Interview conducted by: Erin Kudal, Admissions and Marketing Specialist
Living Well Transitions (LWT) recently had the opportunity to spend time with former client, Alan B., to talk about the path that led to his admission and what life has thrown his direction in the last few years. Alan came to LWT after attending a wilderness program (not unlike many of our clients) at Second Nature – Entrada. His family also enlisted the assistance of an educational consultant who, along with his wilderness therapist, recommended a transition program and LWT was among the selected list.
INTO THE WOODS
Alan spoke to several issues that he struggled with over the years which precipitated his entrance into wilderness, such as anxiety, depression, and isolation. He mentioned the transition from high school to college, where those issues grew in intensity during his freshman and sophomore years.
“As many millennials, I think I was subject to some bad parenting techniques as well. So definitely once I got to college and was on my own, I felt I didn’t have a lot of resources to marshal against a diversity of difficult situations.” Alan said.
“And I had already been experimenting with drugs in high school, so once I got to college and had all this freedom, I sort of poured my life into drugs and alcohol, which was only sustainable for so long……. I got to the point that I was failing out of school and I’d been a straight A student my whole life so my parents were immediately like ‘what’s going on?’” He continued.
Alan described the experience in wilderness as incredible.
“I feel like everything from that point on has just been good. I was there for like 9 weeks but I sort of felt like it was a second birth almost.”
Alan’s plan was not to go straight to a transition program, but to go back to Atlanta to try and do community college and then get back into GA tech. However, his care team had different recommendations.
Alan recalled, “I wasn’t super onboard with it when I initially got the news, as with many people, who are like, oh I’ll just go home right now.”
Yet he talked with his therapist who asked him to look at the number of people who were successful after leaving wilderness.
Alan interjected, “I hesitate to use the word successful, but let’s just look at successful as somebody who is able to be independent, care for themselves and contribute to society.”
During this conversation, Alan’s therapist encouraged him to consider that going to a transition program could increase his chances of sustaining the things he learned in wilderness and support his growth and transition to independence.
After receiving his aftercare choices, Alan latched onto Living Well – he explained that there were other options, yet he did not explore them too deeply.
“Living Well was the recommendation of the Ed Consultant and it was almost a weird coincidence that there were two guides the week I got my aftercare program options that were from boulder and had been talking it up and then I got this recommendation for Living Well and I was like, oh wow Boulder has all this cool stuff going on – I’d love to go there.”
He went on to say, “I feel like when I went to wilderness and had this realization like my life could be different and I could be happier, so I kind of felt like I never wanted to go back (to GA) and so getting to go to Boulder and starting a transition program - I was energized about it.”
SETTING GOALS AND TAKING ACTION
When asked about his goals coming out of wilderness, Alan replied, “Initially my goals were minimal because my parent’s expectations were that I was going back home to go to college – so I think a lot of it was I wanted to have physical activities that I was engaged in and I wanted to continue to explore mindfulness, actively engage in therapy, not use drugs, and learn how to do some cooking.”
A lot of times clients have a “wilderness high,” a feeling of high motivation, engagement and commitment to new beginnings – yet sometimes that can fade. When questioned if he experienced this Alan recalls, “I did not – I guess the quality was different than that of wilderness…. I got interested in therapy and found therapy really helpful when I came to Living Well. The quality of therapy at Living Well was the same if not higher than what I as getting in wilderness. And I was very interested in mindfulness and Buddhism…. I actually went on to take a few classes at Naropa and met a teacher there that I still study the Dharma with today. So, to me it felt like it was just all a progression. I felt like wilderness was a lot of just soaking up these new techniques for getting through daily life and after that it was how do you integrate that with actually being more independent and having more freedom.”
However, there were times when participating in a long-term, choice-based transition program can lead to some degree of low motivation. Alan said he combated this lack by recollecting something that stuck with him from wilderness.
He explains, “We had these chores we we had to do every day and one was to dig the toilet and someone said, ‘yeah you can do all this therapy, but sometimes what you need is to just come out here and dig the toilet when you don’t feel like it’……. you do have to have the intrinsic motivation and then you just have to do the thing that you don’t want to do.”
MAKING CONNECTIONS IN A NEW PLACE
Another challenge that Alan spoke to was the initial struggle with connecting socially. He remembers “feeling like there wasn’t enough time every day for me when I was first in Boulder to feel as engaged [socially] as I wanted to be,” and recounts “so being in your apartment right off the bat versus being in such a structured environment with so many people in wilderness, that was sort of an abrupt change that was painful at times because it is isolating.”
In 2015 LWT added the Landing Pad House, in part to combat that very issue, which Alan comments, “is a great addition.”
He also recalls, “I was 20 years old and therefore a lot of my peers were in college living in Boulder and I was not wanting to engage in drugs and alcohol, which limited my ability to seek out friends.” “However,” he adds, “it made it seem like the friendships that I did develop were more meaningful and longer lasting.” And last, they did - the best man at his wedding was a young man he met in the program – his best friend to this day.
UNDERSTANDING BASIC GOODNESS
When asked what the best aspects of the program were, Alan reflected on the following,
“I am really harsh with myself sometimes to the point where I would use the word self-castigating…about how I assess my actions and reflect on things that I do and internalize conflict that arises… I think a lot of the work that I did with Living Well was just getting to the point of saying, ‘I am essentially being really cruel to myself over and over again and it doesn’t seem to matter what I do, I am never happy with myself,’ so learning how to extend some kindness inward. And that is the view of Living Well, I mean basic goodness, basic sanity. On top of that, in terms of things that I learned that have helped me the most professionally and interpersonally, and just managing my life, has been I feel that my mind does not bully me around as much now. I felt, especially when I started Second Nature [wilderness] that it was sort of like I lived at the whims of how I felt in the moment – ‘okay, I don’t feel good so I’m not going to do this; I want to do drugs so I am going to do that.’ Learning to develop some degree of self-discipline; to delay gratification; to go to work even when I’m not feeling great.”
Alan was with LWT for a little over 2 years and slowly transitioned out after getting a job doing software development. He did not end up going back to college, but eventually began his own software development company, Cadence Labs, with his wife. This relatively new, 6-person venture, brought in $750k in revenue last year and is in line to bring in over 1 million this year. They specialize in providing e-commerce websites to small and medium online retailers. It also just so happens that Alan’s company is located right across the hall from LWT’s office in Downtown Boulder!
To conclude the interview, Alan was asked if there was anything he would like to share, or if he would recommend a transition program, and he offered,
“There are two chief arguments against going to a transition program generally – One is that a client doesn’t want to go because they want to go back home and then the other is generally a financially argument - like ‘well we have already spent all this money for a residential or wilderness program’. I would say from what I have seen and from the people I have kept in contact with from wilderness – going to a transition program will keep you from going straight back to the environment that you were in. You have your friends but you also have your relationship with your parents and I think a lot of times people end up in a program and that relationship is really strained and there is a lot of bad habits that are developed over many years- so continuing to go on to a longer term program, that is not as strict a container, but continues to nurture that values and techniques that usually get introduced at a residential program, I think it leads to a much higher degree of realization on the part of both client and parents and gives clients and parents a chance to continue working on their relationships under the supervision of someone who can facilitate a healthy relationship. For me especially, just not going back into the same environment just continued to give me a chance to reinvent myself. I think that was really relieving on some level. I was not looking forward to going back – I guess I should say in the moment I wanted to go back but after reflecting on it and after I got to Boulder and saw what it was like here – I was really glad I didn’t go back.”
Alan has remained in the Boulder area since his arrival in 2010, and has been a fixture in the LWT family even after completing the program.