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Dec5ThuThe Salvation Army’s Centre of Hope in Halifax helped me rebuild my life. December 5, 2019 by Chris Pilkington
On the day I arrived at The Salvation Army’s Centre of Hope in Halifax, I was at ground zero. I had spent the previous night in the emergency room at Dartmouth General Hospital, after my wife physically attacked me during an argument. I had nowhere to go. My nephew picked me up and brought me to the centre, which became a sanctuary for me—a place to rebuild.
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I was born in Dartmouth, N.S., the fifth of six children. It was a strict Catholic upbringing, with an abusive father and a mother who tried her best to protect and provide for us, but was often bedridden with health problems. We were told in no uncertain terms to keep silent about what was happening to us. As my dad pursued his career, we moved to Chatham, Ont., and then Ottawa.
We were expected to excel at school, and discipline ensured our best efforts. For my part, I was always good at math and science. As I got involved in school activities and started my first part-time job, it was easy to drift away from the church and my parents’ faith.
I graduated with awards and scholarships and moved on to university, but left before completing a degree to get married. We had two wonderful boys, Adam and Alex, the joys of my life. For years, I worked in accounting for several large organizations.
But after 19 years of marriage, mental illness took everything from me—my job, my home and my family. I moved back to Dartmouth feeling lost, vulnerable and alone.
After returning to Nova Scotia, I remarried. My mental health continued to decline, until I was committed to the hospital, where I was diagnosed and treated. Over the next 16 years, medication kept me groggy and disoriented, with no recollection of my abilities.
In 2008, I had surgery to remove a tumour, and in the recovery process, was taken off all medication. Under the care of a new psychiatrist, and with the right medication, I started to regain my life.
Unfortunately, my relationship was becoming increasingly hostile, culminating in the evening when an argument over finances ended with me being taken to the hospital. I was treated for a neck injury and bruises and released.
Fighting the Battle
I stayed at the Centre of Hope for six months, where I slowly came out of my shell through the gentle counselling of the chaplain, Rev. John den Hollander. I began attending chapel daily, and a renewed spark of faith began to grow.
When I found my footing again in the apartment I now call home, I realized I was still drawn to the centre and its people. So I started volunteering, helping to sort toys into age-appropriate categories at Christmas, and working in the food room. Majors Ross and Doreen Grandy, who lead the community ministries, became close friends.
Captains Wayne and Elizabeth Knight, then corps officers at Halifax Citadel Community Church, started leading chapel at the centre once a week. Their easy-going nature and fresh approach drew me to The Salvation Army even more, and I began attending the corps. The flame of faith steadily increased.
I gave my life to Christ when I realized his teachings were exhibited in the ever-present love and care shown by all those I’d met at the centre and the corps. In April 2016, I became a senior soldier, which has strengthened my resolve to serve Christ in all aspects of my life, and in every setting.
Although I have struggled with my mental and physical health, God has given me strength. When I recently experienced Bell’s palsy and underwent eye surgery, I was grateful for the caring notes of support I received from many church members when I requested prayer.
I’ve slowed down over the last few years, but God isn’t finished with me yet. I’m still fighting the battle. I’ll continue volunteering at the Centre of Hope and at Connections Dartmouth, a mental health program, where I help to prepare lunch for those in need in the community. Connecting with people means everything to me now. I’m giving back what I’ve been given.
Photo: Heather Deighan