tell your story.

May 8, 2014

Sometimes you meet people…and you just have this sense that they’re extra special. And sometimes you even have the honor of doing life with them for a brief time… giving truth, experience, and meaning to your senses.

Yesterday I said goodbye to a student who I worked with for several months. I knew all week that he was leaving soon and these would be our last days together. In my work…my students come and go so quickly and when they go, I never see or hear from them again. In fact, it is big bad deal for me to be in contact with them, unless they were to contact me through the therapist, and the therapist were to approve any reciprocal communication for the sake of continued therapeutic reasons. (this has never happened) you know… Hippa. I have no complaints around that truth when it comes to some of my kids, I’ll be honest. They’re not all sunshine and butterflies, and sometimes, I’m their least favorite person. But there are a fair amount of young folks passing through, who impact me deeply, indeed. Whom I get to experience some mutuality with…who are invested in their growth and the great work of getting to know self, and taking accountability for the way they stumbled through that process before arriving in my charge and care.

Hear me out…I learn from all of my students. Each of their stories are different. Each one makes me a better staff in some way. They all bring a different dynamic to our group, which brings gifts and challenges. I’m continually humbled to hear their stories and be let into their worlds. I still can’t believe that I get to sit in on their therapy sessions each week and be a part of that process…that the therapist asks for my opinion on things and allows me the challenge and opportunity to help set out their therapeutic directives and interventions for the week. Let’s be real, they can be a HUGE pain at times. Some of them never come around to embrace the worth, opportunity, or resources at hand in their wilderness experience. A lot of them do. The ones who don’t, usually make my life very difficult. Ultimately, it makes me sad for them when they refuse what we offer. I don’t know if/how their lives are different after they leave. What I do know is what I see from living with them in a very intimate setting for eight days at a time and over several months time.

Anyway…this was one of those students who, when it came time to say farewell, left me feeling a sadness and a hole.

I packed up my gear and, one by one, said my “see you next week!” to the rest of the group. Then, as I turned to walk towards the creek where (let’s call him “John” for confidentiality’s sake) John was sitting having a session with our therapist…the tears began to fall without thought. I then began to think…and I knew right away that I was crying because I was so incredibly proud of John. As I got closer, he saw me coming and rose to his feet, he came to meet me, and we embraced. A tall, handsome, empowered, 17-year-old young man with big brown eyes, in repair and on the road to believing that – despite the abuse, bullying, trauma, and prejudice he had endured throughout his life – he is worth love and belonging. He was sobbing and he held on tight. Our therapist invited us to come sit with him while we said our goodbyes. We were both crying and struggled to talk.

Back in February, I met John on the wilderness road and got him out of the truck in his first hours at Second Nature. He was nervous, chatty, unsure, and sweet. Fragile…and a bit shell-shocked from sitting with a best friend of his, the day previous, as she almost lost her life from OD-ing on pills at school. He didn’t have a defiant bone in his body. He was just so lost and broken and clouded from all of the misguided and destructive ways that he was coping with life, stemming out of traumatic events from his childhood. I welcomed him, asked him how his flight from Texas was, taught him about all of his gear, and let him know what he could expect the rest of his day to look like, and that he was going to be OK. His first week with us was full of tears, vulnerability, remorse, and home-sickness. He turned the corner sooner than most of our students do, which gave him an advantage. He began his self-work immediately, with fear, trepidation, and hope – coupled with a lot of insecurity. I was in his therapy session as he, for the very first time in his life, reluctantly and painstakingly put words to his most traumatic life event. I was beside him for many highs and lows throughout his stay. I was a part of the ceremonies that signified his dedication to moving up in student levels until he reached the highest level possible – the first student I have known in my 1.5 years to do so. I had the pleasure of sitting by countless creeks and fires with him, listening and sharing tears, perspective and hope. His journey was a beautiful mess that I am so honored to have been a part of.

We shared our parting words. Of the many things John left me with, he expressed his “heart and sword medicine,” and his goodbye. Through tears he said, “You’re one of the most whole-hearted people that I’ve ever known.”

You know… I get much verbal appreciation from our therapist, which I am incredibly grateful for. But it’s more rare from the students themselves. I don’t necessarily count on it, and it’s not why I do the job. But when it spills out of them, I just swim in it. It’s such a sweet gift.

I don’t love my schedule. The lifestyle that goes with 8 days on and 6 days off is really challenging for me. Any semblance of normalcy or consistency is lost. It’s totally compartmentalized and I have found it impossible to intertwine the two worlds in which I live. I live two separate lives, really. And sometimes I wonder why I do…and for how long I can sustain it. But these are the days, the moments, the kids, that remind me of why I do what I do. These are the moments when I think, “THIS. This is it. Yes. I love this. I’m in the right place. I want to keep doing this.”

I cannot express the gratitude I feel for that.

I trust that John will be OK. That he has learned a better way and that he will strive to apply what he has learned to care for himself and loved ones. I trust that in the end, all will be well. I have to trust that.

I’m so grateful to know his story, to be a part of it, and that he is now a part of mine. Tell your stories. Stories change lives.


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