The background is dark. There are streaks of bright white and a hand reaching skyward.
Andee Anderson says the canvas shows a painting that expresses how she felt during intensive therapy at Peninsula Lighthouse.
“This is me,” Anderson says, pointing to the hand. “And behind it is what I was going through. See the darkness? That’s me relying not only on myself, but on God – so it’s like taking back myself.”
Anderson’s love of painting was put away as she struggled through a 30-year marriage that turned abusive when her husband suffered a mental breakdown. She witnessed a dozen suicide attempts and carried hidden wounds under her clothes.
“People would see us and say, ‘You guys are the perfect couple,’ but when the doors closed. . .” Anderson’s voice trails off.
Fighting to hide the ugly truth even her daughter didn’t know, Anderson became a caregiver, losing her identity to save a man who was hurting her physically, verbally and emotionally.
One night Anderson was awakened by a sense of pressure on the side of her head. She opened her eyes to see her husband standing over her with a barbeque fork pressed against her temple and a flashlight he was about to use as a hammer.
Anderson called Peninsula Lighthouse the next morning. She had already been in therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety, but knew she needed more.
“The Lighthouse saved me,” Anderson says. “They give so much help and support, but they don’t judge. I call them earth angels.”
Anderson began intensive therapy that brought her strength and wisdom. She also received support as she went to court for protection, then for her divorce and as she transitioned into a new life in a new home.
The Lighthouse staff also worked to help Anderson help herself. A return to painting was a prime example.
After seeing a couple of her old paintings, Anderson was encouraged to try expressing herself on canvas. Her first painting opened the floodgates of creativity she needed to find her way back to herself.
“Before I knew it my whole house was covered in paintings. I was able to express myself. Then I started feeling good inside.”
Anderson sold 22 paintings at Peninsula’s “Artsclamation!” fund raiser. Someone bought her very first painting, but for some reason never came to claim it. So Anderson has a reminder of her journey from abuse and fear to freedom and confidence.
“I’m literally creating myself,” Anderson says. “I left with nothing, but I left with the most important thing, and that’s myself. I wouldn’t have been able to realize that without the Lighthouse.”
An important turning point came in June 2018 when Anderson received a call that her ex-husband had committed suicide. Because she hadn’t been there to stop him, she began to question herself and feelings of guilt began to creep in.
A Lighthouse therapist helped Anderson understand that she hadn’t had time to fully grieve the death of her marriage before the death of her ex-husband. She had held back her feelings for years, trying to hide her emotions. The words of her therapist unlocked something deep inside her.
“I don’t know where it came from, but all of a sudden there was one tear and then another tear,” Anderson says. “I grieved the loss of a 30-year marriage, I grieved the loss of who I thought was my best friend, I grieved the death. It was worst pain I have ever felt in my entire life.”
Anderson says her therapist helped her understand that holding everything inside was unhealthy. Once she began to release her pain, she also began to release who was on the inside.
Anderson credits the Lighthouse and the Lord for carrying her through the darkest days of her life. Even now she knows she can reach out to the Lighthouse for help, and she still reaches out to that higher power when things get hard.
“There’s always a lesson to be learned, a solution and a promise for tomorrow,” Anderson says.
Today Anderson is using the creative gifts that were rekindled at the Lighthouse to make living as an artist. She has a business page on Facebook and under the moniker “Furrever Art,” she paints portraits of animals – particularly ones that have passed away. Her paintings bring comfort to their grieving owners.
To anyone who may be involved in an abusive relationship, Anderson says, “Be honest with yourself, don’t give up on yourself – and if somebody is trying to take you away from yourself, it has to stop.
When It’s Time to Leave
“Abusive relationships happen more frequently than most individuals realize, and leaving is unfortunately not as simple as just the act of walking out,” says Ellion Mangel, LMSW, a social work therapist at Peninsula Lighthouse. “The process is always a heart-breaking one as we lose who we are, and in order to heal we must find ourselves again through a courageous journey of grieving and self-forgiveness.”
At Peninsula’s Knox clinic those who have been or are currently experiencing an abusive relationship are treated with patience, understanding and support through services of medication management, resource access, individual therapy, group therapy and peer support settings.
“Restoring hope is a core ingredient to the therapeutic process; however, it is the individual who deserves the credit,” Mangel says. “Andee Anderson’s journey is a wonderful example of how difficult it can be to re-learn who you are, to feel confident and to find joy in one’s strengths and abilities again.”
Mangel says outcomes like the one Anderson had are the hope and goal of any therapist.
“As a therapist, watching an individual feel or stay stuck in a spiral of suffering is probably the worst outcome,” Mangel says. “Knowing that Andee is thriving on her own is what makes the job worthwhile.”
Support for Personal Growth and Change
When Andee Anderson was in therapy at Peninsula Lighthouse, she was encouraged to attend a support group. Being a very private person, she resisted.
“I don’t do people, and I don’t do people’s problems,” Anderson says.
Eventually, Anderson decided if the people she trusted so deeply at Lighthouse thought it was a good idea there must be something to it. She was glad she did.
“Nobody was asking me questions,” Anderson says. “Everybody just had their own journey they were on.”
Peninsula offers numerous support groups in Knox and surrounding counties, including:
- BRIDGES (Building Recovery of Individual Dreams and Goals Through Education and Support) – a facilitated support group for adults who have experience with mental health issues or substance use disorders.
- ComPASS (Communicating the Pain as Suicide Survivors: Navigating the Ocean of Grief after the Suicide Death of a Loved One) – Providing a safe place of support, understanding, and education during the journey of loss following the suicide death of a friend or loved one.
- Co-occurring Group – A peer-led support group for adults pursuing recovery who have both a mental health and substance abuse disorder.
- Depression/Anxiety Support Group
- Diagnostic Issues Group – Discussions of a variety of topics for individuals who would benefit from group interaction.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Training Group – Participants must be receiving individual therapy in order to attend.
- Enhancing Recovery Wisdom Group
- Families Anonymous – A community-run 12-step group for family members and friends who have concerns about substance use or mental illness by a loved one.
- Managing Relationships Group – Focusing on assertive communication skills to help participants express feelings and opinions effectively, initiate conversations, and stand up for themselves to improve self-worth and personal/professional relationships.
- New Beginnings Group – An outpatient group therapy session for adults with alcohol and drug abuse issues seeking support to maintain sobriety. Support focuses on strengthening relapse prevention skills, refining coping skills and building social supports. Requires referral from a therapist.
- Teen Group – Topics include social skills, distress tolerance skills and emotional regulation.
- Walking Our Way to Wellness (WOWW) Club – A walking support group for adults who have had a mental health and/or substance use disorder.
- Women In Treatment Aftercare
- Women’s Only Group
Support groups complement Peninsula’s inpatient and outpatient programs and meet at a variety of locations and times throughout Knox and Blount County. Call (865) 970-9800 or visit peninsulabehavioralhealth.org for more details.