Recipe Serves 8
A tool I find myself teaching almost every parent I work with is to LAV on their children. LAV stands for Listen-Acknowledge-Validate. So often with the people we love most, we skip these three key steps and charge head first into fixing and finding a solution. I too am guilty of this both as a therapist and as a human. By skipping these three steps we often set ourselves up for what feels like resistance from the other person. But can you blame them? Two of our most basic human needs include feeling connected and understood. I personally do not feel either when someone swoops in and tells me how to fix my problem, how to be better. In fact in that moment I feel like the underlying message is “you are broken, you’re not good enough.” I may eventually want to brainstorm and figure out a solution but first I really just want to be heard, seen, listened to.
For years I had based my life on external validation and thought that my purpose was to make everyone around me happy. It was not until after my parents split up, and I came out of a very intense depression that I realized how important self-validation is and how to manage where I put my energy.
I want to share some of my struggles during the three months that my son attended Wilderness in Utah. I am hopeful that writing about my experience, and the tools I utilized for coping will help at least one parent. My purpose is simply to offer you the knowledge that you are not alone. That there is healing in camaraderie.
It's a Wednesday afternoon and I'm already late to our weekly yoga class. Much like other people, I have tried to fit too many things into a short amount of time. After hosting a staff breakfast at my house I had decided to schedule a pest control appointment during a 10 minute window, I only sort of had, before I needed to head to yoga. You can imagine my added stress and frustration when the employee arrived late to my house. I hustled him as quickly as I could and rushed over to participate in yoga. We provide this class for our employees every Wednesday as an opportunity for them to engage in their own practice of health and wellness and bring that back into the field. After struggling to find where I needed to be, I wandered into class late and was warmly welcomed by our Health and Wellness Coordinator, Elise Mitchell, who has a phenomenal ability to incorporate inconveniences and distractions into her yoga and mindfulness classes.
Last week I received another call from a law office looking for background information about Evoke’s wilderness therapy program. She let me know her client, a previous parent of our program, was bringing a suit against their family’s insurance company. As I got off the phone I noted this case would make 7 current cases I’m aware of just this year, and 3 more already settled in favor of the families. Wilderness therapy is making significant headway in getting families insurance coverage.
Perspective from the Frontcountry
Several weeks ago I began a new job as a Wilderness Therapist at Evoke. Previous to my start date, I had been working as a psychotherapist in Madison, Wisconsin, working with individuals, couples, and families; all with issues and challenges not unlike the ones that present with clients coming to wilderness programs. How I came to Evoke and wilderness therapy is a story in itself, and relates directly to the amazing process wilderness therapy provides for hundreds of adolescents and young adults attending these programs year after year, with, from what I read in the research, high levels of success.
Last summer, I found a low nest in the tree near staff packs. Glancing around to make sure everyone was okay, that no one needed me, I slowly, quietly, pulled the branch down to peek inside. Momma, or daddy bird, jumped and chirped nearby, anxious. My curiosity overcame my hesitation. Inside, three tiny, alien looking creatures, smaller than my pinky toe raised yellow yawning mouths, begging for food. Scattered fuzz, more like a boy’s first facial hair than like feathers, covered pink wrinkled skin. They were more fetus than bird. I returned the branch to its natural resting place. I didn’t want to risk scaring off the parents. These chicks would not survive.
At the time I was working in group 1, one of our adolescent boys’ groups, as a lead field guide. I wasn’t sure whether showing them the nest was a good idea. Members of the group were there to work on emotional literacy, social interaction, and boundaries. I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction they would have to the vulnerable life forms in the nest, but my desire to share the perhaps once-in-a-lifetime sight overtook my hesitation.
We instinctively hushed and moved slowly. Anxiety washed over me as the member of the group who struggled most with boundaries and respect cried out sharply, “Let me look!” But even he was able to pull the branch down, peer in and not let his curiosity, his impulsivity or his desire for power and control cause any damage to the baby birds. In that brief moment, we became stewards of the Ochocos, protectors of the thrushes and sparrows and bluebirds.
Wildness surrounds us: coyotes sing us to sleep, flickers alarm about a passing hawk, ravens call and chat. One morning, I awoke to the piercing cries of elk. Out of sight but close enough to hear the distinct textures of sound, two bull elk crashed into one another; cows cried out. I snuggled into my sleeping bag (wig); the sun already splayed across my face.
Our society often associates wildness with freedom, unpredictability, or acting “uncivilized.” Working in the ebb and flow of life and death, weather and seasons, though, I have witnessed an order in the wildness. I feel a storm brewing at times days in advance. We put on rain gear and string up the large tarp. If I’m looking where I’m walking, a wasp nest is easily spotted and avoided. We hang our food at night and sleep away from camp. Of course, if these precautions are not followed, there are natural consequences: Mice chew through spoons and ziplock bags. Improper layering results in cold bodies, cold feet. We only let these natural consequences play out when not dangerous. When they can happen, though, they are the most powerful teachers.
Two months after finding the bird nest with G1, I found another nest at a different staff tree. Something swung from a low branch. It drew me closer. A ball of feathers was still attached to an abandoned nest. What could have caused this? I looked into the ball of feathers, and there in the mess of old feathers and dried up grass were two small bird skulls. I jumped back. The baby bird skeletons continued to swing unceremoniously.