Eighteen months ago, I was an entirely different person. I felt trapped inside my damaged life. I had a broken heart and was so scared. My dad, who is no longer living, had never been a part of my life. My mom never really cared about me. It seemed like the men and the drugs were always more important. Life at home was lonely, chaotic and unpredictable. The county took me away from my mom a few times by the time I was eight. After that, I went to live with my aunt. I believed my aunt was stuck with me and that I didn’t belong there. I didn’t know where I belonged.
At school, I felt like I was the odd one out. I couldn’t find my place within the social circle and I got picked on. Since it was so hard to get close to anyone, I found it was easier to isolate myself. During that time, my negative self-talk began to impact my quality of life. I developed a severe hatred for every part of myself. I wished I didn’t exist and wondered what was wrong with me. I felt totally alone and was completely numb most of the time. Then at around age 14, I started cutting my arms with a razor blade. Cutting was a temporary release from all the pain, hurt, anger, sadness, and loneliness I was feeling inside. When I cut myself, I felt less numb. It was a weird sensation and I felt quite detached. I felt ashamed and embarrassed about what I was doing to myself. I thought my aunt would hate me if she knew. So, I went to great lengths to keep my cutting a secret. Then, I started to hang out with people who were not good for me. I started drinking alcohol, using ecstasy and experimenting with prescription pills. My friends encouraged me to sneak out of the house at night and go to parties. At one of the parties, I was sexually assaulted. This made me feel angry and humiliated. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone. After that, things at home when downhill fast. I pushed the limits, intentionally broke rules, and I got into shouting matches with my aunt. The fights turned physical when I pushed my aunt up against the wall and slapped her face so hard her lip started to bleed.
Things got worse before they got better. My self-loathing was so extreme I wanted nothing better than to see myself dead. I actually tried to kill myself twice. After my second attempt, the hospital referred me to Volunteers of America-Minnesota Children’s Residential Treatment Center (CRTC). CRTC provides treatment for teens who have severe emotional problems like mine, as well as mood and anxiety disorders and eating disorders. I didn’t want to be there and didn’t speak to anyone for the first two weeks. I was uncooperative, stubborn and resistant to therapy. During that time, my aunt continued to participate in family therapy even though I told her how much I hated her. The staff at CRTC didn’t give up on me either. Eventually, I started to build the skills to cope more effectively with my feelings, feel emotionally safe, and change my dysfunctional patterns of behavior. I learned to channel my strengths for good and feel good about myself. I began to wonder why I ever resisted love. I found validation for my feelings, as well as acceptance and hope. Once I was on the right track, I completed treatment in just seven months.
Today, I’m back in public high school and have a job at a restaurant. I’m sober, no longer cutting and continue therapy as an outpatient. I have found people around me who have never given up on me and have believed in me the whole way. My major outlet is writing poetry. Being able to channel my energy in a creative way helps me stay positive and builds my confidence. I want to make a difference in other people’s lives and am active in several human rights groups. I hope that in someway I can turn my experience into a positive thing, even if it means making one person feel a little bit less alone. When people see me now, they see a confident 16-year-old who is a natural leader. But things haven’t always been that way. There are always the reminders of the way that I used to be – the scars on my arms, the friends that I no longer see. But, I’m not the broken girl I used to be, I am me.
*We have changed the name of the subject and certain details to protect privacy and confidentiality. The individual in the accompanying photo is a model.