“Everything was dark, black. I was a mess but now I choose life.”
That’s how 38-year-old Annie Ratcliffe has summed up her experience of graduating from Freedom House in Ahoghill.
Freedom House, which is funded by the Compassion Ministries charity shop in Ballymoney, aims to help women “who have a strong desire to change and who specifically seek our care for a variety of addictions and hurts.”
Speaking to the Times, Annie agreed to share her harrowing and deeply personal story.
Annie, originally from Liverpool but now working with Freedom House, visited the Ballymoney shop to tell of her experience and explain how she found herself in County Antrim seeking help to turn her life around.
“I was a recovering heroin addict who came from Liverpool.
“I was a drug addict and was involved in everything that goes with a drug habit.
“I was homeless, I was a mess.
“After I left rehab I started going to a Methodist Church in the north of England. The church people were very kind and helped me and it was there that I heard about Green Pastures church.
“Eventually I came to Northern Ireland for a women’s conference with Green Pastures and that’s when I heard about Freedom House and having a relationship with God.
“I learned about how to change my life.
“I learned how to live life to the full without baggage and pain and hurt.
“I learned how to deal with the pain of my past - the drugs, the child abuse, the rape and everything else that had happened to me.
“I had been clean from drugs but my Mum had died and I had started to dabble again to try to cope. I knew that if I went back home I would go back on drugs so I went into Freedom House in Ahoghill in May 2012.”
Annie described how her stay at Freedom House was structured.
“They teach you to get up early in the morning, to take responsibility, to be accountable, to show kindness, how to live with people and how to find self worth. And all this is Bible based.
“There is also Bible teaching, Ministry time and counselling.
“I went from having no self worth to having a future. I now work full time with Green Pastures
“I am now able to love myself even though all that past stuff happened.
“I’ve got a future now but before, I couldn’t see past one day.
“I don’t have to live with the guilt and shame. I don’t have to be the person that I was back then.
“If God can do it for me, He can do it for anyone.
“I arrived here with nothing but a suitcase of clothes and was able to go into Freedom House and it’s the Compassion shops, like the one in Ballymoney, which fund that.
“Without those charity shops, this would be impossible.I don’t think there is any similar scheme anywhere else, especially for older women.
“Thanks to Compassion Ministries shop and Freedom House, I have broken the cycle I was in.”
The Compassion Ministries Shop in Ballymoney is open 9am-5pm Monday to Saturday.
Compassion Ministries Charity Shop is a non-profit registered charity run by staff and volunteers from Green Pastures, the people’s church in Galgorm.