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Individual and Grief Counseling Helped Wilma Heal

Individual and Grief Counseling Helps Wilma Heal

Wilma’s parents divorced she was 9 years old. Life quickly changed for her. Her mother started drinking heavily. Numerous men were in and out of their home. Her mother’s sixth husband was the worst--verbally and physically abusing Wilma, her two sisters as well as the two young male foster children who resided with them. At age 13, Wilma’s stepfather moved the family to Denver in an attempt to isolate them from all family support. Shortly after the move, Wilma’s stepfather started raping her almost nightly. One time the abuse was reported to a school counselor, but the stepfather denied the accusation and the abuse continued. “Back in the late 60’s, they didn’t do much about that sort of thing,” said Wilma. Her stepfather threatened that if she opened her mouth again, she would never live to tell again. “I felt like there was no way out, no one believed me…I was so ashamed.” 

Wilma escaped to her grandmother in Indiana. Desperate to avoid returning to Colorado, she seized what appeared at the time to be a great opportunity. At the tender age of 17, she married one of the boys who had been a foster child in their home, later to find out he had his own issues and was sexually abusing little girls. When he refused to seek help, she threatened to call the police. That night he left the house and committed suicide. Wilma was wracked with guilt, her voice was filled with sadness as she recounted that time in her life. “Many people blamed me.” For several years following his suicide Wilma drank heavily and became sexually promiscuous. In one of those encounters, she met the father of her son, who abandoned her as soon as he found out she was pregnant. 

Wilma managed to maintain employment despite her addiction, continuing a promiscuous swinger’s lifestyle, and later married for a second time. “I had no respect for myself whatsoever,” she said.  Things continued to go wrong! Her best friend was found murdered, her drinking and drug use worsened and eventually led to addiction to crack cocaine. Things got so bad that one day Wilma went in search of drugs instead of seeking medical attention for a broken arm she experienced earlier that day. “I just carried the arm and kept going, I had to get high.” Her husband withdrew and became non-supportive. Wilma’s addiction led to the loss of her apartment, her job and her independence. She was forced to move in with her elderly mother. That lasted for a short while until she began writing checks on her mother’s account to help pay for drugs and was forced to leave as she was no longer welcome there. With no money and no place to go, she moved into a homeless shelter at which time felony charges for forgery and theft finally caught up with her. She spent 22 months in drug court and successfully completed the 12 step AA program. Despite these successes, Wilma suffered a relapse which resulted in a violation of her probation and was sent to Volunteers of America to complete her sentence. 

“I was 54 years old and I was sick and tired of my addiction, of being locked up and having no money and no place to go. When Volunteers of America offered me the one-on-one counseling and the grief counseling it was one of the best things that could have happened for me. Michelle Luallen [Volunteers of America Treatment Counselor] went through medical journals with me and she showed me that it was not my fault that my husband killed himself. He was very ill. She told me that there was a title for what was wrong with him, that he was a pedophile. I think my healing really started at that time.” 

Wilma started a sewing class at Volunteers of America where 19 ladies attended on the first day of class. “We only had one machine, so Volunteers of America bought us a second machine.” Sewing proved to be therapeutic as the other ladies began to bond and share similar abuse experiences. Wilma shared her successful counseling experiences, which led to other ladies seeking counseling for themselves. 

“I worked with Wilma for about six months before her release. When she started counseling, she was pretty broken and carrying a lot of guilt over issues that were out of her control,” said Luallen. During that time Volunteers of America’s Employment Specialist helped her to find a job, “and I am still there!” Wilma beamed. Luallen continues, “Volunteers of America’s Transition Program was able to help Wilma find a safe place to live. The Transition Coach provides another layer of safety and support for her as she re-enters the community. The Barrier Buster Fund provided a sewing machine for Wilma who is a talented seamstress and who is able to sew for people to supplement her income.” 

These days Wilma keeps busy working and serving as secretary for two community groups. She is actively building a new network of friends. “There were several nights of crying,” she said, tears streaming down her face.

“It was hard, but God is good. Without the Volunteers of America program it would be like it was before. Nothing would have changed.”

Wilma choked up as she recounted some of the horrific things she witnessed on the streets, homeless and hungry children begging for food while their parents were strung out on drugs. She feels strongly about giving back and helping other women. “Even at the height of my addiction, drugs never took my heart away but it sure took my soul away for a long time,” said Wilma. She choked up even more as she talked about her son. “My son had not spoken to me since I got in trouble but he called and came to see me on Christmas Day. He told me he loved me.” Now Wilma and her son communicate each week and are working on rebuilding their relationship. “There is hope if you really want it,” Wilma said, “and that’s a good start for me!”