Stephanie is a beautiful, vivacious and intelligent young woman who was raised by a loving and supportive family. With the slightest twist of fate Stephanie’s story could be mine or yours, your sisters or your daughter’s stories.
At just eleven years of age, Stephanie recalls having a very low sense of self-esteem and deep-seated feelings of unworthiness. She internalized everything including a deep sense of fear which she describes thusly, “If you knew the real me, you would leave me”. She longed to be perfect, perfect in every way, but she hated herself.
Like many other young women of today’s generation with a negative perception of their worth, Stephanie developed an eating disorder while trying to take charge of the one thing in life that she knew she could control, her body.
By the time she was a young teenager taking control of her life went far beyond starving herself and the use of laxatives and included the use of alcohol, sleeping pills, prescribed drugs and so-called “soft drugs” like cocaine.
Shortly thereafter, she became involved with an abusive man who she was scared to leave because she was afraid to be alone. Interestingly, Stephanie was working at a treatment center helping others, but by that time she weighed 90 pounds soaking wet, on a good day.
In 2009, at the age of 19 years, Stephanie decided that she was tired of the merry go-round of her so-called life. She checked into a detox program at a Recovery Center in an effort to turn things around.
This young woman came clean and stayed clean for almost two years. She began teaching Yoga and enjoyed her work immensely. However her sense of self-worth was at an all-time low and her lifelong struggle with an eating disorder continued. It was not long before she became involved with another abusive man where she found herself on a fast-moving, spiraling journey into the darkest abyss.
This time around Stephanie found herself living on the streets of the downtown East Side and addicted to cocaine, heroin, speed and crack. She was willing to do anything for fix. Crack and heroin were her drugs of choice. She found herself pregnant with a child she wanted, but could not care for and made the heart-wrenching decision to have an abortion.
At this point in her life, she hated herself with such a passion that all she longed for was to be free, even if that meant not living anymore. This time around Stephanie was alone because over the years she had pushed her entire family out of her life. All she had left was her anger, shame, guilt, pain, trauma and self-hatred.
Mustering up the courage to make one last effort to save her life, Stephanie checked herself into a drug rehabilitation program at the Cordova Detox in Vancouver.s East Side. On her first day there, she met a woman who highly recommended Talitha Koum and gave her the phone number to call. Even though she was well aware that she was at the lowest point of her entire life, she was very reluctant to make that call because she knew that Talitha Koum was a Christian-based association and she was not open to their beliefs.
She eventually made the call because she was desperate and had nowhere else to go. That call changed her life. A staff-member called Louise answered the phone, reassured her that she was not alone, and that she would be welcomed with open arms. Louise asked her to come by the next day. Stephanie says that after that first call she no longer felt so alone and the very next day she contacted her Mom and asked her to bring her to Talitha Koum.
Within the very first week at Talitha Koum, Stephanie felt safe. She no longer felt alone with her pain. She was warmly welcomed and loved by all the women in the house, staff and residents all. Even though she was not asked to share their Christian beliefs she felt, found and accepted the presence of God that first week. She found herself loved and supported, felt a strong sense of family and unity and best of all she was accepted for whom she was.
During her stay at Talitha Koum Stephanie quickly progressed through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and cleared the records of her past. She also found a connection with God and states that it was a spiritual experience akin to being hit over the head, with a big stick, by Jesus himself. The experience helped her deal with the shame of her abortion. Stephanie advises that she felt forgiven and what it meant to walk with him.
She chose to be baptized in September 2012.
Today Stephanie is a proud graduate of the program at Talitha Koum which included daily devotions but more important she says was the intimate, open, loving and trusting environment. This young woman is an active and contributing member of the community at large. She describes her life today with words which include feeling blessed, peaceful, joyous and unconditionally loved. Stephanie has returned to school and is taking courses in counseling. The staff at Talitha Koum helped her find funding to further her education.
One day she hopes to counsel persons with eating disorders. Stephanie says that the most wonderful thing about Talitha Koum is that it is not one size fits all! The women are treated as individuals and no one is a statistic. Each of the women are empowered and challenged to do their best.
Furthermore, Kimmie Jensen, the Executive Director at the time, was there for all the women, through thick and thin. No one was judged and when they fall, they are picked up with kindness and compassion. Stephanie was given the power to choose. She chose life and is extremely grateful.