Autumn is an especially warm human being. She sits with her knees tucked into her chest and her arms, decorated in bracelets, wrapped comfortably around shins. She looks entirely at home on the director’s office couch, sporting warm socks, no shoes, and a childlike smile. Her hair is parted down the center, died in a vibrant red on one side and jet black on the other. As she speaks she twirls a single quartz crystal between her thumb and forefinger.

She explains to me her difficult road and how she arrived at Landmark this last semester. Like many students who find themselves struggling with substance abuse issues, her story includes escaping pain, trauma, and abuse. Diagnosed with PTSD and Dissociative Identity Disorder, Autumn spent time in various treatment centers. She explains how this eventual diagnosis came as a relief and confirmed something more was going on and needed to be treated. She remarks now, with good humor and acceptance, “there is never a dull moment in my mind.”

For Autumn, dealing with a diagnosis like this has made her time in mainstream school painful. She tried online school and other various environments, but found herself overwhelmed and constantly triggered by large groups. She also found herself migrating towards unhealthy relationships and toxic friendships. It became increasingly difficult to focus; attendance became a major issue and a normal version of teenage life seemed and felt impossible.

Struggling with a diagnosis and getting through school, Autumn fell into a severe hydrocodone addiction after a wisdom tooth operation. The door to painkillers began a struggle with substance abuse. She explains, “even when the physical pain was gone I found that emotional pain was still there. I struggled with constant self abuse including a pill addiction…I was overdosing nearly every day last year and having seizures.”

Her bottom came over holiday break in 2017. “I felt like was breaking and needed to make a change.” She decided to try to recommit to sobriety and attempt school again. While she enjoyed various programs that were self-paced and individualized, she felt alone and isolated and wanted to try Landmark to connect with other students who have shared similar experiences. “I love it here so far” she explains, “it’s small and relaxed. Our work is individualized and there’s a manageable structure, but can be who we are. Everyone here is an individual and doesn’t have to pretend to be something else.”

Autumn says she has learned a lot from the staff and instructors here. Michael’s instruction, in particular, that focus on teaching self-compassion and self-love has impacted her greatly. “I get a taste of what a sober life could be like and it’s exciting.”

Autumn would love to help others who have gone through similar experiences. She expresses an interest in educating people about mental illness and wants to help correct the glamorization of self harm in media. It’s clear her experiences is powerful and her tender demeanor will be an asset to helping others someday.