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Gail’s story 

Gail is a 56 year old devoted grandmother of three, Cole, Jack and Brook. “Those kids give me so much joy”, she says, “I’ve discovered a nurturing instinct that I never had before. It’s come, slowly but surely over the past couple of years. It’s come as I’ve developed a real connection with other people for the first time in my life. It’s come as I’ve developed a real connection with Jesus.”

It wasn’t always like this.

Gail’s story is a long tale of failed and broken relationships and alcohol abuse together with constantly recurring feelings of isolation and a lack of self-worth. One story from the Bible which she really identifies with is the Samaritan woman Jesus speaks to in John chapter 4. This is the woman who becomes a believer after Jesus reveals that he knows all about her, that she has been married five times and that the man she is now living with is not her husband. “I didn’t marry five times, I just made it three. But there were plenty of other bad relationships along the way” says Gail.

Gail spent her early years in the North West. Her father was away a lot in the Merchant Navy and her mother suffered from depression and anorexia.  “You didn’t talk about my mum’s sort of illness then” reflects Gail, “I felt sort of responsible for her illness. I was a late arrival in my parent’s life. They’d been married 18 years before I came along. I think for my mum it was difficult to adjust.” She describes how she was clothed and fed by her mother but felt no emotional support or guidance from her. ”I remember missing school a lot. I was a loner. I always felt like the outsider in a group of friends”

Leaving school at 16 Gail enrolled at the Catering College then based up in Portrush. She stayed in digs there and describes herself back then as very immature. “The other students tended to be older than me and I was always very nervous. When we went out I started drinking. It would take away my nerves and slow down my mind. I was always overthinking things, and at the same time not thinking very well. The alcohol calmed me down a bit.”

Then working, and back at home with her parents, Gail made the decision to get married. Looking back she feels it was to get her away from her own home. The marriage didn’t last. ”I was drinking with other people then, but I felt like an empty shell. I had no feeling of self-worth. Deep down I felt that my life wasn’t going to be like other peoples.”

She then met another man, and had a son, Kyle. “I could barely look after myself, let alone a child” she says, and the relationship with her partner was “volatile”. She remembers getting up very early to take her son to her mother’s house, then doing a full day’s work. On coming home in the evening she would sometimes find her partner at home with his drinking buddies. This relationship didn’t last.

Something more secure seemed possible when Gail met another man and got married again. Her new husband took on her son, but Gail knew he would want a family of his own. This could not happen as Gail had to have surgery when diagnosed with cancer, but Gail says she’d long felt deep down that she would have no other children, and that she was just lacking any nurturing ability. Gail then threw herself into work and drinking. “I used to get completely sloshed on a Friday. I was disgraceful. I was not a good wife or mother on any level” She left her husband and set up a new home with her son. Gail continued to embark on more disastrous relationships. “I always thought someone else’s input would be better than anything I could achieve.” Her drinking was getting worse.

Once again she married someone she was little more than attracted to “because they showed an interest in me”. He also had a drink problem but concealed it until after the wedding. It was at this point that Gail started to attend Alcoholics Anonymous. Her third marriage collapsed and Gail set up another new home. She hoped for a clean break, but her need for relationships with men and for alcohol continued. At this time her son, his partner and their baby boy were to leave her life, with the pledge that she would never see them again.

Even this was not a wake-up call. She continued AA meetings but also continued to drink. “I felt I would never make the mark”, she says, “I was happy to listen to stories of others getting their life together, but I didn’t believe that it would happen to me.”

Then a small seed was sown. Attracted by a leaflet publicising seasonal worship, Gail went one late winter night to a service at a local church. She went back to that church and for a period she didn’t drink. She was baptised, but admits now that the significance of that was lost on her then. Then her drinking returned, and more failed relationships were endured. Gail was now working in a café run by the church and people were aware of her drink binges, which sometimes ended up in A&E. The church stood by her, and put her in touch with Christian Family Centre and she went there to stay. “I found it very hard, but I felt there was nowhere else to go. I learned how to sit still, but I still felt isolated in my head.”  Gail spent 6 months at the Christian Family Centre but she had a feeling that any changes would not last. On return to the outside world she embarked upon more ill-advised relationships and started binge drinking again making a spectacle of herself on numerous occasions. A psychotic episode then followed which led to hospitalisation. She was visited by Paul Paynter in hospital and went back to Armoy when she was a bit better. At this point things finally started to change for her.

Gail remembers that around this time although she was still in a state of anxiety, and although she still couldn’t relate to people “slowly but surely Jesus Christ was beginning to give me the mind I had always wanted to have. I could now feel and identify with hymns and readings from the Bible. I began to experience a personal connection with people for the first time in my life. I was building a real relationship with Jesus.”

Gail now goes back to Armoy regularly, and brings her grandchildren to stay. “The kids have given me so much joy, and I’m able to be on hand to help out looking after them. I’m an associate leader in the Girls’ Brigade and I’m back working at the church café. I genuinely relate to so many people on so many fronts now.”

All who have witnessed Gail’s story testify to a tale of perseverance. “My church and those at Christian Family Centre stood by me”, she says “It was a case of perseverance, and not always my own”

“Sometimes when I look back at my life it is like looking at someone else’s life, I am now living like  a new person altogether”