Julie’s story: Finding hope and a home in Florence, Alabama

By: Karyn Lewis

For more than seven months, Julie has been working toward financial and emotional recovery from a divorce that led to depression and alcohol abuse. Her mental health battle led a cross-country move, the loss of her support system, and the loss of her home. Although the past few years have been troublesome, she is optimistic about starting anew with the help of The Salvation Army in Florence, Alabama.

Julie grew up in Canton City, Michigan, a small farming community, and she lived with her younger sister and parents, who were both teachers. Julie received a degree in paralegal studies from Ferris State University, married her high school sweetheart, and had two children. She was married for 30 years before filing for a divorce that left her financially unstable and in a deep depression.

“The last five years of it were not good,” Julie said. “I stayed for the kids much longer than I should have. After that, I decided to divorce. I didn’t take anything in the divorce because I wasn’t thinking about myself long term.”

She continued working in Michigan after the divorce and received alimony for five years, but the depression eventually worsened, and Julie didn’t seek treatment for her condition.

“I started drinking a lot and couldn’t get my life under control emotionally,” said Julie. “I was working and going through the motions, but I wasn’t happy. I finally ended up quitting an excellent job that I loved and decided to move to Alabama to get away from the harsh winters in Michigan.”

After hearing from a friend who recently moved to the area, Julie relocated to Florence, Alabama. Her friend said she enjoyed the town, and Julie decided to take a chance and move across the country for a fresh start. But, unfortunately, the move didn’t help on its own, and her emotional health continued to decline.

“I started drinking again,” she said. “I didn’t care. I couldn’t find a decent job with decent wages. I didn’t research Florence before moving across the country. I just relied on what my friends told me, which goes against all common sense.”

Her parents passed away after she moved to Florence, so Julie was left with her sister and children, with whom she had estranged relationships, mainly due to her divorce. She didn’t have a support system outside of former friends and coworkers. The move to Florence created distance in those relationships, leaving her with no one to lean on.

“I went back into the heavy depression,” she said. “I didn’t get treatment, and I didn’t care at all. I didn’t want to live. I wanted to die on the deepest level. I did not want to wake up another day.”

After a period of weeks in which she was unseen, someone called the Department of Human Resources to stop by Julie’s home for a wellness check. Her electricity was off, and she hadn’t eaten in days when someone arrived. The caseworker assisted Julie with her physical necessities, but Julie was still suffering a great deal mentally. Her depression eventually led to falling behind on payments, resulting in losing her car and home.

“I used the little money left in my bank account to live in a cheap motel,” Julie noted. “I had two bottles of prescription sleep pills that I hadn’t used. I stayed as long as possible until my money ran out. Then, I decided to overdose. The pills made me sick. I panicked and called 911 for help.”

Julie stayed under observation at the local hospital for two weeks. Finally, a social worker referred her to The Salvation Army after hearing about her depression and homelessness. Julie felt utterly out of her element when she arrived at the shelter.

“I was scared when I first arrived here,” Julie said. “I did not know what to expect. I’ve never been homeless, jobless, or without a vehicle.”

Within three weeks after finding The Salvation Army, Julie secured employment and began saving for the eventual purchase of a car. Once she found work, The Salvation Army was able to assist Julie in her search for permanent housing.

“That first paycheck meant a lot,” she said. “I could call a bus or call a cab to take me to work. Being given the time and assistance to get back on my feet has knocked depression right out of me. When I get back to a better normal, I will be going back to therapy consistently.”

Julie moved into her apartment in June. With her feet planted firmly on the ground, she plans to work toward returning to the paralegal field and, eventually, she envisions a move to Maine.

“I’ve always wanted to visit Maine,” she said. “I’ve done a lot of traveling, and I’d like to get some more in.”

“Right now, I feel like I’m in a good place and was put here for a reason. One thing at a time. We’re taking baby steps. When things last longer, they end up meaning more.”

(Shared from the blog of The Salvation Army Alabama-Louisiana-Mississippi Division.)