The transition from a warm, comfortable bed in Tennessee to a tarp in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains was an unpleasant one for Anne Parkes Armistead. Her life had drastically changed overnight when she was suddenly sent to a wilderness treatment program. Armistead was far from thrilled, and the first night her camp leader sat on top of her to keep her from escaping the program.
After an unforeseen intervention with her family, Armistead was whisked away from the only home she knew to the wilderness therapy program in Georgia. It was the first step toward transforming her life and ultimately joining the LDS Church and serving a mission.
Armistead admitted to being a “wild child” who grew up in a wealthy Tennessee home.
“I didn’t care about school. I didn’t care about my family. All I cared about was hanging out with friends and having a good time,” she said.
She soon became addicted to drugs and alcohol. Because of this, she got in trouble with the law and was sent to a juvenile detention center twice. The first time she got out she remembers laughing about it as if it were a joke.
“If you think that’s going to stop me, bring it on,” Armistead recalls thinking after she was released.
At the time, she saw nothing wrong with her life.
Her home was dysfunctional; her parents were addicts as well. She turned to a carefree lifestyle to help her forget about her problems.
“It was an escape from my home life and my reality. If I lived in a fantasy where all I did was party and hang out with my friends, I didn’t have to face my reality,” she said.
At the wilderness camp Armistead laid under the stars and began to face reality. She prayed to God and felt loved and at peace for one of the first times in her life. This ignited a spark inside of Armistead that led to a whirlwind of change.
Two and a half months later she was sent to Discovery Ranch, a treatment facility in Mapleton, Utah.
Although the Georgian wilderness had helped create a temporary change inside of Armistead, the ranch helped her undergo true, permanent change.
“There was a point when I started to gain relationships with the people who worked there. I started to trust them and started to believe that if I did what they were telling me, then I would be happier there. After that, it was a game changer,” Armistead said.
Discovery Ranch residential director Leslie Giles recalls how Armistead was originally known as the class clown.
“She didn’t take anything serious and she swore a lot,” Giles said.
Despite the initial shock, the structure, staff and consistency soon grew on Armistead.
The staff members consistently told her they loved her and were proud of her progress – something she hadn’t really experienced earlier in her life.
“That love compelled me to want to change,” Armistead said.
Most of Armistead’s time was spent on various projects such as cleaning or taking care of the horses. Scott Peterson, a member of Discovery Ranch’s board of directors, attributes much of Armistead’s personal growth to learning to be productive.
“When you are productive and contributing, you feel better about yourself … she never felt that before,” Peterson said.
The work ethic Armistead developed at the ranch is what many people admire about her today. Her newfound happiness at the ranch was in part because of the work she engaged in. In fact, when she was told she was graduating from the program, she cried and asked to stay.
“It was the first place I felt safe and productive and accomplished in my life,” she said.
However, she knew she needed to leave to grow even more and put her newly acquired skills into action. According to Peterson, the ranch gave Armistead the opportunity to learn to appropriately deal with stress in a structured and controlled environment.
The real test was applying these skills in the real world.
“Everything in my life was the same except for me, but I was determined,” Armistead said.
She was determined to stay sober and keep working hard, and she has ever since.
Armistead attributes her strong-willed personality to God. She believes that God has blessed her with an increased amount of energy and resolve. Giles, too, recognized these attributes in her, commenting that Armistead has an infectious personality and is always excited and grateful, which often rubs off on the people around her.
Armistead was introduced to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while living with an LDS couple who had worked with at Discovery Ranch. She was baptized after more than a year of living with them and later served an LDS mission in Oklahoma City. She currently attends UVU and works at the MTC.
Though Armistead’s path might be unique to some, it is not uncommon among many local teens. Discovery Ranch is one of several treatment facilities in the area that has helped local teens overcome addiction and other similar issues.
Although Armistead’s struggles today don’t include the body weight of a camp counselor restraining her, she admits she still struggles at times with the traumas of her past. Despite this, her outlook on the future is optimistic. She encourages anyone struggling through life’s pitfalls to have hope in what’s ahead.
“If I endure it well, there’s always blessings,” she said. “There’s always greater joy, there’s always a greater day.”