Imagine this: you are in a brand new place with no friends and no idea what will come next. For Marissa, this was her reality when she arrived at Cookson Hills. At first, she was nervous. She knew from her past that making friends can be difficult and she wasn’t sure who she could trust. Before arriving at Cookson Hills, she had experienced repeated pain and rejection from those she loved most. In her own words, Marissa describes what led up to this point:
Relationships were always a hard thing for me to accept. I believed that people were only nice to me because they wanted something from me or they were trying to make fun of me. I lived in complete darkness. Trying to build a relationship with my mom was the hardest. Ever since I could remember, I lived with my grandma and abusive grandpa. My grandpa would tell me that my mom never wanted me, and for the longest time I didn’t want to believe it. But as I got older, I began to take his words to heart. My mother didn’t seem to want me at all. I would try to go to her house, but she always kicked me out. She lived right across the street from me, but I never heard from her. When I reached out to her, she rejected me. That’s when my hurt turned to rage. At age 12, I was forced to live with her. Because of my years of pain and rejection, I had given up on our relationship and I had also given up on myself. This led to fights, anger, and more hurt. I spent most of my teen years in and out of shelters, detention centers, and group homes.
The summer before her senior year, after being released from a detention center, Marissa was offered a different choice. She learned that Cookson Hills could possibly help her complete her GED and would give her a new chance to heal. She decided to give it a try. As she was unpacking her bags in her new Cookson Hills home, she recalls how she truly felt about the world around her:
What do you do when the world is so oblivious to how you’re feeling? Do you stay “keeping it cool” or do you “cry for attention?” What do you do when it’s the middle of the night and you need someone there with you? But you have no one…no mommy, no daddy, no friends, not even a silly stuffed animal. You just sit there and nothing is going through your head, but all of a sudden there it is: the “cry”, the “scream into the pillow,” the “hitting the walls” because you are just so hurt but you don’t even know why. You just are. You feel empty – hungry for something but you don’t know what. Could it be love? It has to be love because why else would you get emotional every time you see a mom telling her daughter how proud she is? Or when you see a dad playing catch with his daughter and teaching her how to ride a bike. What about when you’re at school and you see the girls all with their other girlfriends, and you look at yourself and you’re all alone. No one wants to talk to you and no one even notices you. What is this empty feeling inside? It keeps me up at night and it keeps me from feeling. Did the pieces of my broken heart fall off and make a wall so that no one can come in? Or did they blind me from seeing how many people were on the other side? Sometimes I wonder how this all began. Because I wish I could make it end. I wish I could turn the feeling back on like a faucet, because feeling something other than empty would be nice right now. I have realized that tough times don’t last, but tough people do and that’s what keeps me going every single day.
Marissa’s healing will be a long journey. But she has slowly started to realize that there are people who love her and care for her. She has seen glimpses of a better future. She has witnessed the beginnings of healthy relationships:
Ever since I came to Cookson Hills, my relationship with my mom has really changed. On our visits, I feel like we can connect and actually talk to each other without arguing. This is a big step since our past arguments were mainly angry words and running away. But I’m starting to learn what a healthy argument looks like. It’s still a work in progress, but I can see hope.
I also feel like I belong…for the first time in my life. I have friends, new family members, and a place to call home. Ever since I’ve arrived here, my relationship with Christ has grown so much more and I feel like I’m actually worth something. I feel like my voice is finally heard and I know I’m not invisible and alone. I have hope now and I couldn’t have done it without the help of God and my Cookson Hills family by my side.