Troubled Teen Industry
These are some of the expressions floating around a great deal these days when discussing working with young people who struggle in the academic or social mainstream. Certainly many of us are aware of Paris Hilton’s Op-Ed piece she wrote recently detailing her horrific experience as a teen. Her words paint a vivid and scary picture of children being tormented and abused. No child should ever feel that way, and what happened to Ms. Hilton was at best reprehensible and at worst criminal.
Before we assume all treatment centers and programs are nothing more than unregulated and unlicensed glorified prisons, we must take into account the countless stories of families who were able to take advantage of the therapy, support and community that many of the programs across the country offer. These are stories of family reunification, of growth and of awareness. Katherine Weymouth’s Op-Ed piece speaking about her family’s treatment experiences is such a story.
With these contrasting accounts of the world of adolescent treatment out there, how are you, as parents of adolescents supposed to know what to do? How are you supposed to navigate the murky waters of parenting teens? How are you supposed to know what is right and what is wrong for your child who is struggling with behavioral and/or mental health struggles? The answers to these questions are as complicated as the issues themselves.
When I started in this field, I learned right away that there are people in it who are dedicated to helping, who are willing to learn and who are humble enough to know that they don’t know everything. These are the givers, the nurturers and the caretakers. I also learned that there are people in this field who are in it to simply make money. People who are willing to overpromise and under deliver, people who are all too willing to take people’s money and take advantage of a situation.
To be able to discern between the two it takes a well-trained eye, teamwork and belief in the process.
Where do I start?
Research, research, research. I would say at this point, and many might disagree, that breadth is more important than depth. In other words, find many sources for your information. Remember, anyone can put up a fancy and appealing website so resist being seduced by beautiful pictures and promises - look at everything with a discerning eye. Savvy marketers know that families are vulnerable, and their websites know exactly which buttons to push. If you start to feel you’re getting the hard push or it just doesn’t feel right, walk away; always trust your gut.
Similarly, don’t get sucked into the rabbit hole of negativity. It is very easy to smear, disparage and otherwise discredit highly qualified programs simply by creating a website or a Facebook page. Remember the adage, that satisfied customers tell one person their story, dissatisfied ones ten.
So where can you go to get unbiased facts? High-quality programs are accredited by regional or national accreditation agencies like The Joint Commission or CARF and will make their accreditation status public. Look into this, as the standards these agencies require are both thorough and high. In a similar vein, you can reach out to state agencies to see if there have been any substantiated claims of abuse or neglect at the programs. By using the accrediting and government agencies as the basis for your research, you have successfully gotten away from the reactionary world of marketers on one side and disgruntled families on the other.
Get professional help
A great way to complement the research you may do is to retain the services of an independent educational consultant. An IEC can be an invaluable asset in helping determine the right path for the family. As always, doing your research is paramount, and a great place to start is IECA. By going with an IECA consultant you can be assured that your consultant has pledged independence, is qualified, and has endorsed the IECA Principals of Good Practices. On the IECA website you will find a host of reading materials which will answer some of the questions you have, and it may help abate some of the fears you have about the field.
As always, trust your gut. You should speak to a few consultants, A good consultant will be open to questions and won’t make any promises. A good consultant also knows that they will be working with the entire family, not just the child and that the job is not about placement, rather it’s about reunification. Whether you choose an IECA member consultant or not, making sure that the consultant you retain is independent (i.e. works solely for you, and has no financial ties to any programs) is appropriately educated on the programs (i.e. has visited the programs) and is sufficiently trained on trends in the field are all good things to look into.
It’s ok to be scared
And as we all know, crisis doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There is always more going on that what is seen on the surface, and even though it may not feel like it at the time, everyone has been through personal crisis. It takes a long time for things to get so unraveled that a family seeks support to this level, and it also takes a lot of courage to admit that you, as parents need help and support. While a tired phrase, and I one I vowed I’d stop using, these are indeed unprecedented times. Literally no parents alive today have had to go through what parents of today’s teens are going through, so it’s ok not to know all the answers, to depend on others and learn on the fly.
So if you’re in this struggle now, stop. Breathe. Take care of yourself, and know that as a team; you, your child, your program and your educational consultant will work together to find a new, healthier normal.
Sometimes we just need to hear it, over and over again.
