December, 2006

article title: a long way from home for the holidays

The holidays are hard on everyone, but imagine you're a teenager spending Christmas or Hanukkah in a residential treatment center! Our adolescent unit includes girls as young as 12, all seriously ill and far from friends and family in a world where a white Christmas is as common as a blue moon. We wondered what they do to stay grounded and continue their recovery. So we decided to ask the girls themseleves. As always, their replies were insightful, moving and brutally honest:

Ophelia (not her real name) has spent several holidays — including three birthdays! — in various treatment programs and is very happy with this month's busy schedule. In addition to shopping for presents and decorating a large Christmas tree, the girls contribute to the community through volunteer activities, such as wrapping gifts for a local homeless shelter.

"It takes our minds off being away from home and helps us feel like we're part of the holidays," says Ophelia.

With residents from several faiths and often from many different countries, Mirasol's holiday traditions are decidedly eclectic. Plans are afoot for a hayride through Tucson's historic Winterhaven neighborhood. Christmas Day begins with a pajama-and-video party and wraps up with a holiday meal that all the residents help plan and prepare. In addition, several clients light a Menorah and recite the traditional Hanukkah prayer each night. For some clients, it's their first experience with a different way of celebrating the holidays.

Still, there's no substitute for being at home with family. Even talking about the holidays brought tears to the eyes of a young woman we'll call "Alana." Her only consolation is that her family has decided to postpone their celebration of Christmas until she returns home after completing residential treatment at Mirasol. As her buddies point out, not only will she celebrate Christmas twice this year, but she'll get to do all shopping after the holidays, "so she'll hit all the sales and get everything for cheap!"

Ophelia has the last word: "Being away from home makes you want recovery that much more," she says, "so you never have to miss another holiday!"