Aliyah Beyer didn't need help. Yes, severe anxiety and depression made her life hard. So hard she couldn't get out of bed some days. But still—she could handle it on her own.
She was used to taking care of things herself. And she was used to being alone, despite growing up in an adoptive family with ten children.
For as long as she can remember, Aliyah has wanted nothing more than to fit in and belong.
"I've never known where I fit. I don't know my biological dad and I was removed from my biological mom's home before I turned one."
Aliyah was part of an open adoption, so she saw her birth mom occasionally, but her birth mom's struggles with addiction made her an unreliable source of support.
"She was never there when I was struggling or needed her," Aliyah said. "She only showed up when she wanted to be proud of something I did."
Aliyah says she was adopted into a great family, but she didn't feel like she belonged there either. "The drama and fighting with my birth mom made it difficult," she said.
Learning to accept help
Aliyah came to Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch at age 17, after spending time in several other treatment facilities. She knew the Ranch was her last chance to get her life figured out before she became an adult, but she didn't want to be there. She was certain no one liked her and couldn't figure out what they could do to help her that hadn't already been tried.
That was before she met her therapist, Christy Wilkie.
"I've been to lots of therapists and no one has helped me as much as Christy. She is amazing," Aliyah said. "Until I met Christy, I never asked for help. And if you would have offered it, I'd have said I could do it myself."
At the Ranch, Aliyah learned from Christy and other staff she did need help; and by accepting it, she could make her life better. She also learned she pushed people away so they couldn't hurt her.
When Christy first met her, Aliyah was angry and had very low self-esteem. "Aliyah had a difficult time accepting she was deserving of love of any kind," Christy said. "She tried pretty ferociously to push people away."
Aliyah's moods were up and down, and she often directed the hurt she carried around towards herself or the people in her life who loved her. This created difficult relationships with her parents and siblings.
"Aliyah found herself in relatively superficial relationships because it took away the potential to be left by someone again," Christy said. "She tied to avoid hurt by not accepting love."
Aliyah said Christy patiently taught her how to name and control her emotions, how to accept the love herself, and how to accept help when it was offered.
A path of acceptance
When Aliyah finally realized she was worthy of love and that she could control her thoughts and emotions and become the person she wanted to be, there was no stopping her. From that point on, she worked hard to repair the conflict in her family relationships.
"Watching Aliyah build positive relationships with her family and friends has been absolutely heartwarming," Christy said. "She struggled so much to accept love, care, and concern from people, so seeing the changes is nothing short of amazing."
Aliyah said acceptance is the most important thing she learned at the Ranch. "I learned to accept myself, accept my situation, and accept that I needed help."
Christy agreed, and is confident Aliyah will continue her path of acceptance. "Aliyah is goal-directed, kind, caring, and motivated to continue to better herself and her life. Her self-esteem has skyrocketed. She has found things she enjoys and is good at. She is a wildly talented writer and singer, and she continues to look for positive outlets for her emotions and talents."
One of Aliyah's positive outlets is music, and she learned much about music at the Ranch. Spiritual Life Specialist Jay Shaefer and Wellness Coordinator Christian Kjelland introduced Aliyah to music with positive messages.
"I still listen to the music they shared with me. I was surprised it was so similar to what I already liked."
Jay was also a spiritual mentor for Aliyah.
"Jay is a great Christian role model. He talked about the Lord and was there when I had questions. He taught us how to play instruments and so many other things. Jay is charismatic and kind and helped me figure out a lot of things while I was at the Ranch."
Taking care of herself
Aliyah is now 19 years old and no longer at the Ranch, but she continues to work hard on herself. She sees Christy occasionally to touch base and make sure she is on the right track. She's also playful about make-up, hair, and all the things a 19-year-old woman should enjoy. She even showed me how her magnetic fake eyelashes work, noting, "Isn't that cool?"
Christy said Aliyah has the skills, insight, talent, and support to do amazing things, but she couldn't see it in herself. Now she is using those skills to closely monitor her mental health and do what she needs to do to take care of herself.
"Aliyah has grown into a lovely young woman who continues to manage her mental health needs by talking about them," Christy said. "She seeks to understand her emotions rather than project them onto other people and mask her hurt and insecurity with anger. We could all learn a lot from her."
To meet her need for connection, Aliyah continues to fill her life with people who build her up. At the same time, she is learning she is complete and whole on her own.
"I thought I had to be in a relationship to be happy, but now I know that's not true," Aliyah said. "I've been searching all my life for another person to complete me. But I don't need someone else to complete me. If I'm meant to be in a relationship, it will happen. If not, that's okay too."
Aliyah isn't sure where she would be without the Ranch. "If I didn't come to the Ranch, I don't think I would have learned so much about myself or how to control my emotions. I probably would have eventually figured it out, but it might have been too late."
She wants Ranch donors to know they are contributing to a good cause.
"This is a good place for kids who need help. Because of the donors, the Ranch is a comfortable and safe place to heal," Aliyah said.
We take great care to guard the privacy of our children. The pictures you see of Ranch children are only used with the permission of the children themselves and the written permission of their guardians.
This article was originally published in Ranch Voice: Spring 2020.
Read more stories like this and explore other issues of Ranch Voice here.