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Step 1 – Wilderness

hike-down 2Everything changed December 11th, 2012 at 4:00 AM.  I was woken up by two strangers and driven to Southern Utah.  The “treatment­ term” would be “gooned.”  

I was taken to the base camp of a therapeutic wilderness program and they got me all geared­ up.  I fell backwards when they put the pack on me.  I had no idea what I was in for.  Calling me a brat would be a large understatement.  For a California girl, a Utah winter was brutal.  It was around 30 degrees outside, yet I refused to put on my Sherpa (huge puffy jacket) my first night.  I said that orange was not my color, therefore I simply could not put it on.  I finally gave in when my mentor sat down next to me and said, “If you don’t put on that jacket, I will get in trouble!”  Needless to say, I was a hard kid to deal with.  I wish I could say it all went uphill from there, but that would be a lie.

Wilderness was a struggle for me the whole time.  But, naturally, there were some great days too. I had always been a city girl, and, suddenly, I was going to the bathroom behind a tarp, washing my whole body with one bucket of water twice a week, eating the same meals every day, and building my own shelter.  Not only was the lifestyle hard, but the therapeutic component felt impossible at first.  I was so out of touch with myself. My feelings were black and white, there was nothing in between.  I couldn’t handle my own emotions.

I was coasting by.  I had become so used to taking the easy way out for everything.  Everything was always everyone else’s fault, at least that’s what I told myself.  I was extremely entitled to say the least.  My therapist, one of the most amazing men I’ve ever met, did not let me get away with anything.  He called me on all my crap.  I respected him but I didn’t feel ready to change.  I wanted my old life back. 

I wrote my parents a long letter about how I was sorry.  I said that I believed I needed help (which I did not believe at all) and that I thought the best option was for them to take me home and get the help there.  I was so hung up on getting back to my boyfriend and friends.  All that mattered was getting my old life back.  When, in reality, most of those people stopped caring about me the second they found out I was sober. Some people seem to believe treatment is contagious – better watch out. (Just kidding).

After resisting most of the advice I was given, I finally started working – at least a little bit.  I began to open up to my therapist.  I started to process my trauma and put the blame where it belonged.  I slowly started to realize that I could move on from my past, although I was still very hesitant.  A large part of me was not ready to change.  I had myself convinced that the life I was living was as good as it would get.  As I started looking deeper into my abuse, I started to learn that I had used my trauma as an excuse to mess up.  None of those boys had the right to take advantage of me like that, but I didn’t seek help.  I decided to self­-destruct.  My therapist had me write my parents a letter telling them about my experiences, most of which they knew nothing about.  

And, I thought I was on the right track.  I tried to work on my core beliefs about myself and being more open with people.  It sort of worked.. I was still too caught up in the past or the future, my mind couldn’t stay in the present.  All I wanted to know was where was I going next, would I go home?  Could I talk to my friends?  All of the questions that were unnecessary at the time.  I read an amazing book about what it means to be present, and I started to grasp the idea of it.  But I wasn’t even close to mastering it.

Wilderness is like the emergency room, it is meant to stop the initial bleeding, the time to let everything out.  Residential treatment is the time to start putting things where they belong.  It’s about learning to live with your problems or challenges, whatever they may be.

Don’t forget to read the third post, next week at the same time!  10:00 AM (MST).  Next week will be about my transition from wilderness to residential and the night with my parents in between!

Comment any questions or thoughts that you have! 





One Response to Step 1 – Wilderness

  1. Emily,
    Your letter can be very encouraging to all the young people who read it. Be removed from your life as you knew it and be placed in a situation where you have to care for yourself moment by moment, can be a life changing experience. Experiences like your wilderness trip teach you to deal with what has happened to you and more importantly equip you with skills to take where you want to go. Tuck this experience away as you return to “normal life”, but NEVER forget it.

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