Why do some people succeed while some who are equally talented do not? What is it about wilderness that can produce such dramatic results? The foundation from which both answers arise is one of mindset. Mindset, in this case, refers to the mental, emotional and cognitive structures used to process one’s experience. Another way of understanding this idea is asking this question: “What kind of meaning is being created out of any given experience?” Yet another question to help clarify is: “Is learning occurring from a given experience?” The concept of mindset is germane to both answers.
The other day I was stoked to go out for a run in a new pair of running shoes that I really liked. As I jogged, I could feel signs of the shoes not quite fitting me, which I hadn’t wanted to face before because they were on sale. Upon getting back home and taking off the shoes, I found some good-sized blisters. I really wanted to like the new shoes, but these blisters were telling me something that I’m better off listening to.
Field staff at Evoke are required to attend and complete several different types of trainings throughout their career in the field. Initial medical training includes First Aid and CPR training, which is required of all staff members working in the field. As staff work toward their development as a Senior, they are required to get their Wilderness First Responder training, which requires attending an off-site 10-day training from a medically accredited company. This particular training equips field staff with the ability to respond to a majority of wilderness related injuries and illnesses in a wilderness setting. In the rare case that an injury or illness happens that requires more intense medical attention, our staff are also trained to prep and evacuate clients in collaboration with other medical professionals.
Why the Adage to be a Parent not Your Child’s Friend is Actually Flawed
I often hear parents or parent educators utter the adage, “You should be a parent, not a friend, to your child”. I think this goes largely unchallenged in our culture. And the current ubiquitous criticism of parents as helicopter-parents or snowplow parents describes a parent who spends every ounce of their energy to remove discomfort and struggle from the child’s life and wants the child to approve of them. I believe there is a problem with this blanket criticism and the problem may start with our understanding of what it means to be a friend and only partly to do with our understanding of the role of a parent.
Working with clients that suffer from addiction and all of the co-occurring issues that come with addiction is indescribably rewarding and incredibly taxing. We have the duty and the privilege to walk with families through this journey. And there is no “silver bullet” answer to cure the disease of addiction. We have seen a lot through the years and the outcomes run the gamut from miraculous to tragic. Recently I had the pleasure of welcoming a former client back to the field so he could share his experience, strength and hope with group 3 here at Cascades. Upon returning back to the front country we discussed how all of this has turned out. We chuckled as he shared, “Yeah man… this wasn’t the plan”. We hear this a lot. It is a part of my story as well. I am supposed to be teaching high school history and coaching wrestling somewhere. Alas, my plan didn’t pan out and I couldn't be more grateful for that fact. I think of Joseph Campbell’s words, “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” That is what recovery means to me… If I let go of “my plan” and become honest, open and willing there is no telling what kind of amazing gifts I might find… granted they are amazing gifts that no one ever wanted. This just wasn’t the plan.
Families who make the difficult and courageous decision to send their child to wilderness therapy often hear from concerned friends and local professionals. These caring individuals have questions about “Wilderness Therapy.” Maybe they have heard stories of such programs or maybe the idea of sending a child away for treatment seems contrary to the notion that healing must happen in the family where the young person is surrounded by those that love him or her most.
Four years ago, Gail Bramlet, our Office Manager at Entrada, approached me with an exciting idea. At the time, there were a fair number of alumni families looking to give back to the program in order to help other families with the sometimes burdensome costs of treatment. After a few discussions over coffee, we hatched the idea of the Second Nature Alumni Foundation. We decided rather than pooling money with the scholarships Evoke already offers that we should find a way to engage families that have been inspired by the healing power of wilderness therapy and have a desire to help others access the same experience. We also wanted to make the funds available to families looking at other programs as well, as we believe the right fit is of the utmost importance for effective treatment.
The title of this blog was a tough one for me to type. My internal answer to the question is always a bold and resounding, “YES, of course, and why is that even a question?” But it is a question and a concern that I have heard from many parents contemplating wilderness therapy for their adolescent daughters over the past few years. After consulting with adolescent boys wilderness therapists, my suspicion about this gender stereotype was confirmed. It seems that the boys groups get very few (if any) questions about their capacity to “handle it”. First let’s identify a few built in assumptions to the question about girls and their abilities in a wilderness program. The assumptions range from “they might not be strong enough or tough enough” to “they might be traumatized by the rugged nature of living in the wilderness”. I have also heard parents express concern about their daughters feeling “unsafe in the remote wilderness” or “unable to endure the discomfort of the weather or learning how to build a fire”.
A short while ago, I was watching a video from the Red Bull Rampage – a freeride downhill mountain biking competition. The location is near Virgin, Utah on the dramatic mesas overlooking the Virgin River that flows through Zion National Park. Looking down from the top of the course is a dizzying experience. The course descends several hundred feet on a narrow spine of sandstone. On either side are near vertical drops. For the uninitiated, it is nearly inconceivable that humans would want to ride down from this cliff edge, but they do backflips, 360 degree rotations, or superman style – feet off the pegs flights into space to land on a slope of dirt, rock and sand and then drop into the next section. The video does not typically show the crashes. Watching the riders drop off the edge of a cliff is terrifying enough.
Hanukkah, or Chanukah, is one of the more memorable winter holidays to observe in the wilderness. I remember once in the adolescent field, at the camp called “Dr. Seuss” (named because of the many Joshua Trees in the area), seeing the camp aglow with the candles of a menorah illuminating the central Joshua Tree by pack line. Another year, at the “Narnia” camp, a client taught us how to play Dreidel, which was a hit with the group and kept going with juniper seeds long after the Gelt was eaten.
At Entrada, we support the celebration in a couple of ways. We send out a light-weight commercial menorah and a “wilderness” style menorah (made out of juniper or oak), or clients can create one their own. Candles are provided to cover the 8 days. For the first night, we also send out Dreidels and Gelt, and ingredients for Latkes. The handouts below that cover the historical and spiritual significance are also included so that participants can share the meaning of the holiday with their peers.