All I could picture was a white room, brightly lit, and me, sitting alone tightly wrapped in a straightjacket. The entire car ride was silent. Looking through the window, I finally saw The Alternative House. I expected it to be bigger. There it was – a small, white, two-story house. It looked to be something out of a horror movie. I pulled myself up and picked up my luggage. I couldn’t block out my siblings’ questions because all I could think about was what was inside this prison. I knocked on the door to my reformatory. A dark-haired lady welcomed me as I entered.
My response may have been assuring but in my gut I felt I couldn’t trust her.
To my surprise I found out that the kids that I met at the Alternative House were just normal, and there was nothing to do with straightjackets at all. There weren’t any bright white-lit side rooms. It was just a regular house with necessary utilities to live and counselors there to help.
While at the Alternative House, I learned that it’s not how you receive help, but how willing you are to accept it. I thought the kids in the house had it so much harder than I did; why should I even be here? I had to have that explained in one of my counseling sessions with Arthur.
He asked me if I thought some particular people with setbacks need help. I answered, “of course”. After asking me the same question about a lot of different people, he asked me “do you know you need help?”. He explained to me that we are all humans and at times everyone needs a little help. That at times there will be obstacles that stand in our way, but it’s how we perceive them that makes us who we are. We can look at them and see the negatives or we could build on them and move forward.
Growing up, I never thought my life was just like everyone else. I didn’t think anything was wrong. I knew my parents loved me, but there was something clearly distressing.
My parents both came to the States from foreign countries with traditional values as if feminism never existed. I wish my mother wouldn’t have relied on my father so much. My father would work countless hours to pay off the bills, and my mother would stay home and take care of me. It was the norm, or so I thought.
It wasn’t until 7th grade I started to apply the information I learned in health class to my life. My father was a drinker, but I didn’t know that was the reason for his behavior at home. I knew not to mess around with my father. If I were to blurt out anything he didn’t like, I would be punished; this seemed normal to me, and my mother would never interfere.
With a concussion and a difficult family situation, I decided to enroll in the Alternative House. I had suffered a concussion earlier that school year and was far from normal. I hadn’t been able to slow down and recover. I wasn’t use to making excuses, and my parents were in no way going to see this one any different. They expected me to produce the same results as if I was fine. As time went on I couldn’t keep up, and I couldn’t explain to them that I wasn’t able to. They took my deprivation as disrespect and tensions rose. As time went on, it was if I was walking on eggshells.
As I walked up to the receptionist’s desk, I saw the faces of my temporary friends. All of their faces lit up as they stared at me. They were filled with excitement, but I was filled with fear. The lady at the front desk handed me a pile of paperwork and showed me to a table. While I filled out paperwork, my soon-to-be-roommate walked by. He assured me, “Man, it’s not that bad; you’ll fit in with us just fine.”
Looking down, I saw each and every one of the seven walk past me. They couldn’t keep from staring, and I couldn’t stop myself from looking up. As I finished up, I could feel it: The goodbye was coming up. I needed to talk to my siblings so I could explain what was happening. I asked the counselor if there were somewhere we would talk. She pointed me to a room down the hall. I took them there. I told them I was going to be okay and to call me whenever something happened. I hugged them goodbye.
“The kids that I met at the Alternative House were just normal, and there was nothing to do with straightjackets at all.”
As we walked back to the desk, I saw my mom. Her look of despair told me more than her words did. I knew this wasn’t going to go well, but I asked to speak with her. It didn’t last long. She talked as if nothing was wrong as if it was my problem and not hers. The talk ended quickly. I couldn’t get anything through to her. Just like my dad her stubbornness shut me out as if I wasn’t even there. She left with my siblings. I was left there dumbfounded.
I turned to see a cluster of smiling faces, but in my head I had never felt more alone. The negatives were evident even though I knew I was there to accept help. No matter how bleak things looked, I told myself I would get out of there better than I was before.
Once I turned in my papers, the lady introduced to all my seven housemates. I can still to this day remember some of their names. Little did I know that their stories would make me not only sympathize with them but question my story.
Later that night, I met my roommate and got a taste of how hard life could be. As I listened to his story, I couldn’t help but empathize. We talked for hours past quiet time, listening to what each other had to say. After a few hours, he decided to call it a night. Although I was exhausted, my mind kept racing all night.
The next morning I got to talk and listen to each of my housemates’ stories. I kept asking myself how in the world I ended up here? I don’t deserve to be with these people? But after some counseling sessions, I was convinced that I did belong and that I did need help. The more I listened, the more anguished I felt. It was as if a knot was ripping through my stomach. I swallowed my pride and accepted the fact I needed help.
While living in the Alternative House, I had to transition to a strict schedule, a schedule that planned everything I did for waking up to sleeping. I thought, “Man, this is so stupid”. It was then I appreciated what it had been like to be free to do whatever I desired. Restricted to a house and being under someone’s supervision became irritating.
Although I had some freedom with some of the people that I was “under-control” of, I couldn’t just shut them out. Ironically, as time went along I found myself getting use to the daily routine. I will always wonder what it would’ve been like to stay longer; after ten days, I was told my father had called to take me out.
I went back to the house I couldn’t call home. It was agonizing and uncomfortable settling back in. I couldn’t talk to my parents nor my sisters about anything.
After over two years outside of the Alternative House, I’ve transitioned back to day-to-day life and have recovered, thankfully. I’ve learned a lot these past two years. I thought I knew what to do, but I didn’t. I had to receive and accept help. I thank God that I didn’t give up and end it because if I had I wouldn’t have this opportunity I have right now. I have learned from my biggest challenge in life so far, and I look forward to taking on what’s ahead.