In the 5th grade, I was diagnosed with ADHD and the full learning disability profile. I medicated myself and my self esteem prior to college, quite successfully with a year round variety of sports teams. Three soccer teams in the fall, one in the winter (sometimes an additional rec swimming program), and in the spring was lacrosse and soccer, finishing with a summer swim team, sailing, and/or recreational tennis.
But in my Freshman year in college, I had chosen a Division 2 school (I wasn’t good enough to play at this level) and therefore to “retire” from sports. Instead I opted for varsity drinking, a pack a day of cigarettes and the freshman 15+, which included delivery of french fries and turkey sandwiches to my dorm loft bed while I watched Saved By The Bell and got ready for the bar at 5:30 pm. Still, I did well academically freshman year (!!!!). I was uncomfortable with this idea because school was never my area of success.
When my final grades came home that early June, my father asked me for my social security number (we were not worried about identity theft in the mid 90’s) to prove to him that they were my grades. It may sound harsh, but sarcasm is a family value, read that again with a tone of sarcasm. And remember, the nut doesn't fall far from the tree and we are a family full of nuts. When freshman year came to a close, I informed my parents I needed a year of therapy or an Outward Bound course. “Look into Outward Bound,” was the response I received.
I worked that summer and signed myself up for a Colorado Outward Bound (COBS) course. I chose a 21 day rafting trip following the John Wesley Powell exhibition. I flew out to Grand Junction and remember thinking as the plane was landing, “this is why people come west and never go east again;” the views were spectacular, the rock formations blew my mind. And I was going to be sober for 21 days and begin to exercise again and unplug. This is what my mentor would call “accidentally therapeutic.” I was in the right mind, wanted something more for myself -- call it grit, call it competitive spirit, call it what you want, but I wanted it and chose it, I could see it and I wanted to achieve it and grow from it. I was nervous, but not riddled with anxiety where I needed a family member to fly with me or a friend to do the trip with me. I was doing this on my own and for me.
Besides an amazing experience, personal growth, a two night solo, running every morning and the smell of Utah and the dirt enveloping me, was the clarity and realization that there was much more possible for me than mad skills with beer and cigarettes. The expedition slowed me down, it taught me to read the rapids and that taking myself outside my comfort zone was good for me. COBS had my buy in, I was not at risk to myself or others. There was a beginning, middle and it ended. I was friends with one woman from the trip, but overall it is not meant to continue my growth -- it was an insular experience.
When you are a young adult enrolling in a wilderness therapy program, there is more going on than just a need for 21 days outside themselves. What is wilderness therapy for a young adult? You could be on a precipice of with your longterm health and immediate safety at risk. You might have failed out of college. There might be questioning about your level of use, abuse, or addiction. You might be making unhealthy choices with partners. You might be overly connected to electronics and unconnected with peers or family. You might have a trauma that occurred when you were younger or when you were in high school or college and its repercussions are hindering your potential. You might have a combination of all of these together. When you are going down the road of enrolling in wilderness therapy as a young adult, you will need to work on yourself, your own growth and your own needs and as part of your process, you will be part of the plan for the next step. Wilderness therapy offers structure (ready or not), safety (even though there are no state regulations because you are not a minor, young adult wilderness programs generally follow the guidelines of 1:4 staff to student ratio), assessment (working with your therapist and staff) and a safe community (peers your own age and might be struggling with some of the same issues). All of this adds up to a therapeutic intervention. Everything about wilderness therapy for a young adult is therapeutic and intentional and part of a process of change for yourself going forward after your wilderness experience.
You can read about how Outward Bound defines itself vs. Wilderness Therapy here. This is more geared towards troubled teens, but the themes are the same.
Explore different young adult wilderness therapy and treatment options here.