Amanda was strangely quiet as a toddler. When most her age were saying their first words, Amanda didn’t utter a sound. Her delayed speech was later attributed to abuse in the home. Amanda was removed from her birth family at age two, to be adopted into a family of 11 children, four of whom were already out of the house, the remaining seven all adopted. Amanda loved the vibrancy of a full home.
After Amanda entered the first grade, the family had just moved to Colorado, when her father was taken away. Shortly after, her brother, Rafael, also left, and one of her sisters ran away from home. Without any explanation, Amanda was left to interpret these events on her own. Confused and sad, Amanda, struggling to express herself, was often in tears. Though she began to see a counselor, she wouldn’t speak.
Four moves and several years later, as Amanda was entering high school, she was the only child left in the home when Rafael returned to live with them. Having just moved to a new neighborhood, Amanda was hopeful for a companion in her brother to ease the difficulty of making new friends, but her hopes were quickly dashed as she found herself walking home alone from school every day. Amanda reflects on her struggles in communicating: “I started to feel like I didn’t matter...I felt like I couldn’t open up; I felt like that when I was younger, also. That was an issue for me. It led me to making decisions that weren’t right.”
Amanda started seeing a guy who was also her ticket into the drug scene. Up until then, Amanda had been faithfully attending youth group. One night, she arrived under the influence of drugs, and when her leader caught on, Amanda was too ashamed to return. Amanda started to associate with a new crowd of people where the drugs were stronger and the stakes were higher. Amanda was returning home from the park one night when she was choked and sexually assaulted by the male that was escorting her home. Amanda began to crumble inside. Though her mother immediately detected something was wrong, Amanda instinctively gravitated toward her boyfriend. Depression and anxiety began to set in.
One day at school, a family history project was assigned and everyone was asked to share in front of the class. As Amanda delineated her family tree, embarrassment and shame overwhelmed her. More than ever, Amanda yearned for a father, for someone to care for and protect her. Amanda desired to share with her mother all that was going on inside her, but shame overtook her. She began to despair of her very existence.
One of my victories is I didn’t run out today. Just to smile is a victory to me. When I help people - that’s a victory to me…” Kelsey recounts victories gained during her nine months at CEM. “I’ve overcome the lie of not feeling loved... Even when I get really sad, I can’t say no one accepts me anymore. I can’t say that in front of certain people...It sounds stupid, because it’s not true.”
When Kelsey arrived at CEM for a tour, it was two days after what would have been her first day of senior year at the local high school. Her anxiety had become debilitating - she was unable to return to campus. That summer, Kelsey had hardly been home, spending her days and nights at the river, only coming home every few days for a change of clothes. Smoking had become a way of life, whether with friends or alone. Kelsey had gained a reputation as a stoner and a blackout drunk.
Kelsey’s anxiety had first begun to surface as she entered her freshman year of high school. She found herself staying away from social settings while her twin, Lylli, began to build other relationships. Kelsey was easily intimidated and struggled with her appearance and how others perceived her. As she withdrew, and as Lylli navigated the social scene with ease, Kelsey only grew more self-conscious. Previously a regular churchgoer, Kelsey stopped attending altogether and even going to school was a daily battle.
As high school continued, Kelsey would eventually return to church to find sanctuary, but the four walls began to feel more hollow as she was seduced by drugs and alcohol. She found acceptance in a deceptively carefree lifestyle that would only demand more of her. Over time, constant exposure to a new genre of music stoked a growing appetite for heavier drugs.
When Kelsey came to CEM, she barely had any time to settle in before she was catapulted into Tahoe National Forest for a 15-day backpacking trip. Kelsey was enthralled with the beauty of the outdoors, and she was also grateful for a two-week head start on sobriety. Climbing rock faces, swimming in lakes, and sleeping under the stars stirred her soul.
Reintegrating into the structure of daily life at the Ranch was difficult, but as Kelsey began to submit herself to the program and to daily spiritual disciplines, she began to discover a new rhythm. “Just praying when I’m hurting is a victory. I used to not pray at all…I love worshipping God [through song]...” Kelsey has enjoyed spontaneous worship sessions with intern Olivia and recently had an opportunity to co-lead worship at a local church.
Kelsey recognizes that engaging in worship is one of the only ways her mind can be completely freed from her anxious thoughts. Though it often feels like battling anxiety is an uphill battle, Kelsey can see visible progress as her mind is renewed and she puts on truth. She recounts a significant counseling session just a couple of months ago: “I couldn’t forgive myself for what I’ve done in the past. I was so rebellious to God. I was disrespectful to my parents; I didn’t even see that was a problem. That’s why I was so angry...Elise asked if I wanted to pray and ask for forgiveness. I asked for forgiveness and confessed my sins…”
Our prayer for Kelsey is that she would daily experience the forgiveness that was bought on the cross and that she would continue to step into greater wholeness as she beholds Christ. Kelsey is on track to graduate high school this month and will be surrounded by a small army of her biggest cheerleaders. “I’m achieving what I thought was impossible.”
Rocky entered the world with the theme song of Rocky playing in the background. His name at birth, Rockford, was quickly shortened to Rocky by his movie aficionado father, and when Rocky’s younger brother was born, he was given the name Maverick, after the lead in another well-known film. Movie nights with the family characterized Rocky’s earliest memories with his father before his parents’ divorce when he was five. After his father left, a year passed before Rocky heard from him, with only sporadic phone calls after that.
“I always wanted to be different. I wanted to stand out.” Upon her arrival at CEM, Kalah’s defining characteristics were her dramatically drawn-on eyebrows and her hair extensions. Kalah’s obsession with image began in the fourth grade, when her unmarred appearance drew unwanted attention from the other kids. From then on, each significant change in appearance would signify an outward response to suppressed inner turmoil.
In the fifth grade, when she changed her appearance, Kalah had just begun to respond to dysfunction in the home. In the sixth grade, Kalah experienced her first betrayal from her best friend, who effectively turned everyone at school against her. In need of friendship, Kalah began to converse with the opposite gender, eventually gaining the reputation unfoundedly as a slut. Kalah began to crumble inside, but rebounded, deciding that if this was the label that was thrust upon her, then she would live up to it in its entirety.
“I started secluding myself in my room a lot. I started buying [provocative clothing], black eyeliner, and had pencilthin eyebrows.” Continued rejection from her peers only reinforced her new behavior and online messaging apps only enabled it. By the eighth grade, Kalah began to slip into depression, immersing herself in the world of Kurt Cobain. Kalah started to self-medicate with prescription drugs and experiment with depressants, stimulants, and hallucinogens. Meanwhile, she had lost herself in this label. “I was always the type to go ten steps beyond everyone else.”