Over the last few weeks a few things have come across my desk which have reinforced my belief that being an IEC is being in a profession of helping, support and compassion. The catalyst for this awareness was Kenneth Rosen's book, Troubled, The Failed Promise of America's Behavioral Treatment Programs. Rosen was recently on the podcast Stories from the Field hosted by Will White, co-founder and owner of Summit Achievement a wilderness program here in Maine. Disclaimer, I think Will is absolutely one of the kindest and most thoughtful humans I know. In his talk with Ken (as he called him, forgive my informality) I was so taken by how much listening both Will and Ken did. The two of them were having an actual conversation about some very difficult, painful and traumatic events in Ken’s life. Will didn’t try to convince him of anything, and he didn’t try to steer the conversation; instead, he listened, he learned and he empathized. It was one of the most real and honest conversations I have ever heard about our field, and the impact that decisions made by parents can have on children.
There is a great deal to unpack from that interview, and I will listen to it a few more times to make sure I actually heard what was being said. My initial listen reinforced so much of what I have known for many years about the field I am in; that by no means is it perfect, that there are both good and bad people and that the idea that there is something wrong with these kids, and that they need to be fixed is at best outdated, and at worst dangerous.
I am always someone who tries to learn and grow from experiences, and personally I look at Ken’s book as an opportunity for me and others in my field to learn. Not only about the experiences of the subjects of his book, but also about what we as IEC’s do, how we do it and how our work impacts others.
In addition to what I learned from listening to the conversation between Ken and Will, this week I also learned from Christie Woodfin, an IEC whom I have known for years. Christie, one of the most genuine humans I have ever know, was taking this opportunity to (re)educate us, her fellow IEC’s, about referring to what we do as an industry, which many of us do/did. I have heard Christie talk about this before, but honestly, up until now, I didn’t really think too much about the verbiage; I really just thought it was two different ways of saying the same thing.
But after listening to Christie and Ken, I admit; I was wrong.
Below are excerpts from what Christie said to all of us via an email thread, and I found her words really did a wonderful job of explaining the very real difference between an industry and a field
"I'd like to covey that I am even more convinced than I've been for years that we have to stop referring to the programs as an industry and we must refer to what we do as our practices and our field rather than our businesses. Many of us have clinical training. Do you hear psychologists, counselors or shrinks talking about their businesses or their practices??? … I think we should be viewed as part of the mental health team that works with parents to get their children through the troubling passage to adulthood"
In short, words matter. To expand on that - if we as IEC’s think of ourselves as partners with parents, students, colleagues and programs as a piece of the solution, we can assist families rebuild. I often speak with clients and parents alike in reinforcing this idea of teamwork, support and collaboration, and I will continue to do so in the future.
A lot of my knowledge of, and confidence in, what I do comes from the fact that I am a member if IECA - and this brings me to the third piece which came across my desk this week. Soon after Ken’s book came out, along with some other press regarding high profile adolescents who had negative, and even traumatizing experiences in programs, IECA sought out members of the therapeutic community to see how they could partner with us to make sure people had the opportunity to learn what role IEC’s do, and do not, play in the journey of a family who is struggling. Their statement, How IECA Members Support Best Practices in Helping Families Find Residential Therapeutic Programs That Fit Their Needs was a wonderful example of how partnership and collaboration benefits us all.
I admit, I am a different, and I would argue better, consultant that I was in 2004 when I started. I am more knowledgeable of programs and systems. I am more mature. I am now a father and stepfather of 4 and have a great deal more empathy for the parents I work with. I’m quieter, in every sense of the word. Not going to lie, I am a bit more skeptical when it comes to programs and their tours and am not as enamored with the show they put on. Today I’m much better at being able to separate the genuine, caring teams from the ones out to make a quick buck. I have a lot less hair now. I’m smarter because of the training I have done through IECA and other professional organizations, and I am more humble because of my own struggles.
I am all of these things because I have slowed down, I accept help when offered and I have really embraced listening…
Sometimes I cry because I see a sappy commercial, other times I cry because I see a picture of my parents and I get a wave on nostalgia where crying seems the only emotion I can muster. I cry when I am laughing, and I cry when I’m sad. I am not ashamed of my emotions, rather I wear them as a badge of honor.
Honestly, I’m not quite sure why I am the way I am. It could be nature, but then I remember that we of western European descent aren’t exactly known for our demonstrative emotions. So, then I assume it’s nurture, but I grew up with a stoic Dad whom I literally watched bite his lip to not cry at his daughter’s funeral. In the end I assume it’s like most things, it’s a bit of both.
