Lives can be changed. At Anglicare Australia’s National Conference this year when Tasmanian mum Deb Gyles shared her story of how she found the strength to make enormous changes in her life, you could have heard a pin drop.
Deb’s story was honest, powerful and inspirational. It’s proof that providing non-judgemental care and support, showing kindness to another, can be transformational.
“My life was violent, lonely, scared and addicted. I was a meth addict and was stuck in a violent and abusive relationship,” said Deb, “I had people in my back yard handing over hundreds of dollars to my ex-boyfriend to buy drugs, while I was inside the house writing out an I.O.U letter from the tooth fairy for my son to put under his pillow that night.”
“I was not allowed control over my own finances and didn’t have a cent to my name.
“My life focussed on the next payday. How much could I pay off my bill with the drug dealer? Was there anything in the house I could sell or swap?
“I was emotionally unavailable to my children. The days I didn’t have any drugs I would spend the whole day in bed.
“When my mental state would actually allow me to leave the house I would often walk down to the bluff, climb under the barriers at the lighthouse and sit on the edge of the rocks thinking that if I was a decent person I would just throw myself off. I was in a really bad place,” she said.
Child Protection removed Deb’s sons from her care. “My boys were placed under the guardianship of the Department of Health and Human Services,” said Deb.
“I wouldn’t engage truthfully in any meetings with the department as I thought they were just out to bury me under as much dirt as they could.
“I was too scared to engage the services of any professional organisations due to fear that they would either tell the police that I was a drug user or tell Child Protection that my then partner, who was the father of my boys, was violent and abusive. I feared I would never see my children again,” said Deb.
In 2009, while pregnant with her fifth child, Deb sought help in her local Anglicare office from a financial counsellor. She needed to negotiate a payment plan to pay off a bill.
“Surprisingly, I was early to the appointment. As I sat in the waiting room I read a brochure on a program called Good Beginnings.
“This was a volunteer run program where caring people offered support to other people within their own communities. It seemed a lot less scary than going and asking for help.
“For whatever reason the brochure struck a chord with me and I actually entertained the idea that there might be someone out there that could help me gain some control over my life again.
Getting on to the Good Beginnings program was the start of huge changes for Deb. She found the strength to walk away from drugs and the people she had been associating with, including her boyfriend. She moved house and most importantly she got her children back.
“I regained my confidence,” said Deb, “Genuine, non-judgemental support was the most important aspect of the care I received. The social worker and later the Community Parent saw who I was and did not judge me.”
“I was able to call my Community Parent for advice on anything to do with parenting – what to do for Book Week, how to deal with a Permission Slip, and what to send to school for an ‘end-of-year’ morning tea,” said Deb.
Deb has now become a Community Parent herself with the KIDS* program and she is helping others to become the best mothers they can be.
One of the mums Deb supports said “Deb brings out the best in me and my son and we are so happy she is in our lives.”
When Deb stood up and spoke at the conference, her gratitude for Anglicare’s support was tangible. “You all do such an awesome job. You make a difference to people’s lives, to people like me. I’ve got six children, so when you help me you help my six kids. You help their friends and their girlfriends.”
“I recently asked my boys how life has changed since they were little and one of my sons drew me two pictures. One was of a black and grey rose which was closed. The other was of a red rose fully opened surrounded by cherry blossoms.
In 2015 Deb completed a Certificate 3 in Community Services.
She concluded her talk saying, “I’m now in a good place. I’m studying a Diploma of Community Services. I’m a volunteer Community Parent. Best of all, I have all six of my boys with me full time. Life is good.”
*Good Beginnings was replaced by the Kind Individuals Delivering Support (KIDS) program. The program is unique to North West Tasmania. It provides targeted and coordinated support for parents and children who are vulnerable and at risk. Community Parents are still an important component of the program’s success.