I love being a substance abuse counselor. My formal education and professional experience over the past 11 years has brought depth and complexity to my life that challenges and enriches me daily. In truth, however, my first love is music. I’ve been writing and performing music since I was 16 years old. I wish I could adequately relate to you the thrill I get when I finish writing a new song and the absolute rush of performing that song for a crowd full of friends and family. This passion started when I was a toddler. When other kids were playing t-ball I was rocking out in front of a mirror, pretending to be the newest member of my favorite band – Metallica. Have you ever done that? Stood in front of the mirror, lip-syncing or singing along to your favorite band? Pretty nerdy, right? But we’ve all done it. I still contend that I am pretty much the greatest air-guitar player ever. No, seriously. I do. Yes, music is my passion and I couldn’t imagine loving it more than I do.
From a former client in Group 8 at Second Nature Entrada…
Today I celebrate my 9th month of sobriety and I can’t help but think back to when it all began…December 5th I arrived in Utah at Second Nature, scared and alone. Those of you who were there my first week might remember me as frightened and angry, even volatile. As the weeks went on, I began to find myself and slowly became me. Me…what could that even be? Me without drugs? ‘Is that even a thing,’ I thought to myself. Sure enough it was and still is. I can’t begin to explain the changes that were happening — the freedom I felt in having my “freedom” stripped from me. I found comfort in the vulnerability of clients and staff and sure enough their authenticity rubbed off on me. I found myself exposed. I stood there anticipating rejection waiting for it but what came instead I will never forget. I was figuratively embraced. Embraced as a human being who had struggled and fallen, embraced as someone who wasn’t hopeless or helpless — embraced as me. I cannot thank Second Nature enough. You gave me the skills I needed to take back my life and for this I am eternally grateful.
One of the things that drew me into being a psychologist when I was making decisions about what I wanted to pursue for a career was the clear opportunity to extend my creativity as a means to help people in their process. This lure of extending my creativity was regularly manifest throughout my graduate school training in the various placements I worked: community clinics, hospital settings, and correctional settings. Even as I derived value in the opportunity to extend my creativity in these settings, I realized after being a wilderness therapist that I had only remotely imagined how I could access my creativity in therapy. In large part, restrictions to my creativity seemed due to the settings where I happened to conduct psychotherapy. When I was recommended to work as a wilderness therapist by one of my supervisors, I found in the wilderness setting an openness to access therapeutic creativity like I had never before.
The first few weeks in wilderness are not only challenging for the program participant, but also for the parents. The plethora of emotions that parents often experience can be overwhelming. The relief of not having to worry all night about a child’s safety can morph into guilt over feeling that relief, combined with fear for the child’s wellbeing in a new environment, augmented by anxiety over the probability (or lack thereof) of meaningful and sustainable change beginning with this wilderness experience – just to name a few! It is not uncommon for anger to emerge with the realization of just how disrupted their lives have been by the child’s issues and poor choices.
I have the privilege of hosting Parent Workshops in Southern Utah on a regular basis. I am often amazed by the fact that the parents who seem to be the most busy are the very ones who most often find time to travel across the country to spend two days reflecting on how to best support their child’s growth and development in the wilderness. I know that there are always more things to do than there is time to do them! And so this is where we, as part of the human “race”, must evaluate our priorities. Taking time to build our own tool box is a great part of parenting!!!
My first encounter with a client outside of therapy was a scenario that had played out in my mind many different ways, most seemed to be characterized by feelings of awkwardness and discomfort. I had heard of a lot of strange stories of counselors and field instructors running into their clients and I was not looking forward to it. As a counselor, the ethics state that if I come in contact with a client outside of therapy I cannot smile, wave, or do anything that would indicate a connection to that individual. The initiation of contact or acknowledgement of familiarity has to come from the client. If a conversation were to take place it is also my responsibility to avoid any language that would reveal the nature of our relationship and protect client confidentiality. In other words, it’s a tricky situation that could play out a million different ways and there are a lot of aspects that are out of my control. I think my uneasiness and fear related to the situation is understandable. Luckily, my first experience was a positive one.
This October marks the ten-year anniversary for Second Nature Entrada, in Santa Clara, Utah. Not only has Entrada set the standard in providing the highest level of care for our adolescent and young adult participants and their families back home, it has also supported and helped to grow the local community.
Recently, I was playing catch with my two-year-old daughter, which is one of her favorite games lately. I’m hoping I can get a lacrosse stick in her hands before her next birthday. One of my throws was a bit too high and “Bonk” it bounced off her head. The look of shock on her face quickly melted into tears welling up in her adorable blue eyes. It is amazing how fast children learn the concept of secondary emotions, because soon after her hurt came the anger. A series of forceful one-liners: “No, No, No” erupted from her pursed lips. Then she attempted to walk past me and go to her room, which she’s learned to do in the process of her own emotion regulation. It’s a place for her to calm herself in her own space.
There are so many reasons to invite more mindfulness into one’s life. The reasons are as plentiful as the practices themselves. One of the subjects regarding mindfulness that I enjoy teaching most is, “Indulging the little things.” The implications of enjoying the subtle and simple are far reaching in ways that can surprise and inspire.
Pranayama is the Yogic art of breathing. Prana = vital energy, ayama = extension. The practice of pranayama helps bring awareness to the breath bringing the mind to the present moment. The exercise of refining the inhale and exhale can have an extraordinary effect on mood, promoting relaxation, focus, clarity. In the Yogic tradition, the breath is often referred to as a communication with the soul or the vehicle of the soul. Developing a greater understanding and awareness of our breath helps develop a greater awareness of the soul as well. Through the years I’ve been teaching Yoga, the most surprising thing I’ve learned is how profoundly the breath can relieve stress and anxiety with just the simplest practices. Here is one pranayama technique we practiced this week at the Oasis. Try it for yourself!