Timberline Knolls Treatment Center: We Find Beauty

Compassionate Love:Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   (c)2014 Nancy Virden

handsEight months ago a tiny kitchen was packed with about fifteen women. I was scared as this was my first night at Timberline Knolls, a residential rehabilitation center near Chicago, Illinois.

It was not clear who was new to the program and who were veterans of the process. Each woman was sad, some crying, a few angry, and many of us confused. Later I was to learn that thirty-five traumatized and addicted women lived in this lodge. The tiny kitchen was not for regular use, but mostly for newcomers. I’d been surrounded by women as nervous as I that first night.

Within a few days we had bonded, and it only took that long because of my hesitations. In groups we talked about the concerns and stories that brought us to Timberline. In private we supported each other through hugs and shared tears. None of this looked like what I’ve seen in churches, workplaces, or families. There were no masks; it was intense, yet such a relief to know our hurts and self-destructive behaviors did not make us unacceptable in this place.

I saw women battling mental illnesses and flashbacks, reliving traumas as if they were current. There was crying, dissociating, isolating, anger, sadness, and hope. Residents shook in fear at facing their emotional nemeses recognizing there was no other option but death. Courage was palpable.

Passing the women with buried heads, rocking back and forth, was a parade of people saying , “We are here for you.” In the dining hall at a table full of desperation, there were games, laughter, and comic relief.  If one triumphed even once over an eating disorder there was a chorus of “Good for you. You’ve got this.”

I came home changed. Not only had some serious issues of my own been addressed, but I no longer desired the company I’d been pursuing.

For two years, a group of beautiful people, acquaintances with money and class, had been my X that marks the spot. It was this group in which I tried to find good friends. Yet they had not welcomed me on any deep level. I was lonely and distrustful. Attempts to reach out had most often been met with superficial niceness or indifference.

At Timberline I discovered why I didn’t seem to fit in with this group. My people, the ones I feel most comfortable around, are those who struggle with life and are honest about it.  I like recovering addicts. There is little pretension among those in recovery. The ground is level in rehab.

I like trauma survivors. They get it when a mood grows suddenly dark, and do not judge anyone else’s fears. I like people who fight phobias. They grasp whatever tool they have to use to prevent panic, regardless what the crowd about them thinks.

This past Friday it was my great privilege to return to Timberline Knolls and encourage current residents with my honest story.  They appreciated what I had to say and asked tough questions like, “Would you do anything different if you could go back?”  “Do you feel your children have been damaged by your choices?  Are you still in recovery?”

These people are real. If everything I’ve endured in my life brought me to them, I am grateful.  I did not expect this, yet these are the ones I admire. These are the beautiful people.


NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline   1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.

*picture from qualitystockphotos.com




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