“I started my treatment at the Menninger Clinic in Houston with a diagnosis of anxiety and depression. At the point of my departure I was given the opportunity to choose a step down program in order to continue my healing process. I was handed many different informational packets about programs to comb through which was an overwhelming task. When looking over the information for Penrith Farms something intuitively spoke to me. After, a couple conversations with Jim my decision was made. I wanted to try something different than the conventional therapeutic community. At that point I needed medication and structured therapy, but more than that I needed guidance, connection and a community to heal in. While I was in attendance I did not appreciate the opportunity that I was being given. I clung to the very things that had made me want something different because I was afraid. Needless to say I started a small coup among the students and the staff and I tried to discredit the program wherever I could. I was angry, scared, and confused and I needed to feel some control over my situation.”
Jim and the staff allowed me enough room to hang myself, which is to say they let me play out my behaviors and they watched and observed. They read me like a book. Jim constantly called me out on my antics. However, I was not ready to really deal with the painful reality that had landed me in Penrith Farms. I was used to playing the system and winning. However, I quickly learned that there were consequences for my actions. Although, at the time I thought it was unprofessional for any of the staff to show their anger or disapproval of my actions in anyway but through the use of clinical terminology and whilst sitting behind a desk. It was easy for me to rebuff any comments made by clinicians because I was sure I knew better than they did. Looking back, I now realize how the staff at Penrith Farms began to teach me that connection and community would lead to mental health and not power tactics or isolation. On a human level I started to feel a dissonance between wanting to create contention to gain power and wanting to create mutual and authentic relationships.
I have not been back to the farm in over six years and the lessons I learned there have paved the way to who I am today. I now realize that healing has to happen in relationship. I am a big supporter of the therapeutic alliance. However, therapy is a broad term with a lot of different modalities. This May, I earned my Masters Degree in Social Work from an Ivy League institution and plan on becoming a licensed mental health clinician. At Penrith farms I do not exactly remember what I spoke about in therapy sessions, but I remember the feeling of community. I remember waking up EXTRA early to take yoga classes with a teacher who truly inspired me and is still one of my favorite yoga teachers to date. Last summer I completed a course and earned my 200 hr yoga teacher certificate and continue to practice and study Yoga.
Working on the organic farm side by side with staff and other students was really fun for me. I felt a sense of pride for the work I was doing and it helped to combat the shame and worthlessness I had internalized from growing up in an emotionally abusive family. In reality I had always been a hard worker and a good student. Working on the organic farm, chopping wood, and taking care of the animals renewed a sense of confidence that I had not felt in a long time. I began to associate hard work with feeling good and it was reinforced when I would receive a work card from the garden staff, which had all threes, the top performance score. This was critical for me because I had always thought of myself and been told that I was a lazy brat who was handed everything and had no work ethic.
Penrith Farm allowed me to connect to a part of myself that I forgot existed. The part of myself, that yearned for true connection and authenticity. When I walked on the farm I truly thought that the way to happiness or contentment was through external things such as beauty, money, power, designer clothes, looking good and status. I did not realize that any other world existed. Through my time at the farm I started to develop real interests that fed my soul from the inside. I was introduced to different activities such as guitar, knitting, horseback riding, farming, hiking, rock climbing, poetry, kayaking, cooking, child care, and equine therapy. One of my favorite memories is when Sherry Brewster invited me into town to hear Buddhist monks speak. These are activities that bring me real joy. I am still sometimes guilty of trying to fill myself from the outside in, but I know that it never really works for long.
When I was at Penrith farms they had a lot of colorful staff working there. I felt really close to some of the staff, but others I would enjoy having power struggles with. However, at the end of the day I still miss the farm and the relationships I made while living on it. I will not even begin to say that I am a completely healed human being. I still struggle with anxiety and dysfunctional family dynamics, but in hindsight I learned a lot from Penrith Farms. Even after all of the battles with staff, temper tantrums and demanding to be taken out of the program I can still look back on it with a smile.”