There is Always a Brighter Day
THERE IS ALWAYS A BRIGHTER DAY
By Anne Parkes Armistead
Growing up in Nashville, my family went to a Methodist church. My mom was a Sunday school teacher. I don’t remember learning much from her classes, but I do specifically remember one time her telling me to pray to God for comfort.
I had been bullied by my older sister’s friends because I was 10 and still couldn’t really read. I have dyslexia and ADHD and school never came easy to me. I was so discouraged and never really tried to learn. I had fallen behind my peers academically.
So I got picked on a lot.
Most of the time I could handle it, but one time the girl who was teasing me was one of my sister’s friends that I really looked up to. I was sobbing and ran to my parent’s room where I found my mom. She said, “when you feel like this, you can pray to the Lord and he will comfort you.” I didn’t really know what that meant, but the idea of receiving comfort from this God I had learned briefly about sounded nice. This was the beginning of my relationship with Heavenly Father. I didn’t know much about Him, but for some reason I believed in Him. When I heard people talk about Him I felt good.
The idea of a God brought me so much hope and joy.
These were times in my childhood that I felt very close to God. There were also very dark times in my childhood that pulled me away from my faith. Both my mom and dad struggled with substance abuse and the home I grew up in was madness. So much dysfunction. My parents did the best they could with the skills they had but it wasn’t enough for 4 kids. I felt emotionally abandoned. Because of this I was such an angry kid.
For years I coped with sports. I was always outside. But the older I got, the more help I needed. I couldn’t manage my emotions on my own. I had to escape.
This is when my substance abuse started.
I started using when I was 13 and it was all downhill from there. I did not care about the consequences of my actions. I was going to do what I wanted. I was going to have fun. And it was really fun.
For a while.
I made so many friends and had so many adventures. Until it all caught up with me. I got into trouble with the law, I was in and out of juvi, and was kicked out of any school my parents tried to send me to.
During the peak of my using, my mom went to treatment. She was tired of being controlled by her addiction and decided she wanted to change her life. She has been clean since. Early in her recovery, she was able to see how my substance abuse was affecting me and she was scared for my life. She has since told me that she thought my addiction would kill me if she didn’t act fast. She finally convinced my dad that I needed serious help and they sent me to a wilderness therapy program in Georgia.
This experience was so intense. I was taken from my home by two of the transporters and put on a small plane from Nashville to Georgia. They drove me far, far into the mountains. It might not have appeared like it on the outside, but inside I was hysterical. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me.
Where were they taking me? Where was I going to live? How come I couldn’t bring anything with me?
They brought me to a cabin, stripped me of my clothes, searched me, threw me some new clothes and a backpacking pack, and we were off again. Deeper and deeper into the mountains. We finally came to a stop and got out of the car. We were so deep in the woods. I had no perception of where the main road was anymore. We walked off the gravel road down into a clearing where there were more people.
This was my new family. A group of 9 girls. All drug addicts. And all pretty freaking crazy.
For the next three months, I lived in these mountains. We hiked to new sites everyday. I had no bed. No bathroom. I didn’t shower the entire time. I had a tarp so I could make a lean for cover, but I always just slept under the stars. It was an incredibly overwhelming adjustment to wilderness life, but once I got used to it, I LOVED it. I loved being in the mountains. I loved sleeping under the stars at night. In the wilderness, I prayed every night before I went to bed. I asked God to watch over my family and help those in need. I said the same thing every night.
One night, about two months of living in the wilderness, I had the most life changing experience. I had said my prayers and was lying on my back looking at the stars. I had never seen stars like that. So vivid and bright. My whole life I had been taught to believe in God and that He lived, but this was the first time I felt like He knew me. My heart was so full of gratitude for His love and this beautiful earth. This was a time when my faith was at its strongest. I felt so close to God. There weren’t many distractions. Wilderness was a humbling experience that made me remember the Lord.
That was the beginning of my recovery.
