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December 10, 2010

We love to spread around good news when it comes back to us at PQ.  This month a father of an alumni student reached out to share about his experience attending a speech his daughter gave at school.  Below is the father’s description of the speech and the alumni PQ student’s speech in written form.  Both father and daughter gave permission for us to share this.  For confidentiality purposes we have kept the identities of our alumni clients private, changing the wording of the email and speech slightly.

Reading the students speech produced chills in my spine.  It is amazing that she is able to share this with the world and serve as an inspiration to her fellow student body. I want to extend a huge thank you to the student and family who chose to share this with us.  We are very proud of you!!

Father’s email to PQ:

About a month ago my daughter voluntarily gave a 20 min speech to her entire school (400 students and faculty).  She wrote it  herself.  She told us she was going to tell the school “her story,” but she wouldn’t tell us the details. She said we had to see it if we wanted to hear it.  I took the day off work and attended along with my wife and our 15 year old daughter.

To me, it was nothing short of incredible.  She delivered her material with remarkable poise and confidence.  She said things in front of 400 people that she’d never said to her mother and me.  Every parent in the place had tears in their eyes.  I was literally speechless.

Kids  have come up to her since then telling her that they are having challenges and that she was inspiration to them.

Speech:

Before the summer of 2009, I went through things that I thought would not happen to me until I was older, or even ever. I do not feel the need to go into vast detail about the things I struggled through during the early years of my high school career, but I will say this: they changed my life forever. I will never forget the things that I have been through or the feelings that were attached to them. Still, even now, I can feel those feelings, even though some of these experiences occurred over eight years ago. Looking back on who I was as an eighth grader or freshman and comparing it to who I am now, a senior who has done five years of high school, my personality and point of view on life are vastly different. And that is not simply because I have grown up.

Let me start off by saying I have never seen myself as a mean person. But that was not the case when it came to my family. For some reason, which I never truly understood until the summer of 2009, I was not nice to my parents or my younger sister. I would get angry very easily. I was extremely impatient and would freak out if I didn’t get my way. I took my problems with friends or school out on my family, and would very often say mean and insulting things. My sister and I were not friends by any means, because I was frequently wounding her with verbal abuse and mean names. I was in the mind-frame that because they were my family, they would love me forever no matter what happened. For some reason, I believed that I had the ability to say and do whatever I wanted when it came to my family and that everything would always be alright. But what I never considered was that my family would always love me, but they didn’t have to like me.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. My family started to genuinely dislike me. Now, they still loved me of course, and I know they always will. However, they began to dislike spending any time with me at all, because we were always fighting. My sister was afraid of me. We very, very rarely had a conversation where I was nice to her. She even told her friends about how much she disliked me, and about how she wished I would just be nice for once.

Now don’t get me wrong; I love my family more than anything in this world and would do anything for them now. And I have always loved my family. There is no other way for me to describe my feelings for them. Even while I was yelling and screaming at my parents and my sister, I have never felt any feelings but love for them. Of course, I have been angry or upset with them, and I have said that I hated them, as I’m sure many kids have burst out in a fit of rage. But I have always loved them. With that said, I sadly have not always appreciated how loving and caring they are. I used to be rude, short-tempered, and impatient. I was truly just plain mean.

On top of all of this, I was suffering from depression. This is where my story gets fuzzy, because I do not feel the need or want for all of you to know my personal struggles. However, I will give you a brief overview of what I was going through. When I was in sixth grade, I didn’t have many friends. There was a group at school, created by two students, called the IHA. It stood for the I Hate A___ club. My only friend for three years was my best friend to this day. Could you imagine how it felt? Looking back on this, I can still feel the sense of not belonging to any community. I felt like an outsider and a loser for three whole years.

This is what truly started my depression. I was not severely depressed until I started high school, though. Throughout middle school I surely felt depression, but I never knew how serious it could get until I started at high school.

Although during the middle of eighth grade I began to make friends with people, high school was a whole different story. I went into it with a confidence that maybe this would change things for me, and that I could finally have some friends, some people that truly cared about me. And while I did have friends, and I did meet new people that slowly but surely became my friends, I still felt somewhat alone. Friends came and went, none of them staying for much longer than a few months. For some reason, people really liked to pick on me and spread rumors. I was classified by so many different labels: “bitch”, “slut”, “stuck up”, and so on. I like to think these labels do not accurately describe me.

So, because of the environment at my old public high school, and also because I was failing my classes, I got sent to boarding school. I absolutely LOVED it there. I had amazing friends, I was doing better in school, and I finally felt like I belonged. I thought that maybe, just maybe, this would be a new start for me. A place where no one knew my past and didn’t have to know it if I didn’t want them to. I took full advantage of this opportunity, and quickly made friends with many people. For a short time, my depression subsided. My family and I became close- closer than we had ever been before. My mom and I became very good friends, talking on the phone every day and enjoying each other’s company. My sister and I started to have a good relationship, because I wasn’t insulting her or yelling at her anymore. My father began to be one of my role models, and we shared some fun times that I will never forget. Life seemed to finally be looking up for me.

