I am writing this as I speed through the countryside of Indiana on a double decker bus. Both the Timberline Knolls retreat and The International OCD Foundation Conference are happening in the Chicago Area this year and they are only a week apart. Since I had a few days between the two, I met up with my dad and we did a quick trip around Ohio and Kentucky. As I ride the bus from Cincinnati to Chicago again, I have some time to reflect on the past week.
The TK retreat has to be the most beneficial thing I do and my absolute favorite weekend of the year. Timberline Knolls was the residential treatment center where I ended up after months of being bounced around various in-patient and residential treatment centers, none of them quite sure how to successfully treat my co-occurring conditions. By the time the fifth treatment facility in the span of three months sent me away, I was out of all hope. I didn’t see any point in going to another facility. I had already been to the best of the best, and none of them knew what to do with me or how to help me heal. I was ready to give up, but thankfully I ended up agreeing to one last transfer. I arrived at TK in the worst of spirit, completely defeated, and full of resentment and anger.
Timberline Knolls was strict, and had what seemed like endless rules. After I had been strip-searched and had half of my belongings taken away due to them being deemed unsafe, I was locked inside a lodge that was to be my home for the upcoming weeks. I didn’t feel very understood in the beginning, as they didn’t have many OCD patients. I had a very difficult time with all the rules and regulations, and during bouts of cabin fever I left lodge without permission. After that stint, I found myself once again in the hospital. This time I had hit complete rock bottom. From previous experience, I had come to think of the hospital as a dumping place for treatment centers that have given up on their patients. I was sure this was the end for me. However, the strangest thing happened. While I was hospitalized my therapist from TK called me to check in, and they agreed to come back for me once I was discharged. The fact that they where the first ones not to give up on me during a rough patch in recovery completely changed they way I looked at them and my illness. For the first time I felt like I truly had an ally, someone that would fight this illness with me no matter what it took. I finally felt like even at my worst, I wasn’t untreatable. Things completely changed from that point forward.
I took my second chance at TK very seriously; I did not want to end up hospitalized yet another time. I felt like this was a place that truly cared about my well being. I wasn’t just a record or a statistic, but a human being in need of care and comfort. All the rules were a challenge of course, but I came to understand that they are only in place for the security of the facility and so that they can continue to handle even the most difficult of cases, the ones other facilities might give up on. I attended all groups and sessions, and something started to change for me there in the forest in Illinois. I can’t really explain it. It didn’t happen all of a sudden; it wasn’t like one of Oprah’s aha moments. Somehow, slowly but steadily, I began to change.
TK used mostly DBT as the bases for its treatment. DBT stands for Dialect Behavior Therapy, which is all about the idea that two opposite ideas or feelings can co-exist. I think of DBT as a way of life, not just some temporary treatment. With its four skill modules: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness, DBT affects all aspect of ones life. Not only did TK teach us skills, but they also made sure through check-ins and exercises that we were practicing them in the most effective way throughout the day.
On top of valuable DBT skills, TK also emphasized gratitude, kindness, understanding, spirituality, forgiveness, as well as love and respect (for ourselves & others). They also had therapist trained in other treatment forms such as CBT and ERP on hand to treat for example my OCD. We were allowed to explore different aspects of our being. Through a variety of treatment forms, which included writing, art, dance, balanced exercise and games, the entire person was treated. Through family therapy, even the community from which the person came was treated. Throughout campus, all walls were filled with inspirational quotes, which at first I found extremely corny, but after a while I recognize the truth in them and now have many of these sayings hanging on my walls at home.
There is a sign above the TK dining hall that says: “Through theses doors walk the most courageous women in the world.” I believe this to be true. The courage it takes to allow yourself to be as vulnerable, and honest, as you need to be to successfully fight mental illnesses, personality disorders, addictions and traumas, is what I believe truly defines strength. Being joined on my journey of healing by these incredible women is an honor and an inspiration. Seeing the transformation in the lives of those that were with me on lodge was incredible. To see someone who comes in completely hopeless, become the most life-loving individual so filled with gratitude is the most beautiful thing I ever have seen.
Through constant repetition, and the dedication and care of the staff, the principles on which TK is founded and in which it is grounded, became ingrained into my brain during my stay there. I think of TK a little bit like a cult, but like the world’s healthiest cult. I owe this place my life, as do many of my other TK sisters. Keeping the TK mindset after leaving TK can be a challenge. No one is reminding you of the importance of practicing and using your skills all day long, and there is a lot of ill in society that is easy to get caught up in. That is why weekends like these are so important. I want to continue to build up a healthy life for myself, but it is a constant commitment and it takes a lot of work. Being able to share my journey with my beautiful TK sisters, that are literally my heroes, is such a blessing. Throughout most of the year, I can only share with them online and through technology, so the few moments I get to actually spend with them in person are priceless. The fact that TK arranges yearly retreats, and has such an active alumni group speaks to how much they truly care about the work they do, and how much people get from their stay there. My certification of completion from TK is more valuable to me than any other diploma I have, and belonging to the TK alumni group makes me the absolute proudest.
Thank you to all my sisters for the most amazing weekend and thank you to all the TK staff for making these retreats a reality.
After the TK retreat I had the opportunity to do some traveling, which is one of the things I enjoy the most, but is also one of the most challenging things for me. Traveling is one of those things that my mental illness takes away from me. The fact that I have the power in me to be able to travel, and enjoy seeing new sights further reminded me of how far I have come and how grateful I am for the treatment and support that has gotten me to this place.
I move forth now with a renewed commitment to my recovery and well-being.