I Was Facing a Lifetime in Mental Institutions When God Threw Me a Lifeline


I grew up in a loving middle-class family in Lubbock, Texas, a farming and ranching community famous for raising cotton, corn, peanuts, and cattle.

As a five-year-old, I experienced a severe trauma while walking to school with a classmate after eating lunch together in my home. Stopping by my friend’s house to say hello to her mom, we were shocked at her mother lying motionless on her bed. She was dead. Several years later, my best friend in fourth grade died of cancer. Because of these tragic events, I carried an unhealthy fear of death into my young adulthood.

At some point between ages nine and ten, I began experimenting with pot and alcohol. Serious Texas-style partying followed in high school. On weekends teenagers hopped into pickup trucks and drove along back roads to homes, barns, and fields away from town. We drank and laughed, danced to country music, and got high on cocaine.

Schoolwork was a breeze. Even with partying, I earned high grades and honors. I ran cross country and was active in the chess, math, and science clubs. Yet I was insecure, standing at just over five feet tall and weighing no more than 100 pounds. Alcohol and drugs made me feel powerful and fearless.

Big dreams filled my 17-year-old mind as I stepped into my dorm room at Angelo State University (ASU) in San Angelo, Texas, where I was enrolled on a pre-med scholarship. I imagined a bright future helping people as a caring ob-gyn physician. It never happened.

Vanishing hopes

During my first ASU semester, I joined the uncontrolled world of sororities and fraternities. I drank hard liquor daily and did ecstasy and LSD. The new freedom away from home and the cool social life excited me.

For a few hours at a time, ecstasy provided feelings of euphoria, high energy, intense happiness, and peace. Any constraining inhibitions melted away. Many times, I would pass out and wake up in different places the next morning, not remembering what had happened the previous night.

At a frat house Halloween party, I almost overdosed after a bad hit of ecstasy. In and out of consciousness, I hallucinated and woke up hearing evil voices saying, “Kill yourself, life is not worth living, you are worthless.” Over the next few months, the voices in my head trapped me in cycles of hopelessness.

Meanwhile, I stopped attending classes. While I was home for Christmas break, my parents received a letter listing my failing grades and revealing that I was officially on academic probation. They were livid.

Even though I had grown up in the Bible Belt—and made a public show of getting saved and resaved, baptized and rebaptized—whatever personal faith I had was dwindling close to zero. I still believed in God, but I was miles and miles away from him.

With no money and no permanent place to live, I quit college the following January. Any hopes I had for my future had vanished. The next three years turned into a nightmare.

After pawning all my jewelry, I still needed more money to live and to pay for drugs. I found temp work—secretarial and receptionist jobs and waitressing. However, I would often get fired after staying out all night and not showing up the next morning. Or after drinking alcohol at my desk and falling asleep.

For a time, I refused all offers of help to get sober. My family tried intervening, but I pushed them away. Their nagging bugged me.

Meanwhile, I moved around to different apartments. When, inevitably, eviction notices came, I would cajole people into letting me bunk on their couches. Sometimes I slept on the back seat of my car. Former friends disappeared.

Between jobs, I resorted to crime. I stole petty cash from employers, shoplifted, and cashed stolen checks, a more serious bank-fraud offense. Sometimes I returned shoplifted items to the stores I had stolen them from, exchanging them for cash or gift cards.

In 1992 I tried to kill myself for the third time, mixing ecstasy and cocaine with huge amounts of alcohol. I tried rehab programs that did not help and spent time in locked-down psyche units. There, I was medicated into a trance-like state where I drew pictures with different colors to calm me. I knew I was crazy just like the other patients. Most of us just sat around for hours staring at the ceiling.

Life felt hopeless.

Standing on the brink

During my final admission to a state mental hospital for a failed suicide attempt, my grandmother asked the youth pastor from my old church to visit me. He told me there was hope, and he provided phone numbers for two faith-based drug and substance abuse rehab programs: Adult & Teen Challenge in Dallas and the Hoving Home in Garrison, New York.

Teen Challenge in Dallas was full. In desperation, I placed a collect call to the Hoving Home, which had an opening. My former church provided a one-way plane ticket to New York. I took a calming medication to make it through the flight and wore my favorite Texas cowgirl boots to boost my confidence.

