The Lydia Tree: How Unconditional Love Helped One Girl Heal from a Traumatic Childhood
This story was selected as a winner during our 2017 summer story contest and was submitted by Alicia Armstrong, MA, LMFT, Clinical Manager for KVC Prairie Ridge Hospital. You can also read it on page 19 of our 2017 Annual Report.
Lydia is a 17-year-old girl who experienced severe trauma throughout her young life. Lydia was physically and sexually abused by her family and police removed her from that home at the age of nine for her safety. The ongoing exposure to trauma led to unsafe behaviors by Lydia like struggling to control her emotions, lashing out at everyone around her, becoming untrusting of people and even being physically aggressive toward others, harming herself and having thoughts of suicide.
When she walked through the doors of our children’s psychiatric hospital, Lydia was depressed and felt hopeless. She had no joy and rarely smiled. She thought that this was just another place that she wouldn’t like and only a temporary place to stay. However, with time and dedication from our psychiatrists, therapists, behavioral health technicians and the entire staff, she was able to realize that KVC was a safe place where she wouldn’t be rejected or shamed for her struggles or trauma. She was able to make big changes. Lydia built bonds with our team members and expressed that she felt truly loved for the first time in her life. We helped her to realize that she was caring and loving and beautiful. It was hard for her to see that at first, but she was able to find those strengths. She was able to see that she had the power to make her life completely different.
Through skills she learned in the KVC Learning Lab, Lydia was able to control her emotions and understand her triggers for when she became angry. She learned through virtual reality how to communicate and visualize a safe space that’s uniquely hers. She also learned about the different ways that both her trauma and her mental illness affect her brain, how she acts and that the things that happened to her are not her fault. Her past did not need to define her future.
Lydia came to be a leader among her peers and everyone on campus. She became a strong and confident young woman and was no longer the depressed and hopeless person we first saw. Lydia had some outstanding goals while at KVC, including learning how to give back because she likes interacting with kids on the autism spectrum and has also talked about opening up a group home for girls in the future to support those who have gone through the same things she has.
When it was time for her to leave us and move on to a more independent living setting, we made sure to celebrate all that she had accomplished. A group of KVC employees gathered and planted a tree in her honor on our campus to symbolize the growth and strength she acquired here. We placed a stone beneath the tree that reads The Lydia Tree as a reminder that everyone can grow, no matter the circumstances. In this way, she will always have a place on our campus and we will always remember her and everything she has accomplished.
*Stock photo of Lydia has been used to protect her identity.
Hear more about Lydia’s inspiring story from Clinical Manager Alicia Armstrong.
Each year, KVC Hospitals serves thousands of children, teens, and adults who struggle with depression, anxiety, trauma, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation. Learn more about how our treatment engages and teaches new skills to youth for processing trauma, managing difficult emotions and moving beyond traumatic experiences.