However, unfortunately, in the winter of my sophomore year, I became involved with some people that were not healthy for me. I met a boy that I quickly started to like, and we soon started dating. After dating a while, I realized that we had fallen in love. I was so unbelievable happy. But, sadly, things started going downhill. He became, at least in my perception, jealous, controlling, manipulative, and just plain mean. He was emotionally and mentally abusive. He got angry very easily and would always blame everything on me. Every time we fought, which was extremely often, it was always my fault. I started to feel terrible about myself and my depression slowly but surely came back. He made me think that I was a terrible, messed up person, and I began to hate myself.

This is when my depression became truly severe. We dated for a year and half, and because of all of the fighting and blame put on me, I fell into a deep slump. Nearly every time we fought, he would claim that he “never wanted to see me again” and would break up with me. Even though we would get back together a few days later, every time he said those words they hurt even more.

When we finally broke up for good, my depression became more serious than I ever expected. I was never happy. I can’t remember one instance during this time period of my life where I genuinely felt happy. I spent every day thinking about how I could get him back and prove to him that I wasn’t as bad as he thought. You might be thinking, “how could she ever stay with someone like that who was so terrible to her?” Well, I’ll tell you what I tell everyone who asks me that—he truly made me feel as if I deserved what I was getting. I was blind to his faults, and instead criticized myself for not being a good enough person to be able to keep him as mine.

My family and friends tried everything they could to make me see how terrible he was. Sadly, the depression I was in made it so that I was not nice to the people who truly cared about me. I went back to my old habits of being impatient, mean, and rude. Even though my parents began to dislike me again, they still tried their hardest to help me get out of this horrible situation. My sister became scared for me and would tell her friends about how much she was against my relationship with this guy. My family wanted so badly to help me solve my problems, but nothing worked. Once again, I was a dreadful person to be around.

December of my junior year (my first junior year) was the final straw. My family was tired of trying to help me see how bad he was for me. The teachers and guidance counselor at my school were worried for my health and well-being. My grades were well below what I needed to get into the colleges I wanted. My parents and the school agreed that something needed to happen to get me away from this awful person.

One day, I got pulled out of English class by the Dean of Students. He told me that he needed to have a conversation with me, and led me to a room in the top of the health center. As soon as I walked in, I knew that I was in deep trouble. My parents, the Assistant Dean of Students, the school nurse, and the school guidance counselor were all sitting around the room looking at me. The Dean of Students asked me to sit down, and slowly began to tell me that I would be leaving school.

As you can probably assume, I was devastated. Like I told you, I absolutely loved it there. Although my ex-boyfriend was making my life a living hell, I still felt at home there, and couldn’t imagine going to school anywhere else. I started bawling, begging them to let me stay and telling them that I would do anything, ANYTHING, to stay. Evidently, nothing worked. They told me to go to my room, pack a duffle bag, and go home. I was told that I could study for exams at home and then come back to take them, and that I would be getting the rest of my stuff then. I cried and screamed the whole way home.

I began school again at my local high school in January of 2009. I made new friends, and started getting out of my depression stage. While I was starting to become happier in general, I was still not a very nice person to my family. We began fighting nearly every day again. My friendship with my mother started to dissolve, I instigated many problems with my sister, and I created a hostile environment in my household. I can still remember a fight with my parents, about something that I had posted on Facebook. Looking back on it now, it really wasn’t a big deal. But because I was stubborn and felt entitled to do whatever I wanted, I was enraged that my parents would even think to tell me what I could and could not post on my Facebook page. I became furious with my father when he asked me to please take it down, and stormed up to my room, away from him and my mother. I refused to speak to them and started packing a duffle bag. I decided that I was going to run away to my best friend’s house for the night. She only lived a few streets away and what could my parents possibly do to punish me? I ran down the stairs, through the kitchen, and out the front door. My father ran after me, screaming at me and asking what the hell I thought I was doing. I stood in the middle of my front yard, barefoot with a duffle bag, in the rain, yelling at him that I was running away to Allie’s and was sleeping there for the night. Of course, he told me that I was not allowed to do this and if I did I would be in serious trouble. But I was defiant and quite frankly just didn’t care, so I stormed off to her house.

As you can probably guess, I got in a whole bunch of trouble. My parents and sister both tried extremely hard to get me to come home, but in my fit of tears I convinced my best friend’s mom to let me stay. She told my parents that she would take care of me and bring me home after school the next day. Even though my parents were enraged with me, they let it happen. They knew that fighting it wouldn’t change anything. I was set on staying there, and because I felt so entitled to whatever I wanted, that wasn’t going to change.