But deep down, I felt totally alone, scared, and unsure of ever recovering from addiction and mental illness. At the age of 21, I stood on the brink of being institutionalized for life.

Hoving staff members met me at Newark Airport in New Jersey. The van ride to Garrison, New York, an upscale community, took a little over an hour. I was numb from the plane ride and my mind was clouded. I heard voices again in my head whispering, “You will never make it. Death is the final solution.”

As we pulled into the Hoving Home driveway, passing through the massive stone entrance posts, my eyes focused on a sign nailed to a tree: Speed Limit 15, We Love Girls . A tiny spark of hope appeared. For a moment I thought this time might be different. And it was.

Founded in 1967 by John and Elsie Benton, the Hoving Home is located on a 39-acre former estate overlooking the Hudson River. It is named after Walter Hoving, the former chairman of Tiffany & Co., who helped arrange the financing for the original purchase of the property. Five additional campuses now operate in New York, New Jersey, California, Nevada, North Carolina, and Massachusetts, ministering to 140 women.

Adjusting during my first month was rough. The home assigned me a Big Sister to help me cope with the new Christian environment. I was a difficult student and cried often. I had trouble sleeping from nightmares and hated getting out of bed at 6 a.m. every morning to attend classes and do chores like mowing grass, raking leaves, and shoveling the snow in the winter.

At first, I was no fan of memorizing Scripture. Nevertheless, I started leaning on Luke 1:37—“For nothing will be impossible with God” (ESV)—as my go-to lifeline. And slowly, the Lord started changing my heart. The Hoving staff demonstrated kindness, patience, and a willingness to love me at my worst. Finally, I repented of my sins and rebellion and surrendered to Jesus.

God delivered me from the crazy voices in my head when the staff encircled me, praying and reading Scripture over me. Yet I continued carrying a lot of baggage. I had a strong-willed, independent spirit—a prideful inclination to go my own way rather than yielding to God’s control. And I was still grieving over the wasted years.

At one point about three weeks into the program, I broke down, thinking I couldn’t handle it anymore. I was ready to give up and run away. I poured out my soul to Debbie Jonnes, the program director, in her office. She looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You may not believe me now, but I want you to hold on to my faith because I believe that Jesus can change your life.”

Her confident faith and mercy caused me to stay another day. Then more and more days, until I completed the program in June 1993. It had taken 18 months, 6 months longer than usual.

Deliverance stories

I learned, however, that deliverance from bondage takes time. The Holy Spirit provided the power to overcome the next phase of my journey, a prison term for a bank fraud conviction.

I spent the next eight months in the women’s high security unit at the Federal Correctional Institution in Lexington, Kentucky, now a men’s facility. Fortunately, the judge shortened my sentence, which could have been much longer.

Prison life was lonely, but I stayed away from trouble by reading the Bible in our pod, spending time in the prison library, and attending chapel services.

During my prison term, I received a letter from John Benton, the Hoving Home founder and president. He invited me to join the Hoving staff as an entry level associate. I accepted and left prison with a one-way bus ticket to New York.

For the first year and a half, I worked in the home’s outreach crisis center in Times Square in Manhattan. I shared my testimony with broken women hanging out on the streets and in parks and invited them to the program. Afterward, back in Garrison, I did clerical and administrative work and was appointed business manager in 1995. God blessed me over the years through a series of promotions, and in 2016 I was chosen to lead the organization.

I never tire of telling my story to our residents. When I see women struggling, I try to encourage them and pray with them as I walk through the facility. I recall meeting a recovering addict plagued by voices in her head. I told her how God had touched my life and delivered me. She completed the program and now leads a homeless ministry in her church.

These and many other deliverance stories have left me in awe of God’s redeeming power. The only reason I do what I do is because Jesus saved me and enables me every day. I trust Romans 8: There is no condemnation for me in Christ Jesus. And only through him I am more than a conqueror.

Beth Greco is president and CEO of Hoving Home. Peter K. Johnson is a freelance writer living in Saranac Lake, New York.





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