No matter how I came to it, I love that I am confident enough in who I am to cry openly and not worry about what others may think of me. One of the scariest things about what is going on these days is this toxic masculinity which seems to be all encompassing. I’m not sure where it all comes from, and who knows, maybe it’s always been a part of our culture. What I do know is that it is pervasive and is turning yet another generation of young men into “stiff upper lip” people who are afraid to show emotion fearing that they will be judged or ridiculed. Sure, it’s easy to place all the blame on the present political leaders, but in reality all that they have done is expose the ugly reality which has always been lurking underneath; that in our society real men don’t cry and men who showed emotion are weak or, God forbid, feminine.
It’s all over TV, films and in music. On countless sit-com episodes, the big laugh is when the male character cries and everyone laughs at him. The movies are chock full of characters who are considered more manly (read stronger, more appealing, better) by biting their lip and stifling emotion. Conversely the anti-hero is often shown at the end of the climactic scene crying ins a show of defeat and weakness.
Many say that Edwin Muskie’s 1972 presidential run was thwarted because he allegedly cried outside of a paper mill in NH as he defended his wife. I’m not sure which is more sad, the fact that a man showing emotion ended a presidential run, or that Muskie felt he needed to explain that they weren’t tears on his face, rather it was the melting snow. Either way the lesson is clear; don’t cry.
I look forward to the day that crying is considered a healthy expression of emotion. That anyone when feeling sad, upset or emotional is able to express his emotions without a risk of judgment or ridicule. We don’t laugh at someone who rolls his ankle and limps off the field, do we? How amazing would it be of we could treat mental health with the same dignity and compassion with which we treat physical health.
In today’s emotional and intense world we need more of this. We need create a culture where young men feel comfortable embracing their ability to show emotion and be vulnerable. We need to have a space for them to share and to care without running the risk of being ostracized or bullied for being “soft”.
We need to make it ok for them to cry.
Like I do.
We don’t know what we’re doing.
Seriously, we are flying blind here. In all honesty, in the best of times parenting is a figure it out as you go type situation. Reality check time, we often make things up and act like we knew it all along. But, up until last week, we had a secret weapon, that one thing we could always lean on to help us through those parenting black holes.
We could always look back at what our parents or guardians did for us, or to us, in a similar situation. We could draw on that knowledge and know that at least we survived, so we’re sure our kids will. I mean seriously, why else would we allow you to walk, swim, ride or (gasp) drive by yourself? Because we did, and we know that all of those milestones are important and real, and, yes, survivable.
But none of us have been through this. None. Not us, our parents or even our grandparents. The school and business closures, the financial uncertainty, the complete and utter unknown as to when, and if, we will get back to what we used to know; these are, in short, unprecedented times.
And here’s another thing, if anyone is attempting to tell you they know what’s going on, or what’s going to happen, they’re wrong. Maybe they are just trying to convince themselves that’s it’s all going to be OK. Or maybe they are trying to protect you from the scary reality. I don’t know; and that’s the point, we don’t know. We are right here in it with you, trying to figure out what’s fact from fiction. We’re trying to figure out how important it is that we make sure you have regular classes, or clean your rooms, or take the dog for yet another walk.
So, here’s the confession part; we’re scared too. I wish I could tell you we know what to do and we’ve got this. I’d love to regale you with stories of the pandemic from ’88, and how we survived that one. Or that I know that after 2 weeks of social distancing, the tide will recede. But I don’t know that, no one does. We are all waking up, together, every day, to a new reality. We want desperately to be able to make this all go away and give you back your normal childhood. Nothing would make us happier than to watch one of your baseball games, or to do a Target run with you, or even to fight with you about why you need to be home at 10 (honestly, it’s because we want to go to bed).
But we can’t, not yet.
But what an opportunity we all have right now. To look at issues without the constraints of traditional roles, to accept people and situations for what they are as opposed to what we think they should be. To wake up each day surrounded by our families and tackle issues together; to learn from each other. Sure, it’s going to be a bit messy sometimes, and we’re going to screw up, but at least we will screw up together.
So have a little patience with us, we’re trying.
Having had 10 years in recovery, sometimes I get cocky.
Maybe cocky is the wrong word. It’s more that the longer I’m in recovery, the harder it is to remember what it was like in those early days. I do remember that early on the idea of going without drinking forever seemed overwhelming and impossible, and that I was a more than a little curious how all those people who didn’t drink were able to be so damned content and happy all the time. It just seemed wrong!
