We ask students from Devon's rehabilitation centre Gilead Foundations to tell us their stories. This time it's the turn of MICHELLE STRINGER.

Saved by Grace: Michelle Stringer

I was born in 1977 in Germany, where we lived til I was about 12. Dad was in the army. I never felt I fitted in with the local children. We had 10 homes in those first 12 years, so I never had time to settle anywhere. I was sexually abused from the age of four. The same person also abused my sister and beat my brother.

Returning to England was another unsettling time, learning English properly and going to an English school and not fitting in again. It was there that my sister told a friend about the abuse. Social services got involved, the abuser was arrested and we went into care for a short while.

By the age of 14 my life was ruined by fear and insecurity (I had a mental breakdown) which I tried to numb by drinking. The abuse had shattered my trust in people and I felt more comfortable when I was drunk. One night I injected amphetamines and I liked it. From then on, I used amphetamines and drink to get me through life. I was addicted, but I always thought I was in control.

That changed when I was 19. My boyfriend Steve was 17 years older than me. Steve cared for me and I could trust him. After four years together, he went to bed one night and I found him dead from an accidental overdose next morning. Two days later I found I was pregnant with his child. After my daughter was born I became a heroin addict, with all the usual things that go with that, including suicide attempts.

I realised I needed help and I heard about Gilead through my 'scary' sister. She packed my daughter off to her place, gave me the application papers and told me to get on with it. I did my own detox with a really streetwise friend, and then went to the Residential Rehab on the farm in Devon.

What shocked me was there was this community of mad people (in the best way), all genuinely caring for one another and I fitted in. It felt like home, which I had never had. One morning I was talking about forgiveness with Ian and Bron Samuel (the founders of the ministry). I spent that whole day, from 7am til 8pm, just crying, couldn't stop. It did me good, whatever God was doing. I decided to hand my life over to God - I could see evidence of him in people all round me. It was a good decision - I never had hope, now I have loads of it, and I'm learning to trust again too. I'm like a little child walking in my faith. I graduated from the course and moved into a new flat in Plymouth with my daughter. I have great friends in our small church fellowship, a really friendly bunch of people at the place I work, and my little girl is settling down.

It's been a year since I went to Gilead and found God. For anyone else reading this who is in the same place I was, I need to say, "Talk to someone about it. There is hope and there is God." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.