The Best Experience of My Life
Grant Kniefel, Division 2, 11th grade

While it wasn’t the happiest experience of my life, the most important experience of my life was when I entered treatment. It was July 2014 when it happened. Prior to me going to the hospital to be sent to a RTC (residential treatment center), I was fired from my job. Granted, it wasn’t an important job, what with me working at McDonald’s, but I was fired from it just the same. I’m not going to go into detail about why I was fired, but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. So on July 26th, 2014, I was sent to Providence Hospital and at 12:04 am on July 27th, 2014 I was admitted to North Star Behavioral Health Hospital, both in Anchorage, Alaska.

North Star Hospital was terrifying for me. I was there for depression, suicidal ideation, and anger among other things, while most people were there for smoking weed, destruction of public property, and harming others, among many other things. I was the only person there without a probation officer and I was horrified that I was locked up among such sociopaths. It was only in reflection that I realized that they weren’t the only sociopaths there, but that I was also one myself. I didn’t care about other peoples’ feelings or their boundaries, and I lacked empathy at the time. I was on my own agenda and if I kept going that way I would become a sexual perpetrator. 

After spending two weeks at North Star Hospital, I was sent to the Palmer RTC. I was scared, but I knew it was important for me to work on myself. This was something I needed, so I went. I greatly enhanced my vocabulary while I was there. For one thing, I started referring to people destroying things as “blow outs”. Those who blew out were called “act ups”. And there were always people who would act up and eventually they were sent back and didn’t complete treatment.

I tried to behave. I thought that if I was a perfect angel and that nobody would see a reason why I needed to be there. To an extent I got away with it. It was only when I started to fall for a staff member that I got in trouble. I started blowing out myself, cutting myself, and I started having anxiety attacks. Treatment became very superficial; I didn’t want anything to do with treatment. I wanted to slit my wrists and just be done with it. Eventually, things got better. I went to public school, learned plenty of new coping skills (such as playing guitar), and I wrote and published two short stories and an article in an online newspaper. I was doing really well and I almost discharged.

In September 2015, I was sent from Palmer RTC back to North Star Hospital. I informed my therapist and administration that if I was to stay there any longer, I would hurt myself. They didn’t have the abilities to be able to handle that, so I was sent back. When I returned to North Star, I was there for a month. I got into my first fight, tried some new foods, and completed two classes. I had done better there than I had in Palmer.

Eventually, they sent me to AK Child and Family. There I learned to get my stuff together. I got a new therapist who challenged me achieve to bigger and better things. I realized that my actions could affect others; I learned empathy and grew to care for others. I found that not only was it easy, but it came almost naturally to me. For so long I had been a horrible friend to other people because of the fact that I was allowing myself to control the relationship. This was really a bad thing, so eventually, I knew I had to stop or else it would destroy me. 
The best part about being in treatment was writing my third short story. For the longest time, I had had writers’ block. I didn’t know if it was me dealing with my feelings for someone I knew or if it was just because I was bored, but I knew that I needed to write something. So one day, I wrote. For the next two weeks, I focused on nothing but that story. It was titled “The Soundtrack to Life”. In it was a story about a young man who, in the midst of breaking up with his girlfriend, writes a wildly popular album which he dubs the soundtrack to his life. I mention this story because this was the turning point in treatment. When I began writing that story, my therapist told me that I made an enormous amount of progress in treatment. I was able to take feedback, I began listening to others, and I just became a better person. This story changed my life for the better. 

While writing this essay, the prompt asks me what the best experience of my life was. Well, entering treatment probably was the best. I met an array of new friends, built a better relationship with my mother and father, built a great variety of coping skills like skiing, painting, writing, and playing guitar, and wrote my third short story. It was the most important experience of my life. I was originally a depressed, egotistical, and angry person who didn’t care about what anybody thought. I was not a good person, but treatment made me who I wanted to be. Would I do it again? No, absolutely not. Treatment was not fun and every time someone would be admitted, I would go up to them and say, “Welcome to purgatory.” Of course, I was joking but that was beside the point. But the thing is that it made me a better person and there is nothing in this world I would trade that for.
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