourself. Do you want to go back?’ She told me that I could have died. I looked at myself and I was shocked.”
Sarah’s partner was trawling the hospital to take her back home, but the hospital caseworker assured her she would find her refuge. She was discharged from hospital that day with a taxi voucher to get to The Salvation Army.
Taking the first steps towards safety
“I was frightened,” she remembers. “It was the first time I had to journey on my own … I didn’t know where I was going or what it would be like.”
Sarah had no idea a place like The Salvation Army's Family & Domestic Violence Accommodation services even existed. “I was welcomed with nothing in tow. Just the clothes I had on, which were donated from the hospital,” she says.
But, despite her fear, she felt an overwhelming sense of love, safety and welcome the moment she arrived.
“For the first time, actually being at the refuge and feeling safe, that was a turning point for me.”
The staff at The Salvation Army asked Sarah questions about what she liked doing and what made her happy. Having grown up with violence in her childhood home, and surviving two abusive relationships as an adult, she struggled to answer them. She had lost all sense of her own identity.
When Sarah was shown to her room – the place of healing where she would live for the next six months – they gave her the keys to room number one.
“I took this as a sign,” she says. “I thought, ‘yes, I am number one!’… The first thing I asked for when I got settled in my room was a pen and a piece of paper. I noted down eight things I wanted to achieve and what I was grateful for.”
The beginning of Sarah’s transformation
It wasn’t easy. There were many challenges. But Sarah was determined to rediscover herself and experience true freedom. She put her name down for anything and everything that was offered to her: cooking, jewellery-making and even boxing. She completed a ‘boundaries’ course and gained more and more confidence as each day went by.
“I became a human sponge and absorbed all the information that I was supplied and taught from the caseworkers. I am now a very assertive person and embracing my talents… I don’t believe I would have made it without The Salvation Army.”
As Sarah began to heal, she took on more responsibility, helping other women at the accommodation service and volunteering at the local Salvos Store. “I discovered I loved helping others.”
Sarah moved out of The Salvation Army’s accommodation service and into government housing, which was secured with the assistance of her caseworkers and other Salvation Army services. They also helped her furnish her new home. “[The Salvation Army’s] Doorways Service connected me with everything.”
Her transformation reignited an old dream to complete a Master of Accounting at university. “For years [I was] getting told I’m dumb and I can’t do stuff. And now I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to go back to university and show myself and others that I am smart.’”
Sarah is now teaching commerce at her local university, stays in touch with The Salvation Army through volunteering and weekly Sunday church services, and says she is not so much a ‘new woman’, but the woman she was always meant to be.
“I live in the freedom of being me, doing what I want, doing what makes me happy!”
Author: Lauren Martin