It was the first time that I really received discipline for my actions. I had been arrested and gone to juvi, but my parents would pick me up within a couple hours, I wouldn’t stay overnight. This was the first time that I had to sit with my thoughts and my feelings and really reflect on my behaviors.
I was devastated. I was embarrassed. I felt like I had betrayed my family and I hated the person I had become.
When you’re so withdrawn from the world, there is no distraction from self reflection. At the same time I was having this spiritual growth- feeling close to the lord, not using, and being surrounded by so much beauty.
From wilderness, I was sent to a follow-up program called Discovery Ranch. Wilderness was focused on breaking me down, and then I was sent straight to a treatment center where their program was based on building me up with new skills.
When I got to discovery ranch, I was pissed off.
A lot of my true colors came out. When I was in wilderness I felt so much remorse, but once they sent me to discovery, I was so angry. I was such a punk. I had worked hard in wilderness and felt like my parents and discovery ranch didn’t care about the work I did there. I was like that for a while until I started to build real relationships with the mentors and staff at DR. They were all so Christ-like and willing to work with me even though I was a brat. I felt so loved and so empowered by these people who set boundaries with me, loved me enough to say no, and gave me responsibilities.
They believed in me.
They believed in me enough to tell me no. Their consistency, their love, their boundaries, all compelled me to change. It was something I had never experienced before. I remember feeling like I wanted to change and it was crazy. I was compelled to want to change through their love. I was like oh my gosh I’m doing this. And that is when I started taking my recovery seriously. I remember thinking, “It’s starting now.”
I was determined. It was like something switched, and from there, everything was very black and white for me. There was still a lot for me to figure out emotionally around why I used, but at this point, my recovery was based around sobriety– the fact that I was not using. That was as much as I could take on.
I was clean and I wasn’t using and that was a victory. One day at a time.
I went home to nashville. It was a hard transition. I didn’t want to leave. It was hard to go back to the same life where I had been using. I was still going to all the parties, smoking cigarettes, being crazy, but I wasn’t using. I was clean of substance use, but I still had addictive behaviors.
I was literally carried by Christ through that time.
My mom had just gotten sober. It was my saving grace to have someone who had just gone through that process living in the same house as me. She was a great example to me.
One of my mentors from DR, Brandon Hanks, was somebody that I really trusted and admired. He is actually the person who taught me how to play the guitar. He started working on a horse ranch and contacted me and invited me to come work with him and his wife and his siblings on their family ranch. It sounded like a great opportunity and I agreed to work for him for that coming summer.
I felt a lot of resistance while preparing to go work for them. Everything was against me. It was God that got me there. He knew, this is it, this moment is so pivotal. The day after graduation I packed up my car and drove to Antimony, Utah. I got there and was like, “what the hell did I get myself into.” It was like nothing I had experienced before. So small town.
I first met Brandon’s little sister, Hannah, and instantly knew I was exactly where I belonged. I was so far from home, in an unfamiliar place, but Hannah had a light about her that made me feel so loved and welcomed. I was shocked to find that the whole family was like that!!! They were all so kind and genuine with me. I loved them! I worked with them and worked with them that whole summer, and the more I got to know them, the more I loved them. I honestly wanted to be part of their family. Not long after living with them, I realized what made them so different. They knew God in a way I never knew was possible. They believed in Christ and his light emulated through their own countenance.
I wanted that. I wanted what they had. I wanted a relationship with Heavenly Father and the Savior. So I asked questions. So many questions. They helped me find my answers through the Book of Mormon. Through the Book of Mormon, I learned about the Savior. I learned about His ministry and His life. I learned about the Atonement and how to repent. As I learned more and more about the Savior, I realized how prevalent He was in my recovery. I realized that while I was in treatment, changing and becoming this new person, I was repenting and coming closer to God. I was applying Christ’s atonement without really realizing it.
I wish that I could say everything has been smooth sailing from there, But because I had not processed the emotions behind my substance abuse, I found myself replacing one addiction with another.
