Alexa Sprouls, 22, turned over her forearm to reveal a tattoo with one word written in all caps: FREEDOM.

The word PEACE is in the same place on her other forearm. Together, these words have become her anthem.

Throughout her life, Sprouls said she’s struggled with depression, anxiety and fear.

“I just was so used to always living under such heavy weights that I thought it was normal,” she said. “But God kinda took me on this crazy journey of setting me free from so many fears and unhealthy habits.”

With every word she writes and each interaction she shares, Sprouls said this has become her main focus.

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‘Painfully positive’

Sprouls was born and raised in Alexandria, went to New Testament Christian School and graduated in 2015.

“All my family and friends are here,” Sprouls said. “You know, you just drive into town and you just feel good ‘cause the people you love are here.”

During grade school, she became interested in music. Her parents encouraged Sprouls and her sisters to take piano lessons from an early age. In addition, Sprouls decided to start taking guitar lessons at age 12, which led to her involvement in school and church worship bands.

Throughout her years in middle and high school, she also joined cover bands in the area and would play at fairs or coffee shops.

She moved to Moorhead for college and earned her bachelor’s degree in English and music.

During college, she experienced health issues with her throat and voice, but no doctor ever diagnosed Sprouls’ medical condition. Sprouls developed a severe sore throat that lasted about three years.

She scheduled appointments with gastroenterologists, otolaryngologists and naturopathic doctors, but none of them could tell her what was causing the problem. Eventually, she decided to take a gap year from college because she couldn’t continue singing, which was a requirement for her degree. She’s started to recover, but Spouls said she’s still in the healing process.

“I definitely believe it’s all God’s hand in it,” she said. “I know music is what I’m called to, specifically as a singer, so he’s the one that’s getting me where I need to be and restoring what’s been lost.”

‘Kind of a hippie’

Sprouls said writing has always been one of her passions, so she leaned into that more while studying at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

After graduating in May, Sprouls said she’s been occupying herself with freelance writing and barista shifts at Common Ground Coffee House. She currently writes for Ultius, a company that connects hired writers with businesses in need of copy.

Her most recent freelance project was for Alex Perz, a graphic designer and photographer from Michigan she connected with over Instagram. He had taken a months-long road trip across the country in his van and photographed many things along the way. He wanted to compile them all into a book “Adventure Registry 2019” to document his journey, so he hired Sprouls to do the copy editing.

When she’s not working, Sprouls said she’s usually out by a lake or mountain biking. She said she’s the most content when she’s spending time with people who love and support her, making music or enjoying the outdoors.

“I’m kind of a hippie like that, but that’s when I’m most happy,” Sprouls said.

Alexa Sprouls (left) sang at the Redwood County Fair. Sprouls, 22, has played in worship bands and cover bands around Alexandria since grade school. (Contributed)
Alexa Sprouls (left) sang at the Redwood County Fair. Sprouls, 22, has played in worship bands and cover bands around Alexandria since grade school. (Contributed)

‘That same freedom’

Sprouls said her biggest fear used to be failure, or rather, of her failures being visible to others.

“I spent the majority of my life associating performance with self-worth, believing that more success meant more love,” Sprouls said. “Once I realized that my worth came from someone much greater than myself, I realized that the things I accomplished could never satisfy me nor make me good enough in someone else’s eyes.”

Now, her focus has shifted away from the fear of messing up and toward the thought of missing out on doing what she dreams. As a coping mechanism while wrestling with her medical condition, Sprouls said she drew away from her passion for music as well as the relationships and opportunities tied to that area of her life, making her feel like she was missing a piece of herself.

“The whole experience really made me realize how beautiful the littlest things are,” Sprouls said. “It made me appreciate all the good things, no matter how small.”

Sprouls said she fears what would happen if she let herself give in to the negative emotions, so she often stops herself from feeling sad or upset.

“I’m very positive, painfully positive most of the time,” Sprouls said. “Even when something really hard happens, I don’t let myself work through the hard things,” she said. “I’m just like, ‘It’s going to be great, everything’s going to be OK.’”

The two tattoos on her arms — FREEDOM and PEACE — are daily reminders for Sprouls of the change she’s experienced in her own life and the hope she strives to share with others.

“I like being able to look down and always see those two words that I never want to forget,” she said. “I just want other people to experience that same freedom. Honestly, I just want my legacy to be that. I want people to realize that there is so much more than simply survival.”

This is a part of "Friendly faces in familiar places," an occasional series telling the stories of the unique people that make up the Douglas County community through writing, photo and video. To nominate an individual to profile for this series, email Jasmine at jrjohnson@echopress.com.