In substance abuse treatment circles, there is nothing that produces more of a reaction than talking about 12-step recovery. Some people are extreme advocates of 12-step programs with sayings like “It’s all in the book!” Others vilify Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) as a cult using twisted religious ideologies to brainwash people. There are a few words like “powerlessness” and “God” that really get strong reactions. They are much more polarizing and stimulating than terms like “objectivity” and “spirituality” and thus oftentimes people desperately in need of help will reject 12-step support because they don’t believe in powerlessness or God.
I was once asked “How long does it take to understand the kind of childhood one has endured?” While this understanding comes at a different pace and with more or less clarity at times, one can hear the messages of a childhood by learning to hear our inner voices. The dialogue of self doubt; the justifications; the apologies; the “I hope you don’t think I am whining…” –all these offer glimpses into the spoken and unspoken messages of one’s childhood. The sometimes critical inner-voice can be recognized not just by listening to the negative thoughts, but also by listening to the qualifying comments. “I know this may sound selfish, but…” or “I don’t want this to seem…”
Winter weather, changing seasons, holidays, politics… what doesn’t create flux and a little chaos in our lives right now? It’s important to remember, whatever is cluttering our minds presently can also have an effect on our bodies. The gastrointestinal tract is especially susceptible to our stress levels and actually plays a role in our mental health.
I grew up in an ultra-orthodox Jewish home. My mother suffered from mental illness and my father dealt with it by being out of the house all day. As the oldest in a large family, I took responsibility of my parents and siblings from a very young age. I tried to protect my siblings from the discomfort I felt. I thought I was happy. I liked being in control. In hindsight, I was anxious, sad, scared, and controlling. I used food for comfort, being overweight most of my life. I married young, possibly, as an escape from my parents’ home, or just because it was culturally the right next thing to do. Within a short period of time our family grew. I continued behaving in the way that was familiar to me, keeping everyone safe, controlling, rescuing and enabling. My anxiety escalated. I isolated. I thought I was in control.
I am often asked about how one can get adolescent boys to buy into yoga. Good question. First, regardless if it’s yoga or if it’s adolescent boys specifically, the answer is the same: Meet them where they are.
I have worked as a wilderness therapist for over 18 years. I have seen wilderness therapy grow from a “boot camp” model, primarily working with conduct disorder types of problems, to a clinically sophisticated model that incorporates individualized approaches for clients with a myriad of problems, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse/dependence, history of trauma, emotional dysregulation, social difficulties, academic failure, school avoidance, and others.
One of the greatest privileges to working in the wilderness is to be free from all the distractions that bombard our sensory input systems in the “front-country”. The front- country’s distractions are full of cars, signs, ads, songs, people, stores, food, houses, buildings, technology, entertainment, appointments, roads…you get the idea. While on the other hand, the back-country (wilderness, the field) is full of…sky, weather, trees, plants, animals, bugs, live earth, and other things that we haven’t put the human-manufactured stamp on. The front-country is ripe with all the stimulation that implies human constructs, control, and expectations. While the back-country provides liberation from these constructs and allows you to just be, inviting you to get closer to who you truly are.
Last winter signified my first winter working in wilderness therapy. Wilderness therapy is a year-round operation. We function in rain, snow, sunshine, fall, winter, spring, summer, and all of the holidays in between. Some clients find themselves in the midst of their programs at Evoke during special and significant holidays. Similarly, field staff find themselves working some of these holidays. Last year, my shift was scheduled to work Thanksgiving. The days surrounding Thanksgiving rarely went above freezing temperatures. I had mixed emotions about working in the field during a holiday that I normally spend with my family and close friends. Sad and nostalgic, I decided to not have any expectations and embrace whatever this holiday did or did not look like this particular year.
The “3 Circles Exercise” illustrates a communication tool that can be used with any relationship, whether it is between parent and child, partners, friends, or coworkers. It is a template that can aid in clarifying boundaries, mediating conflictual relationships, and managing codependence. In the illustration, there are three different circles, “My Circle,” the “Relationship Circle,” and the “Other’s Circle.” And in each, there are specific responsibilities.
I walked out of the theatre after seeing the play Wilderness with all of the feelings that I had felt when I was a teenager in a wilderness therapy program fresh on my mind again. I was 13 when I went to the wilderness. I got “gooned,” or transported to the program straight from Juvenile Hall. I knew it was coming because my dad owned the program and I had gotten myself into enough trouble. I knew when they dropped me off out there in the middle of nowhere that it would be a long journey. I didn’t know, however, all that I would learn and the person that I would become by the time I left.