That’s just one of the many stories. I could tell you about endless nights of fighting and tears. I couldn’t see it, but I was spiraling downward. Fast. My parents and my sister noticed how bad my life was becoming, and how quickly our family was starting to fall apart. They were scared for our relationships and were willing to do anything to save it. My parents did a lot of research and talked to a lot of people, and in the summer of 2009, they sent me away to a wilderness therapy camp in Hawaii.

I know what you might be thinking: Hawaii? That doesn’t sound so bad. However, this was not the Hawaii that people see on TV or in magazines. I was living in mountainous woods, far from city centers and very far from Hawaii’s well-known tourist sites. I worked in an organic vegetable garden every day, with some self-reflection and therapy time sprinkled in. No one truly believes me when I insist that it was not, in fact, fun and I did not, in fact, spend my summer “vacationing” in Hawaii.

Living at a wilderness therapy camp, no matter where in the world it is, is not easy. You are not allowed to contact your family in any way other than letters. You cannot see your family until a certain amount of time has passed. You are not allowed to have any contact with the outside world. You get all of your personal belongings taken away from you, and the only things that are yours are your sweatpants, t-shirts, shorts, underwear, towels, sunhat, and journals. You sit in your hale (Hawaiian for hut) day after day, thinking about how in the world you got to where you are now. Some days are work days. This means that you go out into the garden, are given a job, and you work until your task is complete. Sometimes it is as easy as planting some lettuce, other times it is as hard and working with a staff member to cut down banana trees. Other days are therapy days. This means that the therapists come to camp for the day, and your assigned therapist will meet with you for a check in. They will tell you what your family is thinking about your experience, and will help you through your issues. Other days are reflection days. On these days, you sit in your hale for the entire day and think. You literally just sit there and reflect on what you’re going through and how to change your faults. You write in your journal every day as a requirement. However, it soon becomes more of a comfort than a requirement.

When I first arrived in Hawaii, I genuinely believed that I did not “deserve” to be there. I thought I was perfectly fine the way I was—why was I being treated as a suspect? Moreover, I thought that I deserved better. Looking back, I now realize that even my choice of words—“I do not deserve to be here”—suggests that I did deserve to be there. At that point, I believed I was entitled to whatever I wanted, and whatever that “want” was, it was more important than anybody else’s feelings, needs, or concerns.

I spent my two and a half months in Hawaii reflecting on myself, my family, and my life. Was this really who I wanted to be? Did I want to spend nearly every day fighting with my parents and sister? Did I want to be easily angered or upset?

I most certainly did not want any of those things. So I worked. Living in Hawaii at a wilderness therapy camp helped me reveal the imperfections in myself that I never knew I had, and it gave me the chance to change them. Through talking, both formally and informally, I exposed my most volatile emotions to myself as well as to everyone else in the camp. By exposing these feelings, I began to accept them, ultimately learning how to control them far better and be patient in the midst of inner chaos. The structured program of Pacific Quest, from the first stage of isolation and powerlessness, to the next stage of growing community and autonomy, to the arrival of my parents and the news I would soon be leaving Hawaii, allowed me to realize I cannot win every battle, nor can I fight every one. I started to understand that I must work through my struggles, yet accept certain things that I cannot change. I discovered that I have the ability to be patient, calm, and accepting, and I found the strength to validate myself and not always look to others to show me that what I am doing is correct.

My family and I now have the best relationship I could ever imagine. In fact, they’re watching right now. My mother is my best friend, and I talk to her every day about the things going on in my life. My sister and I are closer than ever, and we never fight. She is truly the best sister and friend I could ever ask for. My dad and I are very close, and every time we are together, we have fun. I no longer take advantage of my family’s love and care, but instead try to reciprocate the amount of love they give me every day.

Now, I don’t mean to make this a sob story or dwell on my personal conflicts, or to make this all about my journeys through life. This is supposed to be about what I believe, right? Okay, so here’s what I believe. I believe in simply believing. It might sound stupid, and it might not make sense to you. But let me explain. I believe that if you have the confidence and self-assurance that you can do whatever task you are given, that you will be able to. I believe that if you can believe in yourself, you can do what you put your mind to. I believe that if you can believe in others, they will be able to believe in themselves. I believe that if you simply just believe, everything will become just a little bit easier.

Just try it. Just try believing. In anything. In yourself, in others, in the power of whatever. I don’t know what you all believe in.  But here’s something I do know—simply just believing is what helped me get through all of my tough experiences in life. The day before I left for Hawaii, my mother gave me the necklace that I still wear everyday. It says “believe” on it. Every time my father sent me a letter while I was in Hawaii, he would mention something about believing in myself, in others, in anything. I didn’t know then how significant that small word would become to me, but it is what helped me through my journey at Pacific Quest. It is what helped me improve my relationships with my parents and my sister. It is what changed my life.

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