I grew up in the suburbs of Northern Virginia with a younger sister and two loving parents. I went to good schools and had the privilege of doing lots of extracurricular activities. I was a gifted musician and artist and loved to dance.
I had always struggled with feeling a little awkward and like I didn’t quite fit in. By the time I reached high school the desperation for approval and to be accepted by my peers pushed me to hang out with the only crowd that I felt welcomed in- the “cool kids” who smoked cigarettes after school. As I begin to hang out with them more and more I started doing the things I thought I needed to do to fit in- smoking, drinking, doing drugs, and being promiscuous. I loved the way that alcohol made me feel, it was a perfect release from all of the pressure I felt to be different than I was. Being high and drunk quickly became the only way that I felt comfortable in my own skin. I began to crave it more and more and soon it was landing me in very dangerous situations. I ran away from home, got in trouble with the police, and would skip school, all things I never saw myself doing. While I may have started using drugs and alcohol because I wanted to fit in, before I knew it they were dictating my life in a way that made me feel completely powerless.
Despite my parents best efforts to help me (psychiatric testing, individual and family therapy, drug screenings and education), I could not stop using, even when I desperately wanted to. I didn’t feel like anyone understood me or could help me. I really lost all hope. Around that time (March 2011), unbeknownst to me, my parents hired transporters to take me to a wilderness program. I was shocked and didn’t know what was going on.
In the beginning of my time at wilderness I was very angry and frustrated but more than that I was exhausted. I was so sick and tired of trying to run my life and make things go my way, only to watch it fail time after time again. A therapist there presented me with the way out- all I needed was willingness to listen to her direction. Slowly but surely I started writing my family letters, learning how to take accountability for the things that I had done to harm them, and taking interest in their lives. By the time I finished wilderness and got to Auldern I was ready to get to work.
Not all the girls that come to Auldern are as willing as I was to follow the rules and try and make the most out of their time there. But for those of us who did, wonderful things started to happen. I learned how to show up for school without being on drugs, I was able to graduate with straight A’s, and I started learning how my painful past could be useful to other girls who are struggling. Individual therapy and the sobriety group began to teach me how to amend my self-centered perspective. Pam Wiggins (facilitator of the sobriety group) was especially influential in my journey at Auldern. Her wisdom, clarity, and love for each girl’s recovery continues to inspire me to this day.
Through the art program and activities provided at Auldern, I found the artist in me that I had lost touch with years before. This helped heal a part of me that I never realized was broken. I learned discipline, self-respect, accountability, and the importance of introspection when dealing with interpersonal relationships. These are all tools that I’ve taken with me in the many years since I’ve left Auldern.
With the help of the amazing teachers, I was able to apply to the University of Mary Washington, where I started just weeks after leaving Auldern. There I majored in psychology, became a sports coach, and made friends with good, healthy people. Two years into my time there I met my fiancé Austin and we moved to New York together. There I graduated from Marymount Manhattan College, Summa Cum Laude in the Spring of 2016 with a degree in psychology and a double minor in neuroscience and social work. I am attending New York University in the fall for a graduate degree in clinical neuroscience and psychology. When I was drinking, I never thought that I would attend college, let alone graduate school. The time and dedication the teachers at Auldern spent guiding me helped build my self-confidence as a student. The work ethic I built during my time there is something I still take great pride in today.
The ability to communicate with other people effectively during my time at Auldern has been a skill of unparalleled use for me in my life. Not only does it help guide my personal relationships and my career, it also allows me to continue working with young women who are struggling with addiction and self-worth. It is truly the bright spot of my life today to be able to instill hope in those who are still suffering. This is a gift that I began learning during my time at Auldern.
My parents, sister and I have relationships today better than they’ve ever been. Therapists at Auldern taught us how to better communicate with one another in times of difficulty. My time at Auldern gave us the space we needed to mend our past and build trust in each other again.
To those parents who may read my testimony, I hope that it leaves you with a bit of hope. Not all girls who come to Auldern are willing to do the work. Of my graduating class, some have suffered tremendous consequences due to continued use of drugs and alcohol, others have continued to struggle to manage and be responsible for their lives, however, so many of us are living happy and healthy lives. There is no way to insert willingness into someone else’s life, even if you love them with all of your heart. Sending your child to Auldern does not guarantee that they will get better right away. For those girls who are willing, there is a vast amount of learning and healing that can take place there. For those who aren’t ready, Auldern plants a seed, a way out of their old destructive behaviors for future reference. Some of those seeds will not be sewn until later on in the girl’s lives but that does not make it any less impactful.
