Recently, I was sitting with my therapist and complaining, AGAIN, that I am in a rut, unhappy, and not sure why my relationships were still complicated after doing all the things she told me to do. “Why am I still struggling to see a future for myself that I am content with? Why am I still hinging my happiness on finding a partner and fixing everything in my family?” I asked plaintively.
It's been said that the cost of important lessons in life goes up each year. Like a form of inflation built into the human psyche, the lessons we don’t learn today have a tendency to come at a more painful cost in the future. As a therapist working with families across their lifespan, it seems each year brings bigger responsibilities that come with more serious consequences. Whether life is giving you a crash course on boundaries and self-care or a reminder that grief and letting go is deeply woven into our daily lives; circumstances beyond our control are constantly trying to teach us about the nature of healing and growth.
Friday morning, I woke up to several missed calls from my roommates. Typically, they don't call to chit-chat with me at 6:30 am while I’m on vacation visiting my girlfriend's family, so I knew that something had to have gone wrong back at home. With my head spinning, I quietly went to the worst place in my mind. I thought, “Juni (my beloved dog) must have run away or got run over.” As I wiped my tired eyes and called them back, I braced for what could have been some of the most devastating news I’ve heard in a while. My roommate somberly answered the phone, I convinced myself I would never see my dog again, and he responded, “Did you let anyone borrow your car while you while you’re gone?”
In addition to managing the equipment needs for the Evoke, I also coordinate the dietary needs for our participants and staff. I follow a similar philosophy that I use for our gear, in that we want the focus to be on clinical growth, and not that someone’s gear doesn’t work, or that the food doesn’t work. We pick food that packs well, provides the necessary calories and nutrition, and tastes good. All dietary needs and adjustments are discussed by the Clinical, Field, and Medical departments so that we cover all the bases.
Every Tuesday, field staff at Evoke participate in the rituals of "shift change." Those who have been out in the wilderness supporting our students for a week return to the frontcountry for showers, practical errands, and catching up with loved ones. Those who have been home, resting and re-centering, prepare themselves for submersing themselves in the backcountry. This is a piece one our staff wrote about this day and the unique mix of feelings it brings up.
If you have found yourself in a perpetual cycle of arguments and misunderstandings with others, or your family, this blog may be for you. I know how hopeless it can feel. “This argument? Again?....” or, “Aren’t they over that yet?” I imagine you might be reading this because that feeling of hopelessness was so great you had to send your kid to wilderness therapy. I will never forget a moment in a group I was running as an intern with a group of adjudicated boys eight years ago. They were all so angry… non-compliant, rallying against me. I felt helpless. My supervisor happened to walk in during the near-mutiny, looked around for a second, and just yelled, “We need regulation!” She sent us out of the room and made us do a running game outside. Within ten minutes, it was like it had never happened.
Today, as I write this blog, I am 35 weeks pregnant with my first, and likely only, child. It’s been a long emotional and physical process for my partner and I to get where we are now. There were disagreements in our late 20s about IF we should have a child at all. There were a number of years of therapy to dig through the weeds of my own childhood trauma, my distrust of myself as a potential mother, and the open wounds within my romantic relationship. There was a painful miscarriage along the way. And now, over the past eight months, I am finding myself transforming into a mother at the age of 41. “Journey” is the only word to describe how becoming a mother has felt for me.
I have spent time in the wilderness in almost every condition imaginable and what I have learned over time is that every season and every element has its pros and cons. Its challenges and beautiful moments. As I begin to mentally and physically prepare for an upcoming field shift this summer, I am reminded of the unique experiences that summer in the desert brings.
Often, when speaking to prospective field instructors or parents of new students, the subject of sleep comes up in some fashion: “How will my child sleep out there?” “Are there tents?” and “How do you keep the [insert name of big scary creature] away?” are all common questions. I always look forward to these sleep-related queries because they allow me to highlight our risk management, the natural beauty of the high desert at night (truly my favorite time of day out there), and talk about just how good the sleep in the field can be. The truth is that there are no scary monsters lurking out in our field area and the weather typically allows for us to sleep out under the stars without tents. (We teach our students how to create primitive shelters in case of inclement weather.) It is this last piece, the importance of good quality sleep, that I want to touch on in this post.
A little less than two years ago, I had just completed my master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling. It was the midst of the pandemic: I was seeing more than 20 clients on zoom for hours at a time, constantly staring at a screen, and wondering when life would allow me to hold in-person sessions again. I thought to myself, “How could I have just started my journey as a therapist and already feel this burnt out?” I was exhausted and in need of a change.