From an early age, I was told not to make the same mistakes as my mother. She hadn’t had an easy life since getting pregnant with me at seventeen, and she always blamed me for her failures. Unable to care for me, my grandparents took me in at six weeks of age and raised me as their daughter. I excelled in school and took pleasure in being on the track team, part of Camp Fire and attending ballet classes. I had a great relationship with my grandparents. Then, in eighth grade, I discovered that staying out late with my friends was more fun than going home.

Losing interest in my activities and school, I skipped a lot of class with a group of friends. My grades started to suffer, and I was suspended for truancy and being disrespectful to the teachers. I became addicted to drugs and constantly ran away to attend parties. I dressed all in black and had a horrible attitude. I began to spiral out of control.

My lowest point came when I was at a friend’s house one afternoon. They brought out a shotgun and told me to get up. I laughed and told them to shoot me. They pulled the trigger — miraculously, it wasn’t loaded. I shrugged it off and went home. After a few months of this destructive behavior, my grandparents just couldn’t watch me destroy myself anymore. My life was going nowhere good, and the worst part was that I didn’t care at all.

After fourteen years of avoiding responsibility, my mother decided to swoop in and “cure me.” She saw me becoming like her, and couldn’t watch me go down that path any longer. She brought me to a rehabilitation center to be detoxed. The hospital was scary and I didn’t like it there. I tried to run away, but the doors were locked and I got caught. The staff mistook the cuts on my arms as suicide attempts and put me on medication that made me crazy. I cried every night, and wondered how I had gotten to this place. I felt guilty about hurting my grandparents and I desperately wanted to go home to them.

After about a month, I met with a therapist who ran a treatment center for girls. She said I was a good candidate for their program, but I had to prove to them that I would follow their rules. I wrote a letter promising I would do everything they told me — at that point, any place would have been better than the rehab center! I thought it was going to be a place where I could manipulate everyone and get sent home quickly, but I would soon be proved wrong.

I was transferred to the treatment center in the middle of a nice suburban neighborhood. There were counselors on staff to help you change your self-destructive behavior, and we were asked to go to school and perform community service. It was not what I was expecting.

My therapist had said that the center was not like the hospital. The doors were not locked, and I was free to leave at any time, but if I did, I would not be welcome back. She said that the counselors were there to help me, but it was up to me to make the final decision to change. I realized I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror anymore, and I knew I needed to stop letting my family down. So I decided to change.

I began to focus on my schoolwork again and really take part in my therapy sessions. I started to thrive, and even joined the track team again. I developed good relationships with the other girls who lived there. We did a lot of fun activities and field trips and I learned to enjoy myself again without substances. During my stay there, I even began to restore my relationship with my mother and grandparents. A lot of this was because of my therapist. She was an amazing woman, and she helped me figure out a lot of my issues and heal some of the hurt I had inflicted on my family and myself. She showed me that if I really wanted to succeed, I could.

After graduating the program, I moved in with my mother. This was not good for either of us. We were very similar in both good and bad ways, and we argued over everything. Our relationship hadn’t fully healed, and her continued drug use didn’t help matters. She was emotionally and verbally abusive, and continued to blame me for ruining her life. I didn’t want to stay there and become depressed, so I packed my duffel bag and ran away. After two months of hiding at friends’ houses, my mother threatened to have my grandparents arrested for kidnapping. Since I cared about my grandparents and knew it wasn’t true, I turned myself in and was put in a juvenile detention facility. The social workers decided where to place me, and I was very adamant that I would not go back to my mother. She missed two court dates, and I was released to my grandparents until I turned eighteen, as long as I didn’t skip school or resort to drug use. I stayed out of trouble and did well in school again. I received an award for “Turnaround Student of the Year.” I became a person they could count on again.

Graduating high school, I decided to attend veterinary nursing school. I married young, to the love of my life, and purchased a house — all before I turned twenty-five. I was able to accomplish all of the things that my mother had dreamed of for herself and for me. She was proud of me, even though our relationship still wasn’t great. In fact, she started to turn her life around too, and even began a job she really loved. Unfortunately, she died before she turned forty — her demons finally got the best of her.

When my mother died, I was angry with her. She had worked so hard to make me turn my life around, but she hadn’t saved herself. Over time, I realized that I am grateful to her for putting me in that treatment center, because I might have met the same fate as her — or worse — one day. If she were alive today, instead of being angry, I would thank her for saving my life.

I know that there are many teenagers out there in similar or worse situations than I was in. If I could tell them one thing, it would be that if you believe in yourself, you can succeed. You can always change for the better. I’m proof that it can be done.

M.W.F.

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