In November of 2016, Whitney Teeler wrote a Facebook post, recognizing “life is taking me down the rockiest road I’ve ever been on. I’ve lost everything I’ve loved in the snap of a finger.” She was only months into an addiction that would a year beyond those words.
When the post resurfaced in her memories recently, she wrote another post about the change in the last four years. It began, “Do you ever wonder if God is real? Do you ever wonder if he’s listening?”
And the journey her life has taken her on in the last four years evidences her answer well.
At the moment of the original post, Whitney’s experience with spousal abuse, and what she now recognizes as a lack of coping skills, had driven her to using drugs, and left her in a helpless cycle.
“I was abused in both my marriages… So the first time that I ever tried drugs, all of that weight that I carried for so many years kind of disappeared. It was a really quick fix,” Whitney explained how her addiction began. “But then having the weight of losing your kids and your house and all of that stuff due to drugs increased a pressure of: ‘this weight hurts even worse.’ It just turned into an awful cycle.”
Though she initially felt unsure about Refuge for Women, she felt a tug in her heart telling her to apply. After learning she would have to move from Texas to Kentucky, she was overwhelmed and nearly abandoned the idea, but after a month of continued struggle, she resolved to go in August of 2018.
“It was the best, most life-changing decision I have ever made,” Whitney said of her experience at Refuge, with all assurance. At the time, however, the move was nerve-wrecking. Yet, what felt so foreign and outside her comfort zone became a home when she made her first connection with Refuge staff at the airport.
“It became a family really quickly,” she explained how she settled in, even in her initial days, “My walls started to come down pretty quickly; just because the people there, they don’t see your flaws and all the things that you’ve done wrong. They don’t see any of that. And coming from the relationships that I was in, where it’s everything negative,” the contrast was healing and foreign to her. “You come into [Refuge], where you’re accepted for all your junk and all your baggage. They accept you anyway.”
The faith aspect was also initially intimidating to Whitney, as she said she “grew up knowing about Christ and grew up in church, but never had a relationship with Him.” Despite this background and reservations, Refuge’s approach became one of the most crucial, transformative tools for her. “[Faith] is not pushed on you. It’s not overbearing… they let God do the work. They hand you the tools, but they let Him do the work.”
Slowly but surely, Whitney’s eyes were opened to where God was moving in her life, and the little ways He was with her, changing her. Much of this process was aided by her experiences with therapy. As someone who had stuffed her feelings and hadn’t had a genuine cry in ten years, releasing her emotion and fear through therapy quickly became one of her favorite and most beneficial tools.
“I never in my life thought I would love therapy,” she laughed, describing the strange joy of her experience. “I’ve never cried so much in my life, and I love all of it.”
Above all, it was her determination and commitment to her community that shaped her and carried her into her life beyond Refuge.
“It’s hard.. If you really want change, you have to want it and you have to put forth that effort,” she spoke honestly of the process, with a hardworking spirit that continues to propel her. “It’s a place you can just grow, and you can change, and it’s at your own pace. Those people turned into my best friends.”
When Whitney left Refuge, she immediately had to turn herself into jail in Texas for two and half months. After her exit and in her transition to everyday life, she served her community service for her probation at a humane society. The work quickly became a joy, and soon after a full-time job that she holds and loves today. It has inspired her to begin online school to become a veterinary technician, and has even become an inspiration for her eight-year-old daughter as well. These goals, along with signing a lease on a rental house and taking on renovations for it, are just a few of the new and significant responsibilities Whitney is happily receiving today.
“I’m getting my first house, and I’m the one paying the bills on it,” she expressed a deep joy, knowing what appeared to be a little thing was a big thing in her growth. “Because of Refuge, holy cow, I know how to budget this! I’m an adult and it’s because of Refuge I can do this.”
With all that’s new, Whitney is perhaps most proud of her growing and healthy relationship, distinctly marked by the boundaries, tools and self-worth she learned in her time with Refuge for Women. “It’s new and it’s healthy,” she said of her recent dating experience, “there’s no ulterior motive.” She even finds herself free of the self-conscious thoughts she used to be plagued by; what once drove her to hide behind dieting and a mask of heavy makeup is now unfamiliar, and taking care of herself has become something she gets to do. “I don’t have to walk on eggshells. I don’t have to be self-conscious.”
Whitney, marked by gratitude and humility, also carries a grounded recognition of what ongoing recovery looks like, and rather than trying to rush the process, is able to enjoy taking things one day at a time. One of those things is getting the opportunity to be involved in her two sons’ lives; she frequently video chats with them and travels monthly from her home in Arkansas to see them for a weekend in Texas.
“For me to be included in stuff is really big,” she acknowledges that, though it’s difficult being separated from them, the current arrangement is the wisest scenario for both her and them, and is deeply grateful for it.
Even as her family grows in health and new chapters, her support through it all continues to be her Refuge community, which she describes as her “whole other family.” She spoke highly of her prayer group, who she had immediately told when the opportunity to rent a house arose. Not only did they pray for her, and not only was she able to get it, they also sent her money to purchase the needed appliances. Above all, with this community behind her and so many new doors ahead of her, she looks to the future with hope and determination.
“You have to fight,” she said with resolution, knowing how hard she’s worked to arrive at her life today. “You have to fight for sobriety every single day.” Beyond this, her hope is simple and clear: to continue growing with Christ.
“I still want to be stable and show myself that I can accomplish things. But my number one [goal] is to still have the relationship with Christ that I’ve had, because I couldn’t be here if I didn’t have Him.”
This perspective is her testimony, and her answer to the question she posed in reflecting on her Facebook post from four years ago. The complete response post, in its entirety below, speaks for itself:
“Do you ever wonder if God is real? Do you ever wonder if he’s listening?
The pain and heartache may hurt for a long time––longer than you think. God will take your pain, your heartache, your brokenness and turn it into something beautiful. He makes beauty from ashes, he turns graves into gardens. God gave me sobriety. He gave me my children and my family back. I have a job that I love, goals that I’m working toward and the determination to achieve them. I have relationships that are healthy with people who truly love and care for me. I’m in the process of moving into my first house, once painting and decorating are done. God is in the business of restoration, you just have to trust him.”