Karl Ayling often stood on the bridge above the railway line.
It wasn’t because he liked the view of the derelict buildings or litter-filled waste ground. Rather, it would be a good place to kill himself. A scramble over the wall. A wait for the train. A short leap. Oblivion.
“At the time, I had just turned 40 and I was really surprised that I had made it that far,” he smiles.
“I had a list of addictions that could paper a wall. Drugs, alcohol and especially sex, to name just a few. I don’t know how I didn’t die from AIDS. I mean, I had so many one-night stands, often stoned or drugged up to my eyeballs.
“I’d regularly walk to that bridge and decide I may as well get it over with. Who would care?”
The baggage Karl (pictured above) was carrying was formidable.
“In my 20s, I really wanted to kill both my parents. When I was just five years old, the words that would drive absolute fear and dread into my young mind was when Dad would give Mum money and tell her, ‘Go and do the shopping’.
“As soon as she walked out the door, he would sexually abuse me and another boy, along with two girls aged 7 and 11. He also abused other kids in our street, was violent, abusive and had loads of affairs.
“When Mum returned from the shops, she claimed she had no idea what had gone on in her absence. All us kids were too terrified to say anything.
“Dad had started to physically abuse me from the age of three. He’d punch me with the full force of a grown man. I knew how to keep quiet.”
Karl also knew he had no ally in his mum: “Most mums are excited when their child starts the first day at school. All my mum did was open the front door and tell me, ‘Off you go’.”
“My classmates soon turned on me, beating me up and calling me all sorts of names. We lived in Brixton where many people carried a knife and were not slow to use it. I was regularly mugged.
“In those days, there was no counselling or charities such as Childline. From the age of 5, I just had to get on with it.”
When he was 7, Karl could not take his father’s abuse any longer. He finally told a teacher, and his father was arrested and imprisoned.
“Mum’s response was to tell me I had brought shame on the family. She tried to kill herself.”
She blamed him for his father’s imprisonment and started to sexually abuse him between the ages of 7 and 19.
“Mum died in 1996 and I had no idea where Dad was.
“One-night stands or drugs were a temporary escape but when they wore off, I was depressed and even suicidal. I didn’t know why I was still living.
“In all my forty years, I never thought much about God,” he explains. “I would have described myself as an atheist.
“Then, one day, when I was 41, I was passing a church. I decided to take a look inside and there was Jesus hanging on a cross. Why did that happen, I wondered? He was a good guy, so why did he end up on a cross? What did it mean, if anything, to me 2,000 years later?
“I had lots of questions and decided to seek some answers. I began attending the church. Over the next two years, I attended most Sundays. I asked questions, read the Bible and started to pray.
“In 2004, I was baptised. It was an amazing point in an amazing journey. I felt God telling me to help other people who’d been through what I had.”
Karl had always been bright but had no outlet to develop his education. After coming to Jesus, he embarked on a degree, gaining a BA (Hons) in Counselling from the University of Chichester. He went on to obtain a research Post-Graduate Diploma in Psychology from the University of Surrey .
“I am experienced working in autism, depression, anxiety, abuse, stress and trauma. In all, I have over 15 years working in pastoral care, including four years providing counselling for trauma.”
Karl is also a member of the Association of Christian Counsellors (ACC).
“God has given us this insight, this tool to end the pain and misery and guilt that many people experience and live with. However, the saving and free love of Jesus is the best antidote.
“However deep your pain, Jesus offers complete healing. I know because I have experienced it. I found him by simply walking into a church.”