The value of education and the importance of regaining a sense of personal power and autonomy
I grew up living in multiple houses, moving from family member to family member, and eventually being reunited with my mother in our home. It wasn’t the safest area to live, with many assaults, gangs and dealers around every corner. I found myself being mixed up in these crowds, which turned into a lifestyle over time.
I had dropped out of school, my only safe place as a young teenager. I had limited my social network and education due to spending all my time with these people. I was couch surfing from the age of 12, with little to no rules on how I was living life, who I was involved with or what I would do with my days. This went on for years. Little did I realise then how it would impact me in years to come.
I was 17 years old when I met a man that I became reliant on for financial support and a place to call home, mistaking my dependence for love. Within a few months, I was pregnant with my first child. I was so scared of being a mother. I had no support or positive connections, finances or stability behind me, so I stayed in this relationship. I knew my baby was a blessing and a reason to get my life in order, for the babies’ sake and mine. We would go on to have two more children over the next few years.
Within the beauty of becoming a mother, much chaos came with it. I wasn’t in control of my emotions, had no personal boundaries, no knowledge of how to maintain a house or pay bills independently, and had no financial safety or strategy for a stable future. The relationship slowly turned toxic for my children and me. I knew I would have to leave, scared of what would come next.
I lost the place we called ‘home’. I made the difficult decision to ask a family member to care for my children while I tried to stabilise myself. I had become a complete mess, with no confidence and low self-esteem. Feeling little to no hope for the future and getting back on track, I spiralled downward, making poor choices, isolating myself from the world, couch surfing, and falling back into the cycle of addiction. I was homeless once again; I had hit rock bottom! As much as I wanted a house, I didn’t have the ability to take on that responsibility.
After nearly 18 months of battling my habits, thoughts and behaviours, I decided to seek help through a social worker who suggested I contact Catherine House. I didn’t know much about Catherine House at the time. My only thought was to get another place to call home, for my children’s future and for me.
A few months ago, I received a phone call from Catherine House, letting me know there was a place for me. A room of my own, inclusive of food, toiletries and bills, and that was only the start! Upon arriving, I was supplied with a clothing pack in my size, pyjamas, slippers and a personal care package. I remember exactly where I was, the day I received this news. I was so happy to be given the opportunity to break free from the cycle I had been in. I could start focusing on myself. I cried with joy.
The moment I walked through the doors of Catherine House, I felt welcomed, respected, safe and valued by both the wonderful staff and other women on their own journeys. It was such a safe space with a warm feeling all around. There was no interference from people outside. I was at ease. I no longer had to worry. I could finally relax.
Catherine House is much more than a roof over your head, food in your belly and somewhere safe to sleep. They provide services ranging from counselling to referrals for GP, dental and eye care, onsite substance use support, educational courses, financial assistance, employment opportunities, legal support and much more.
Since I arrived, I have started to rebuild my life and already achieved many goals I thought would take years. I have completed most of my dental work. I’m seeing a financial counsellor for previous debts, attending the Matrix Recovery Program and being assisted with legal issues. I have also been linked with Yarrow Place, a women’s sexual assault counselling service, for the trauma I have carried with me for many years.
I find being in a women’s-only support service calming and settling, and I am not faced with the anxiety of being assigned a male worker or forced to settle for one. Knowing I am in a feminist environment has helped me feel safe and comfortable to openly share experiences I have never spoken about before. It’s a place where I no longer must use my masculine energy or feel like I am in survival mode. I can be my feminine self.
I have been engaging with the Education and Employment Officer, Sharon. Through our work together, I have received an education grant for my White Card course, which I have completed. I enrolled in the Adult Community Education training course ‘Live Your Best Life and Plan for Your Future’, which has helped me regain my confidence and self-esteem. The trauma-informed teaching practice Sharon uses is collaborative and has assisted me in regaining a sense of personal power and autonomy by being free to choose what I engage in and how I do this. We learn about the right to say ‘no’ in a safe setting so we can become comfortable applying this and other new empowering language in our daily lives.
I am now excited about what the future holds. I look forward to living independently and being reunited with my children in a place I can call home.
I have learned women are capable of doing many extraordinary things for ourselves within our lives. Being in a safe, comfortable and supported environment enhances that strength, giving room for doors to open and opportunities to emerge in which we feel confident to say yes.