July 21, 2015 Diane Ryan

Take-Aways from Our Time in the Wilderness

Photo of orange mushroom with a bugWe have just returned from another weekend of camping and hiking with Mirasol's teen clients. We've done it many times now, so we have the packing pretty much down to a science, even with the special requirements of camping with clients who are in various stages of recovery from an eating disorder.

What is less predictable, and much less subject to planning, is what we bring home once the tents are folded and the chairs are stacked. What special moments, new understandings, or closer connections will become part of the story of recovery for a struggling client?

High in the Catalina Mountains above Tucson, it's all about connection: to self, to each other and to the larger world. Clients often report a clearer sense of self, and a yearning to be themselves without the barrier of their eating disorders. Being on a trail, moving through space, time and terrain — those elements combine to create a powerful yearning to be who we really are, without the smokescreen of the eating disorder, and its attendant anger, disappointment or depression.

This realization may strike with a clarity that derives its power from an environment that challenges them to do more than they thought they could, and to see themselves as "more" — more capable, more brilliant and more worthy.

Photo of a horny toadThe physical demands of hiking, setting up camp, reacting to the weather and spending the night outdoors often create a stronger connection to others. This magnifies the relationships clients were already building with each other and with staff. Clients often report that they had no real friends before coming to Mirasol, but they now recognize true friends among their fellow clients, and they are beginning to understand the value of friendship. This sense of bonding and shared experience not only follows them back to treatment, but may form the foundation for life-long friendships.

As we take our clients from all over the globe from the desert floor to the summits of ancient mountain ranges, we move through a landscape which may be novel and full of surprises. Flowers, butterflies, trees, birds, wildlife of all sorts, intimate woodland alcoves and sweeping desert vistas inspire a profound appreciation of the beauty and wonder of the natural world. Around a blazing fire and under a canopy of stars, we experience emotions that have stirred humanity since the dawn of time. Clients are often surprised by the suddenness and power of those feelings. Returning to Mirasol, they have the opportunity to express themselves through art, music and writing. Some clients may discover passions that will enrich the rest of their lives.

Whatever a client's individual experience, a trip to the wilderness provides many valuable jewels to pack in the backpack and call upon as the journey into recovery continues.