growing green tomatoes


This is the story of how I learned to live.

My name is Akbar Abidi. I was born and raised in Los Angeles and I am about to turn 29 years old. I was diagnosed with depression, ADHD, and insomnia when I was ten years old. Although I started treatment for those conditions that year, I was too young to understand what mental illness was, and the stigma associated with it in my family kept me from ever being educated enough to know what was going on. I lived a relatively average life with normal highs and lows until I started experimenting with substances in high school. My depression, which had been mostly dormant for several years, came back with a vengeance and I found solace in self-medication. I like to think that my “experimentation” was relatively tame, but that was not the case. I experienced some trauma in 2008, the summer after high school graduation, and that sent me spiraling out of control. That was when I tried heroin. I was hooked the second it was in my system. I like to think I remained a relatively functional addict for some time, but I was just in denial.

My addiction consumed me completely. Drugs made my depression worse, which I medicated with more drugs. I lost eight years of my life to this vicious, never-ending cycle. I was not living, but merely existing. I realized that I had hit rock bottom sometime in 2015 when my old friends staged an intervention. I thought it was touching, and I liked that people still cared about me, but I didn’t care enough about myself to do anything about it. A family friend who had sent his sons to Spring Lake Ranch reached out to my dad and told him there was help to be found. I agreed to go check the place out, though it was more to appease my parents than to get well. I had no intent to recover. I planned to stay for the typical visit duration, about 2 or 3 days. I had never been to the east coast before, nor had I ever considered treatment for my disease. 


I arrived at SLR in mid-January of 2016. Getting out of the car we drove from Boston, I experienced my first live snowfall, and something about that moment in the wooded mountains flicked a switch inside me. I decided to give it a half-chance. I remained for the visit without protest and met amazing people. There was little separation between staff and residents – it was all just community, and it was beautiful.


snow covered trees and driveway

For the past year and a half, I have been employed at the local hospital’s psychiatric unit as a Peer Support Specialist, helping patients navigate their struggles and hospitalization.

Akbar Resident and Garden Crew

I quickly made friends with the people I lived with. I learned to enjoy sharing delicious meals as a community. I somehow had fun learning new skills and practicing them on work crew. I attended recovery meetings, and though I was initially very shy and anxious, I eventually participated, shared, and learned. I had never thought about sobriety or living a productive life, but the sparks that rekindled the flame of my life were struck those first few weeks at the Ranch. I experienced a new sensation of wanting to be alive, enjoying life and the things I was doing. I didn’t even want to think about going back to my prior existence. I had discovered the joie de vivre in this strange, new place. It was a novel sensation, wanting to be well.

I was supported throughout my journey by friends I had made at the Ranch, from the other residents and the amazing group of House Advisors who were present during my stay; to my clinical team who pushed me to be better; and my inspiring crew heads. I did things I never even imagined before. I became proficient at weaving – so much so that my crew head let me teach it to new residents and crew members. I learned how to garden and plant, grow, and harvest delicious herbs and vegetables that were used in our very own kitchen. I discovered the joy of the farmers market and managing the SLR stall. I participated in sugaring and learned how to make maple syrup. These might sound like random and not particularly useful skillsets, but what it did is teach me how to work. I became productive and contributed to the community. I learned the values of routine, hard work, communication, and compassion, and these have and will continue to serve me well the rest of my life.


My first employment in Vermont was as an intern at Spring Lake Ranch on Gardens Crew.

That was the first job in my life that I earned of my own merit, and applied for, and performed well in. I loved it because I was able to give back to the place that gave me everything I have now. I made lifelong friendships with people from the Ranch who are my chosen family, and I still spend time with the residents and staff whom I connected with. I decided to stay in Rutland after my time at the Ranch and I am happy and proud to call Vermont my home.

garden crew members working in green garden

My time at the Ranch taught me how to communicate effectively, be a good listener, how to overcome adversity at work, in personal life, and in the world at large. I was told by many Ranchers that I had a calming presence and my empathetic nature allowed me to relate to and help other people who were struggling. I took that and ran with it, and for the past year and a half, I have been employed at the local hospital’s psychiatric unit as a Peer Support Specialist, helping patients navigate their struggles and hospitalization.

It has been over three years since I came to Vermont on a whim, and I have become a successful, productive, and happy member of society and the local community. I owe all of this to Spring Lake Ranch, and for that I am eternally grateful.

CARF Accredited: Spring Lake Ranch programs are CARF accredited. The CARF accreditation signals our commitment to continually improving services, encouraging feedback, and serving the community.

Spring Lake Ranch is a member of the American Residential Treatment Association (ARTA). ARTA members are dedicated to providing extraordinary care to adults with mental illness.