When I was sent to Auldern I didn’t care if I lived or died anymore. If it weren’t for the unconditional love of my parents, I truly believe I wouldn’t be alive today. Auldern was my bridge back to a better life. I owe a debt of gratitude and the foundation of my life today to the tools that I learned during my time there. The selfless staff who love and care for the girls day in and day out never cease to amaze me. They have changed my life. It was their incredible work that helped bring my family back together again and showed me how much there is worth living for.
My depression was a complete monster that dragged me away from my family, my friends, my education, and the things that I enjoyed and loved most. I felt utterly alone with no way out. I rarely left my room and cried daily, wondering what was wrong with me. I was reckless, never caring what my actions caused, because nothing mattered to me. It was all so, so scary for me and I still catch myself wondering how I even managed to crawl my way out.
When I arrived at Auldern, I rarely spoke to anyone. Due to an OCD called trichotillomania (hair-pulling), I wore a wig, which only added to my overwhelming anxiety. After some time, I casually began to open up to staff and some of my peers. Their support—and my sudden courage—allowed me to stand in front of the whole school to tell everyone about my trichotillomania, and even shed my wig a mere two days later. Without fail, everyone stood right by me and supported me. This memory will always encourage and empower me.
Throughout my two years attending Auldern, I was challenged and pushed to be the best version of myself. Through my work with therapists, teachers and student-life counselors, I discovered traits about myself that both surprised and shocked me. I dug up memories that had long been suppressed and was finally able to understand and overcome the trauma that attached itself to them. I realized that what I had to say was actually valued and listened to. I explored every corner of my mind, which was terrifying to say the least, but extremely necessary.
By the end of my stay, I often spoke my mind and paraded around campus with overflowing confidence. I advocated for issues that were important to me, I advocated for others, and – most importantly – I advocated for myself—something I was not able to do before. I finally had self-confidence and esteem. I had a life vision and knew where I wanted to go.
Three years ago, I would have laughed if someone had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Right now, I’m sitting on my college campus, a place I never would have thought I’d be. I’m majoring in Mass Communications at Middle Tennessee University, having just spent three months studying abroad in Tokyo, Japan. My life and future are things I cannot take for granted. I cannot begin to express my gratitude to the staff and students I met over my time at Auldern. I learned something from each of them that I carry with me every single day.
I’m not saying that Auldern is the magic ladder that will pull you out from whatever it is you’re going through, but it is the foundation upon which you, yourself, and only you, can begin to climb out on your own. Auldern provides the help, the skills and support, but you have to do it yourself—using the tools they provide and the skills they teach.
Living at Auldern taught me many things about myself that I probably would have never known, and yet I still have a long way to go—I’m only nineteen. Undoubtedly I know that I must keep striving, working, learning, discovering, because that’s what this is all about. The growing never stops.
I arrived at Auldern in October 2013 and left in July 2016. I transitioned to Auldern from a Residential Treatment Center and although my immediate external behaviors had for the most part stopped, I had a lot of internal and emotional work to do and still develop. My time at Auldern, though challenging in many ways, help me to grow an exceptional amount all around, academically, emotionally and mentally. I faced many hardships while at Auldern from having to overcome my own personal obstacles to my social anxiety and struggle to make friends with peers but ultimately these hardships, the skills I learned and the relationships I made helped to shape me into the person I am today. Like I said, it wasn’t always rainbows and sunshine and some days were harder than others, however, my journey at Auldern has helped me to become the self-confident, self-loving and capable person I am today and to see the world in a much better light.
Auldern to me wasn’t just a school it became my home away from home and the people there became my other family. I used to say all the time to my friends there “OMG I CANT WAIT TO GO HOME” whenever we would be on a break because I would miss Auldern and my “family” there so much. Auldern became my safe place and the staff and girls there became my family. I felt lost, confused and alone for most of my life so to have a place where I felt safe and solidified truly helped me to make the progress I needed to.
I am currently a sophomore in college and have been doing very well. The staff at Auldern, especially my therapist(s), have truly aided me and helped prepare me for the transition and to be able to thrive on my own. I still talk to people who went to Auldern with me and to lots of the staff that work there. Auldern ultimately gave me a chance at life when I didn’t think I would ever get one. Again, it wasn’t always easy and some days I wanted to quit but at the end of the day, with the support of my friends and the staff, I didn’t quit and knew I was supported through it all. That made all the difference! I would not be the same person I am today nor be able to conquer the challenges I face every day in the manner and success in which I do now had I not been at Auldern and made the connections I did. It is a place I will always feel akin to, forever value and always miss.