Conflicting Passions

Passion – Adventure Therapy

It’s 6:00am and my watch alarm goes off.  My instant reflex is directly to the button that silences the cacophony happening in my sleeping bag.  It’s fifteen degrees out and my first conscious moment draws attention to the ring of frost clinging to the hole of my sleeping bag where only my lips peak out for air.  I slept out last night under the stars in the mountains of Colorado, where I work as a wilderness therapist.  The group of young men I’m working with are snoring away in their shelter, and it’s time for me to wake up. 
What happens next is rote efficiency… Several hundred days as a wilderness professional and I’m up and moving.  I know that the hardest part of chilly mornings is unzipping my sleeping bag, so that’s step number one.  The only motivation for efficiency stronger than my impending cup of coffee, is the cold air.  After the initial chill wafts into my cozy, fluffy world, I rely upon years of finely tuned systems to get warm and caffeinated as quickly as possible.  I sit up, pull on my big down jacket, and change my socks into the ones from yesterday that dried on my chest overnight.  I put on my shoes and my over boots and within moments I’m at the site of last night’s fire.  I dig in, find a coal, and coax it to life once again.  The still warm water that shared its heat with me overnight, in my sleeping bag,  goes into my pot and coffee follows the warmth of the fire by only a few minutes. On these mornings, systems keep me safe, warm and productive.  After all, there will be individual therapy sessions, group therapy, hiking and then family phone sessions… It’s a big day.  Systems also help me to create time for personal comfort and self care.  My moment of peace with the fire and my coffee allows me some personal time to reflect and think about my priorities and my other great passion in life…

Passion – Family

It’s 7:13am on a Wednesday morning- the morning I head out into the field.  My wife, kids and I have all been up for a little over an hour and have been bustling getting ready for the day. My wife and my son are saying their goodbyes as they head off to work and school.  I remind my son that it’s Wednesday, so I’ll be away “in the field” tonight.  He melts into a puddle of sobbing and tears.  “I d… dd… ddd… Don’t want you to gg… G… Go” he cries.  My heart melts.  Right now, in this moment, I hate that I have to go have the coolest job in the world.  That sounds sarcastic, but it’s real.  It’s both the greatest blessing and the biggest curse at the same time.  In this moment of heart brokenness, I struggle to find the right words… I don’t think there are any…  “I’m going to miss you too, buddy. Maybe you can talk to Mommy on the way into school and come up with some fun ideas that we can do when I get home tomorrow evening.”  In this moment, I feel like a complete beginner, unsure how to navigate this morning’s challenge.  I wish it was just really cold out, and my biggest concern was keeping myself warm and caffeinated.  If only there was a system for this… 

Systems and Family

At times in my career as a wilderness professional, I’ve worked to build systems with my family to help my family cope with the time where I am required to be in the field…  Notes that help minimize my absence; Activities or challenges to keep my kids busy while I’m away;  Texting if there’s cell service.  Ultimately, whether it is the dynamic nature of the work, the chaos of family life or the general ineffectiveness of these tools at maintaining a connection, none of these systems have stuck around or taken root.  As a result, I find myself in a cycle of dreading the things I love.  I worked with a person once whose comment on my situation was “wilderness therapy is a young person’s game,” but I refuse to believe this.  I know there are countless others who are struggling with (and working out) the same challenges.  

So, unlike other posts where I share my expertise and my solutions, this part is about sharing a struggle.  I don’t have THE Solution, but my hope is that we can start a dialog as a community that offers ideas, support, or systems that help us all deal with this challenge together.  I’ve talked to countless colleagues and other wilderness professionals that also experience this struggle.  

Maybe as a community we can build ourselves some better systems.  Please feel free to comment below with your ideas, your experiences, struggles and systems.  

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