I just discovered this subreddit and wanted to talk a little about my experience with these programs. First of all, I do want to acknowledge that at age 16, I did need some sort of mental treatment, as I was likely suffering from depression and acute anxiety (to be diagnosed later as an adult). But, as many of you already know, these programs can worsen conditions and I feel like this is what happened to me. I don't feel as if the "treatment" I received was beneficial in any way, and that it even exacerbated some of my issues.
My parents had hired "escorts" to come into my room around 5 in the morning and take me to RedCliff. This was in April of 2011, and I was a sophomore in high school. I was sleeping naked (I mean, I didn't think anybody would be coming in), so that was embarrassing to say the least. The escorts were a man and a woman, and the woman told me to get up, get dressed, and come with them or else they would have to handcuff me and take me with force. My mom, anticipating that I wouldn't know what was going on, came into the room and told me that she and my dad were doing this "because we love you". I didn't fight back because 1. I was depressed and apathetic as hell and 2. there was nothing I could do and I knew that. As a side note, I used to hold onto a lot of hatred towards my parents for sending me away to these programs. Now that I'm older though, I only blame myself for how I was acting/how I was hurting my family. While there were certainly other ways that I could have gotten the help I needed, I understand that my parents were truly doing what they thought was best for me and that just because they were misinformed doesn't mean it was their fault. I love them and we have an alright relationship nowadays.
I was at RedCliff Ascent for 83 days. When I first got to their main office, a woman did my intake. I think she realized how difficult these situations could be, and she was comforting and calm with me while still remaining professional. Part of the intake process required me to strip down completely naked, and do a series of squats and other positions in front of her to make sure I didn't have anything in my rectum (shocker, I didn't). This was a weird experience for me, but it was far from traumatic/scarring. Honestly, there were many parts of this program that I actually enjoyed. The hiking was painful and long, but it was somewhat therapeutic to be out in nature and away from my problems at home. As a long-term solution, however, this program would do nothing. There was little to no therapy (once a week, for less than 45 minutes each time) from an incompetent therapist. There were a couple therapists (so maybe this wasn't the case for everybody), but mine didn't even seem to know which way was up or down. I didn't ever feel like I got anything from our sessions. I received more help just talking about random things with the staff members who watched over us and led us on hikes. Some of the staff were great, and genuinely cared for us. Others seemed to like it when we were angry, sad, or generally struggling. I don't think it was malicious, but that they thought we were "building character" in these instances. I can think of several examples of a particular staff member who would laugh at the girls I was with when they were angry/upset/emotional. The environment was harsh at times, too. We didn't get tents - we got cords and tarps that we could tie up into makeshift tent structures. I was thankfully only there for a couple snowstorms, but the nights would get so cold you would wake up with frost on your sleeping bag. I partially lost feeling in the toes of my right foot from one day where the rain turned to snow and the water in my shoe froze as well. However, this was the extent of the physical hardships and overall RedCliff was not a terrible experience. What did bother me though was once I left, I found out that the program length was changed from about 3 months to a single month. So, I was there almost 3 times as long as some of the girls I was with near the end of my stay.
Sunrise Academy is a different story. I was taken there directly upon graduating RedCliff, and stayed there for 6 months. This was an extremely short time, as most girls are there for a year (or more). Part of it was because I had already attended RedCliff and another part was that I was very careful in what I did and said to staff, my therapist, and the other girls. I feel like my entire time there was a charade. I was among girls who were heavily medicated and had serious mental disorders. I was not like that. I had some depression and anxiety, and took no medication. At certain points, I was the only girl out of 40~ish others that wasn't taking any kind of medication. There were girls who had to be restrained and forcibly thrown into solitary confinement. They called it the "pink room" because they would lock you in a room for a minimum of 3 days and you were only allowed to write with pink crayons (at least, this is what I heard from one of the girls who had to be put in solitary a couple times). If you got into trouble (like one time where a girl got caught lying on another girls bed with her - a capital offense in Sunrise) they would put you on therapeutic probation, where you couldn't talk to anything or participate in any activity. You still had to watch, though, and sit quietly.
The therapy there was intense, though, and you did up to 3 hours a day. This could be in the form of group therapy, team-building exercises, or one-on-one with your therapist. Sunrise therapy was all DBT, or dialectical behavioral therapy. This form of therapy was developed by ex-crazy woman Marsha Linehan, who had a history of banging her head against asylum walls in bipolar fits. While DBT might work for some, this therapy was not what I needed. In the RTC though, there wasn't any other kind of therapy offered. Additionally, the staff were all mormons. I was placed in a group therapy for alcoholics (I have never been an alcoholic) simply because I had a history of drinking underage. Undoubtedly, their religious teachings influenced their perception of drinking and they tried to convince me that I was an alcoholic. I played into this, and made a huge show one day about how I finally accepted the fact that I had a problem. I cried, and I asked to call my dad to apologize for my "disease". Right in the middle of group therapy, we called my dad on speaker phone and I sobbed to him about how I needed to address my alcoholism while I was at Sunrise, blah, blah, blah. The therapist ate it up. I had to pull many stunts like this, where I admitted I needed help for problems I didn't have. It was honestly easier that way than trying to convince staff and therapists that I didn't have problems like alcoholism (fast forward to now, I'm 22 and I don't even drink/smoke weed/do drugs). A big part of making "therapeutic progress" just seemed to be saying you had all of the problems they said you did. It was a matter of bending to their will, which I did quickly and without hesitation when I arrived and realized what was happening. I didn't care about what was right or wrong, I just cared about convincing them of my therapeutic progress, advancing through the level system, and getting the fuck out of there.
I still have some problems from being at Sunrise. I regularly have nightmares about being sent back. It wasn't until almost a month ago that I had the nightmare and actually realized in it that I was 22 years old and could leave when I wanted! Additionally, the meals they fed me at Sunrise were nutritionally lacking and I remember always, always, always being hungry. They have a "vegetarian" option for girls who want it, which includes a meager amount of tofu with some meals. Even if you go with the regular option, it is not enough food, especially if you consider the ridiculous amount of exercise you do daily. We ran every day, as well as attended either dance class or yoga class. Because of the small amount of nutritionally void food I had available to me at Sunrise, I am now very selective and anxious about the food I eat. If I don't have food available to me (at work, for example) I get a panicky, sick feeling until I realize that I can call my supervisor to come break me so I can buy a snack. Little instances like this happen all the time, and I get very anxious very quickly until I tell myself "just go buy a banana from the deli". It is not the end of the world, and I'm not traumatized in any way, but I think about Sunrise every day and how the littlest things have seeped into my adult life and made it that much harder to cope with on a daily basis.
I want to acknowledge that I was still very lucky in my "troubled teen" experience because I know that there are many places I could have gone where I would have actually been exposed to abuse and violence. We always heard stories about Cinnamon Hills and how the staff there were allowed to hit the teens. We were jealous of the kids a New Haven, though! We heard that they got a lot more freedom, but I don't know how true that is. There is so much that is kept secret in these treatment centers. It's terrifying. As a last note, I'll say that I'm very sorry to those of you who had even worse times and are survivors of the systematic abuse that can happen so easily in these institutions. Please message me if you have any questions or just want to talk.
The Sunrise RTC is in the media mostly known for the terrible traffic accident which killed two girls during an outing. At Redcliff Ascent there has been many escape attempt and even a riot which resulted in arrests of the involved teenagers.
- The original testimony (Reddit)
- Factsheet about the Sunrise RTC program (Fornits Wiki)
- Redcliff Ascent Wilderness Program (Fornits Wiki)
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