Shortly after I joined the LDS church, I developed an eating disorder. I was 19. I managed it well enough to be able to go on a mission for the church, but I struggled more once I was actually out there serving. As the eating disorder progressed, I began to have a difficult time focusing on the people I was teaching because I couldn’t shake the thoughts from my mind that centered around my concern with food. I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about it in person, but I had an incredible mission leader that I trusted and would email about my struggles. He was always kind and loving about everything.
I wanted to change but I felt hopeless. I felt like I could never gain control of my thoughts again. I thought I would always be obsessed with my weight, how I looked, what I ate and how I exercised. I couldn’t overcome this weakness with pure grit like I did with most other problems. I needed help from something greater than myself. I needed the Lord.
About 4 months into my mission, my first companion/ trainer, was hit by a car and killed. Your trainer is the most influential person on your mission. For safety purposes, the mission is designed around companionships- two missionaries working and living together.
This event changed my whole life. I was not with Alesa when she was killed, but I remember exactly where I was when I found out. Oddly it was so sunny that day, which stood in direct contrast to the darkness of my devastation. All I could do was cry. I was an overly diligent and obedient missionary and because of that I had a hard time taking time to process my feelings. Thankfully I had a mission leader who knew better. He knew I needed help. The mission leader, or president, oversees the entire mission and is a guardian to all the missionaries. He called me in with his wife and they expressed their concern for me in the most loving way. They expressed their confidence that I could overcome my eating disorder. The timing was impeccable.
With the passing of Alesa, I had time to realize life is too short to let ourselves become victims of the natural man. As tragic as this experience was, it offered the motivation to become better. I was surrounded by a team of loving spiritual giants who knew and loved me in a way I had never known.
I started meeting with the mission therapist and he gave me skills and coping mechanisms to help me correct my thinking. Simultaneously, I was giving all I had to my mission and learning more about the atonement. I read a speech by Brad Wilcox called “His Grace is Sufficient.” That was when I really started to understand the enabling power of the atonement.
“Jesus doesn’t make up the difference. Jesus makes all the difference. Grace is not about filling gaps. It is about filling us.” – Brad Wilcox*
Through the scriptures and prayer I learned how to apply the atonement in my life. I learned that repentance is the key to change. I prayed so hard, all day every day, that through his power I could change. I prayed that the spirit would remind me to think of good things. I memorized scriptures, and anytime I had an obsessive thought, I’d recite the scripture in my head.
Gradually I could feel myself changing and I knew it was through Him!!! I really experienced the comfort of the atonement of Jesus Christ. I had previously experienced the joy of understanding what the atonement was, but this experience was different since it was the first time I had experienced the COMFORT of having a Savior who perfectly understands me.
It took so much time. So much work. So many weepy nights on my bedroom floor praying for his mercy. For his enabling power!!
Ups and downs. Victories and failures. Good days and bad days.
Until about one year after I had been home from my mission. I was sitting in church in Nashville where I was visiting home, and I remember feeling so much peace. I realized I had been feeling this peace for a while now. A peace I hadn’t felt in years. I wasn’t worried about my body. I was living in the moment. Enjoying the moment. I was so happy. And it’s because of Him.
It’s been ten years since I was taken from my home to live in the woods and start my recovery process. Sometimes I am still tempted. There are hard times where I think about using, but most days I don’t think about my recovery. It has become so natural for me. I am a new person.
Through the Savior I have literally transformed. I am forever grateful for the life I have been given. My struggles with addiction brought me to where I am today and I don’t believe I would know Christ the way I do now without those hardships. I had to fall to be able to rise. I know that through Christ anyone can change. I know there is nothing that is too great for Him to help us with.
There is always a brighter day.
His love and mercy is infinite and I believe through Him we can find the greatest joy this life has to offer.
*Brad Wilcox’s speech “His Grace is Sufficient”: click here