Karen's story

Karen at Emmaus Preston

Getting together with the wrong man in my teens was the start of all my problems. My partner was abusive and controlling from the start, but we had a baby very soon after getting together, and another, two years later, so I stayed with him.

He was extremely jealous and used to make me walk around staring at the floor so I wouldn’t look at other men. After we had our second baby it all became too much and I managed to escape from him for a year, leaving Southport where he and all of my family lived. But one day, on a visit back to see my dad, he saw me and chased me down the street and followed me to my safe house. I was scared and ended up back with him.

While we’d been apart he’d become hooked on heroin, and it wasn’t long before he forced me to be too. He used to make me go out thieving to pay for our fixes – never doing his own dirty work and only too happy to see me getting into trouble with the police. We had a third baby but by that time our lives were so chaotic that social services took all three of the kids away from us.

I was with him, scared for 15 years, until he died, aged 31, of complications relating to his drug addiction. I was finally free of him and stopped taking heroin. I wanted to be clean from drugs and felt I needed to do it alone so I locked myself in my flat. The intense pain in my body was so bad that as the drugs came out of my system I drank alcohol to numb it and to force myself to sleep. Unbeknown to me with the alcohol, I had now swapped one addiction for another and got to the point where I was drinking three litres of brandy per day.

It was at this point that I ended up in prison again. I saw the doctor when I arrived and I was shocked when he diagnosed me with TB. I knew I wasn’t feeling well but thought it was all down to my drinking. He told me if I hadn’t got treatment, the TB could have killed me. For the next three months I was put in isolation while I recovered. It was at this point that I realised this was my chance to get my life back on track again. My abusive partner wasn’t there anymore and I had an opportunity to stop drinking and make some real changes.

I served eight months in prison, but while I was there I worked and took every opportunity offered to me. When I came out I was tagged and living in a bail hostel in Preston, having asked to be moved away from the bad influences in Southport.

It was while living in the bail hostel that I found out about Emmaus. I wasn’t sure at first how I could cope with living with so many other people (Emmaus Preston can accommodate up to 26 companions) but when I met everyone I realised how nice everyone was and that they all worked together and helped each other out.

What’s great about Emmaus is that you have people around you for company if you want them, but you also have your own space. I also love the work here. It gives you a reason to get up in the morning. I used to work in the shop and café that we had because I loved meeting and chatting to customers, especially the regulars.

I met my now husband Dave, who was also a companion at Emmaus Preston. We met when I first arrived at Emmaus and we hit it off straight away but, although I knew I liked him, I was reluctant to get into a relationship as I’d had such an awful experience in the past. But Dave would spend a lot of time with me, even sitting with me as I watched my soaps, and love blossomed.

It was two days before my birthday on 29th November that Dave and I finally got together. We didn’t want to tell the other companions at first but when we did they were all really pleased for us. I found it difficult for me because I wasn’t used to having someone who loved and cared for me, which made it hard for me to tell Dave that I loved him at first. Now we are married I tell him all the time that I love him and he still makes me laugh just like he always used and I love spending time with him.

My life couldn’t be more different now thanks to Emmaus. I have now moved into my own house with Dave and work full time at Emmaus, as the Deputy Support Manager, providing the support that the companions need. I completed my Level 2 in Counselling at college last year and I have almost completed Level 3. I absolutely love my job and every day is different. The routine that Emmaus provides means that the companions feel that they have a purpose and a reason to get out of the bed in the morning.

If I had one message to give to Emmaus supporters it would be that Emmaus really can change people’s lives for the better so supporting someone homeless into Emmaus would be better than just giving them money on the streets.