(For privacy reasons, the name of the author and her parents are on file at Woodbury Reports Inc.)
I remember the morning that I was taken to the mountain. It was New Year's Day, 2003. The escorts were in full uniform, handcuffs dangling from their navy blue pants and shiny black boots stomping in the hallway. I sat up in bed and nearly screamed. They told me they were taking me to look at a boarding school because I needed help with my behavior. I was literally dragged kicking and screaming from my weeping Mother and put in a van. I tried to pull on the door. "If you keep doing that, we'll use these." One of them told me, dangling the silver handcuffs in my face.
Why me? I was the typical product of an LA divorce, spinning out of control at the age of 13. I didn't see anything wrong with my household behavior. I did anything I wanted, staying out all hours of the night with Hollywood drifters and misfits. I had been locking myself in my room for days trying to figure out who I was and where I was going. I had completely lost sight of my innocence. My Mother sent me away to an 'emotional growth boarding school' in the mountains, where all of my freedoms were stripped from me. When I arrived they took my ID photo and sent me to my dorm, where I cried for hours.
When people discuss their time in Junior High, they describe it as a stepping-stone into a new chapter and a time of self-evaluation. During adolescence, we are so vulnerable and sensitive to our surroundings that the slightest adjustment of scenery can send us into complete panic. I experienced this on an extremely high level. The first few months of my stay, I would sit up in bed and wail all night long, begging for comfort I knew I'd never find in this strange place.
The students at this boarding school had come from peculiar situations, each differing in content and background. We were all haunted by a tormented past and were required to share these painful issues with each other. I was appalled by some of the stories I heard. There were confessions of severe child abuse and rape and disclosures filled with blood and deceit. All of the people sharing these life events were between the ages of twelve and fifteen.
As time passed, I became more anxious and overwhelmed. I realized that I needed to channel the feelings and memories that were rising to the surface like oil over water. I was made to attend multi-hour groups of intense emotional exercises. At one point, in an overnight group, I was made to sit directly across from a stranger and scream insults in their face. I was told it was to relieve my anger, but I only left feeling sick inside.
One day, I was sitting on my bed with a blank piece of paper in front of me. When I picked up the pen, it became clear where my feelings were going to be channeled during the remainder of my stay at my program. The lines on the paper that were once blank were now a doorway to my thoughts and deepest emotions. During the events leading up to my placement, I thought I was as free as a bird. Through my writing I could see clearly that I was actually caged in my own existence, gasping for air in my hellish existence that I called "freedom".
Although I had discovered a solid way to channel my emotions, I had hit a brick wall in my emotional growth program. I was refusing to move forward and carry out the things the staff members asked of me. In group therapy I was closed off and refused to engage. I did not see their methods of self-development as beneficial in my life. I recall sitting in various one-on-one meetings with staff members and countless hours on speakerphone with my parents. They were begging me to move forward and accept the completion of the program as my fate. I was growing weary of having people tell me what to do. The only place I was free was in my writing and music.
Giving into a bogus system seemed like it contradicted all the values I had attained as a 15-year-old-girl. I was convinced that I was going to stay the way I was for the rest of my life. Then one day, I was asked to sit in a hard, dark brown, single person desk and told to go outside and find a rock between twenty and twenty-five pounds. Confused, I walked outside the main office building and found a large, jagged rock sitting next to a pine tree stump.
My arms dangled below my waist as I nearly dragged the rock inside. I dropped it in the staff member's hands and she told me I was going to carry this rock wherever I went. I was put on a "restriction". She handed me my restriction folder and told me to sign the agreements. I was shocked and appalled by the fact I had to carry around a heavy rock wherever I went. I found it to be humiliating and cruel. Reading my agreements was even more shocking. I was not allowed to smile, laugh, talk to anyone my "team leader" didn't approve. I had to sit with a "support" at every meal and sit at the back table. In group therapy I was to talk every time, and accept harsh feedback about my uncountable faults as a human being.
I was on this restriction for over a month, the whole while wondering what significance the rock had in my life. I wasn't allowed to have my own private books or writing and was punished if I was found writing outside of my restriction book. It was necessary for the staff to see my every hidden thought. The time I was unable to spend as my own person was completely intolerable. For the first time in my life, I was forced to face myself without any distractions. I started to think that I was a useless space on the planet and I would never be able to function in society.
It was also at this time that I began to look back on the events leading up to placement and accept the fact that my behavior was bizarre and unreasonable. I realized that the things I had been putting my family through were completely unnecessary and I was being extremely selfish. The rock represented what guilt and shame I was unable to get rid of in my life. The intense series of emotions I felt were unexplainable. Looking back on journal entries, my mind was going wild. I shamed myself for being so blinded by selfishness and for the fact that the only way I was able to realize the state my heavy burdened mind was to physically feel it.
After I was let off of my restriction, my outlook on life completely changed. I began to appreciate things at a new level and was writing more music and poetry than I ever had previously in my life. A single rock created a spark of creativity I have never been able to relive. A single rock had taught me so much about empathy, endurance and tolerance.
In March 2005, my program abruptly closed and I wasn't able to say goodbye to many of my close friends. I then transferred to an amazing art school in Ojai, CA where I was finally free to express myself the way I really wanted to-through the arts. During my year and a half at school, I was able to process the endless trauma I felt in my program in the beautiful Ojai Valley. I even reconnected with some of my closest friends there. Sadly, poor health conditions steered me back to Los Angeles, where I currently reside.
Currently, I am a Senior in high school. More than ever, I am thinking about my rock and what it did for me. It helps me cope with the cruel behavior of others and reminds me to have good intentions in my actions, no matter how much pain I have in my heart. Although I constantly feel unaccepted and ostracized amongst my new peers, it doesn't bother me. I have a blank piece of paper and many things to write. I have an empty canvas and many things to paint. I have a future with endless possibilities and I never have to carry that rock ever again.