So it is literally the last day of May and I haven’t posted in FOREVER! Life has been crazy busy recently! I will share more about that in a different post, but today I wanted to take some time to reflect upon my 8 great months working in wilderness therapy which recently came to an end.
A few weeks ago I had my last shift at Red Cliff Ascent. Its crazy how time flies, It seems like just a month ago that I decided to move across the country from the East Coast to live in Utah and work at a wilderness therapy program. Before I uprooted my life and moved to Utah, I was in school at VCU studying art- and I had just gotten into the Interior Design program. But as my freshman year was wrapping up, there were some things in my life that seemed out of place and I needed a change so I could get my life in order. In May of 2014 I started emailing multiple wilderness programs asking about getting a job. Most of the programs I applied to said that I was too young, but that I should apply again once I am 21 years old, which wouldn’t be for another 2 years, which was too long for me to wait, by then I would be out of school and moving on to something else. As I had almost given up hope for being hired by someone, Red Cliff Ascent responded to me and said that I should come for the next training which would be in July. I was over joyed by the news that they would hire me even though I was younger than all the other staff. So after I packed all my belongings in Richmond, VA I drove back home to North Carolina and spent the month of June with my family and friends before I packed up everything for the second time and move 2,145 miles away. It’s been a whole year now since I made that choice! Crazy!
It’s been a dream of mine ever since I was 16 to go back and work as a Field Staff. I remember one of my last weeks in wilderness back in 2011, when I was on a hike talking to one of the girls in my group talking about the future. I told her that I would love to come back to a program like this one (Outback Therapeutic Expeditions) and be a wilderness therapy guide/staff, because of how much it changed my life for the better. And 3 years after I told her that I became one!
These last 8 months have been crazy! My life completely changed. When I first moved to Utah I was only planning on staying through December and then heading back to school at VCU. But once I started working there I fell in love with Wilderness all over again. During my last week as an intern I was sleeping outside of the shelter, starring at the stars. As I was lost in space and admiring the beauty of everything above me I had the overwhelming feeling that I needed to stay for longer than originally planned. That same night I also had the break through that studying art in college wasn’t what my heart was longing to do for the next 3 years, and that what I was doing here at Red Cliff Ascent, working with troubled youth in a therapeutic environment was were my heart was filled with passion. So when I got home from work that week, I called my mom and told her that my previous life plan had now completely changed and that I would be at Red Cliff Ascent for a lot longer, and I didn’t really know what else was to come, other than the fact that I knew everything would work out and that I needed to stay for a reason.
Since my training back in July I have hiked well over 300 miles, probably closer to 400, or maybe even more. To be honest I hate hiking. I always have, and I am not very good at hiking either, or at least I am not very fast. Going up hills, kills me. But the thing that I like about hiking is that I get to push myself, and the best feeling is getting to the end, and being able to know that you were able to accomplish something greater than yourself. Because hiking isn’t easy when you are carrying 60 pounds on your back. Good thing is that I did start getting better at hiking, but to be honest I still suck at it compared to a lot of people, probably because I have short legs and asthma which makes it hard to breathe and I need to go slow so I don’t die. But even with all my inadequacies hiking became something I had fun doing. And I have the scars on my feet—caused by blisters to prove I did a lot of hiking.
All the physical accomplishments and trials of working in wilderness were definitely not my favorite part of working there. The best part of being there was being a part of something bigger then myself, being part of something to help others. Being part of something that invites change in the hearts of troubled minds and souls. Being part of something that literally saves people’s lives.
I can’t tell you all the details of the kids’ and adults lives that I had the privilege to work with, because their stories are not mine to tell. But I can tell you this.
I have seen people at all types of rock bottoms, whether it was intense drug addiction—to all kinds of drugs, you name it, I’ve met people who’ve done it. Or suffering from intense emotional and mental problems such as depression, anxiety, OCD, oppositional defiance disorder, PTSD, and the list goes on and on. No matter what it is that brings someone to Wilderness, by the end of being there I have seen each and every one of the students or clients change for the better.
Wilderness isn’t the end all be all of therapy and treatment. Most people need to continue in their journey of healing well after they graduate from wilderness. Because wilderness doesn’t solve everything, it is just a damn good intervention technique to kick peoples butt’s into realizing all of the problems they have going on in their lives, because it’s easier to avoid the issue and to lie to ourselves that we will be fine, when in reality our lives are falling apart.
When I was sent to wilderness I had reached an epic rock bottom, I had started going to therapy once a week in a room with someone I didn’t know at all. While I had a small grasp on the fact that I was losing control of my life, I hadn’t yet accepted the reality of the pain and disaster I was inflicting on myself. And it wasn’t until I was sent into the middle of nowhere that I was able to finally recognize what was really happening. I was able to distance myself from the storm that was wreaking havoc in my life and see everything from a wider perspective.
The great thing about working as a staff in wilderness is getting to know all of the students and see them struggle, hear them talk about everything they have been through, and then to witness them begin to change and start to see the light. I could go on forever, and I might come back to this blog post later and add more detail and attach a bunch of pictures.
But for now, the day is almost over and I need to post this before June 1st!
Arianna (Turquoise Winds)