Not a week goes by that I am not on the phone with a parent talking Wilderness Therapy or Residential Treatment. I would like to believe it is because I am just so amazing and who wouldn’t want to talk to me right?
The reality is, the majority of people who reach out to me just need to talk with someone who understands what it means to have a child in treatment. Someone like me who knows first hand the crazy, uncertainty, fear and doubt that is reeling in their heads on an hourly basis.
My most recent conversation was with a mom who wanted to know how much family support I had at the beginning. I in-turn asked her, “Are you getting any family support?” Her immediate response was; “No, that is because I haven’t told anyone.”
This is all too familiar, and I did the same when my son left for wilderness. The idea of how to share this news is overwhelming. Do you tell people over the phone, in person, or consider sending an Evite–Hey welcome to my life, it is a disaster right now, let me tell you what has been going on for us, pure sarcasm, yes, but in truth figuring out how and when to tell the important people in your life that you did this is never easy.
It wasn’t that I didn’t love or trust my family and friends enough to tell them, it was just so raw, painful, overwhelming, and I was numb. I felt all alone as I did not know of one other person who had done what I just did. I was going to stay “underground” as long as I needed to feel safe.
Eventually I shared with a few people and on one very melancholy day a friend stopped by and her daughter handed me a letter and told me it was for my son and asked if I could make sure he got it.
I lost it right there in my driveway. The air was sucked out of my lungs, and I started to sob; loud, gross, snotty sobbing that actually had me bent over with my hands on my knees gasping for air, for what felt like an eternity. This looked like a scene from a TV drama where someone was told a loved one died.
I was so overwhelmed with emotion. I didn’t realize how much I needed someone to tell me that they still loved my kid. I never expected it to come in the form of a stunning, both inside and out, 15 year old young lady.
The three of us stood and hugged in the center of my driveway that day. That one event gave me strength for what I was going to have to do in the very near future. I was going to have to share the news with my family that he really wasn’t at “camp”, he was in treatment; and he would not be coming home, but instead be continuing on to Utah.
The day came to drop our son off at Catalyst Residential Treatment and the morning of, we went to this cute little restaurant J and D’s Family Restaurant where we tried to act normal, despite what we were about to do was anything but “normal” for us.
While seated in the booth, I slid a piece of paper across the table and explained that I would like to send this note to our family, that is if he was okay with it. He read it, said it was good, and made the request to omit one line. Not more than a half hour later we said good-bye and parted ways, not knowing the exact next time we would see our son. Two days later I was able to come up for air and it was time; time to share with our families what an extraordinary young man we had. The email went out with the -the subject line reading- The Ultimate Measure of a Man.
The Ultimate Measure of a Man
Martin Luther King Jr said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Our beloved son has exemplified this beautifully this summer. On May 19th in the early morning hours, he was awakened and escorted to Clayton Georgia with only the clothes on his back to be an unwilling participant in a therapeutic wilderness program.
He had been struggling with severe social anxiety, and recurring depression all of which are related to his Adhd. However, his rapid decline in April made it quickly evident to us, that without swift intervention the likelihood of a permanent detrimental effect on his future was guaranteed.
He has thrived in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia.
- For 88 days he has hiked miles from campsite to campsite using nature and all it had to offer as a healing tool.
- For 88 days he built his shelter every night from a tarp and cord.
- For 88 days he has slept in a sleeping bag with only the stars and moon as protection.
- For 88 days-everyday he built a fire and prepared his meals over it.
- For 88 days there were no bathrooms, showers, toilets or sinks.
- For 88 days he has withstood Mother Nature subjecting him to a tropical depression, a heat wave, an unusual amount of rainfall and numerous swarms of mosquitoes.
- For 88 days he has teamed with nine other young men in similar circumstances forming their own community called G5, working, arguing, problem solving and healing.
- For 88 days he worked on ‘Busting a fire” with a bow drill
- For 88 days he backpacked from location to location.
- For 88 days he did simple daily chores, complicated by the wilderness.
- For 88 days he worked on relationship skills
- For 88 days he worked on problem-solving
- For 88 days he participated in daily emotional check-ins
- For 88 days he participated in group and individual therapy
- For 88 days he journal-ed for himself, and to us.
- For 88 days he addressed life’s hurts, wants, joys, failures and successes.
- For 88 days he stood a little taller each day.
- For 88 days he has started to learn how to be vulnerable.
- For 88 days he has started to like himself a little more.
- For 88 days he proved the ultimate measure of the man he is.
On day 89 our son has exited the woods, with brighter eyes, a little more self-confident and the beginning of a willingness to be vulnerable. He is grateful for the opportunity that was thrust upon him, and he is tentatively ready for the next leg of his journey. He has accepted the next gift that we have given him, which is to continue working on himself in a safe nurturing environment.
On day 90 he transitioned from the wet woods of Georgia to the beautiful majestic dry mountains of Utah. He will continue his journey at a small therapeutic boarding school, where he will reinforce the skills he has learned in wilderness, but this time in a more traditional setting.
While intellectually we have no doubt this is the right decision, it pains us to have our family remain incomplete for an additional length of time. A separation like this is not easy on anyone, in spite of the willingness of all parties.
We have made a very conscious decision not to share this information with many people. We made this decision in deference to our son; he deserves the right to tell his story when and if he is ready. He did not ask to have this happen to him, and he deserves the respect of privacy, which we chosen to grant him.
So we in turn request that you not share with others; and please limit your explanation to the kids to he went to boarding school to deal with his ADHD, they do not need to know all the details.
So at this time we ask for your support as we navigate new territory. Feel free to offer support by occasionally asking us, “How is he doing”. But please know that you shouldn’t be hurt when you might only receive a simple response of ‘good, thank you for asking”. As we continue to navigate the healing process for our son and family, it comes with both an emotional, mental and physical exhaustion that doesn’t leave much desire or energy left for us to share information with others.
So for right now,we know he is safe where he is, as he continues to work on being a healthier person. He has truly embodied Martin Luther King Jr’s definition of a “Ultimate Measure of a Man” He got knocked down, he didn’t give up, and instead he chose to embrace the gifts that were handed to him and he continues to work the process every day.
May God continue to bless our son.