I had this epiphany earlier this month when I competed in my first ever Ironman triathlon in Mont Tremblant, QC. Being a first timer, I was pretty overwhelmed when I saw the sheer number of competitors. I was completely convinced that everyone else there knew exactly what they were doing, and I was the only one who was wandering around lost. During those few days before the race, I was increasingly nervous about my ability to complete the entire 140.6 mile distance and was starting to doubt myself. Luckily for me there was the athlete’s dinner/meeting Friday night.
It was at that meeting where I learned that there were over 2700 racers from 20+ countries, ranging from elite professionals to first timers, with goals ranging from Kona qualification, to simply making the 17 hour cut-off. It was listening to Mike Reilly speak about the spirit of the Ironman which really drove home the points that; I wasn’t in this alone, there were thousands of people cheering me on, I had put in the training, I can only race my race, and most importantly this was the fun part. To me this was a lot like the very first AA meeting I went to, when I assumed that I was going to be completely different than everyone in the room, but although our stories were very different, we were all the same. It was at that very first meeting where I heard that everyone’s journey is unique to them, and the only recovery you can affect is your own – eerily similar.
It was at that moment that I knew I could do it. I just needed to race my race and have fun. I had my team of friends and family (spearheaded by my amazing wife Lauren, whose unwavering support of this adventure I could gush about for hours; perhaps that will be another blog!) I had a great attitude, and everything was lined up for an amazing day.
Honestly, until I was standing at the beach two days later with 2700 other people, unable to see the turn buoy for the 2.4 mile swim, I really felt that way. But seriously, I couldn’t see the buoy, it was just so far away…
But I snapped out of it. I stepped up the starting gate and dived in. I’m not going to delve into a full race report here but suffice it to say that during the race I modified the famous AA mantra from one day to one stroke/pedal/step at a time. I knew in my mind that every stroke, pedal or step took me closer to my goal. I also doubled down on the decision that I was going to really enjoy myself; I was going to soak in the atmosphere, I was going to laugh and sing along with the volunteers, I was going to give high 5’s, smile and have a blast - I was going to embrace the concept of power of positive thinking.
As I crossed the finish line arms up and heard Mike Reilly say my name, I knew I had an awesome race. When Iz, Finn and Lauren gave me some of the biggest hugs I had ever received, I knew I had an awesome race. Crying in Lauren's arms at the end, I knew I had an awesome race, When I saw the string of congratulatory texts and Facebook posts from friends and family, including both Alex and Nicole both posting on the social media what a bad ass their Dad is, I knew I had an awesome race.
And yes, seriously, I had fun.
So, what’s the takeaway, and how does this tie into Loeta?
The biggest take away is that It was good for me to be a first timer; for me to be forced to listen to my own advice I dole out in my consulting practice, and for me to be refreshed as to what it feels like to be a beginner. It gave me a new-found respect not only for the clients I’m working with who are struggling to adapt to life without drugs or alcohol, but also those who are simply adapting to a new way of life, whose sense of what is normal is completely new.
While I’ve always known this, what was reinforced for me a few weeks ago is that it takes a strong person to embrace the unknown and have had faith in themselves to truly take life one day at a time.
I remember a few years ago, my daughter was doing some math homework and needed help. Those of you who know me are now laughing, because coming to me for math help may not have been her best decision. That being said, I felt confident about being able to help my then 10-year-old on her 4th grade work.
I looked over the problem, full of the confidence and bravado of an adult about to extol wisdom upon his child.
“But Dad, that’s not the way you do division; you do grouping.”
I thought to myself, “Grouping? what the hell is grouping?”
I knew at that moment; we were in trouble.
She was right, of course, the way we do math had changed, for that matter so have so many things.
Do any of you remember the process you used to have to go through to make sure you weren’t paying through the nose to place a long-distance call? You had to choose a long-distance carrier, make sure you punched in the right code, only call during certain times, and pray that you read all the fine print right? Or what about when you needed to find out who the 24th President was? Maybe, if you were lucky, your parents had bought the Encyclopedia Britannica and you could go to that drooping shelf in the living room and look it up, or if you weren’t so lucky, you had to trudge to the library and deal with the dreaded card catalogue.
So yes, in life, the way we approach problems, and the way we come to conclusions has changed dramatically – but the questions, and the problems are still there. It’s the same thing in the field of educational and therapeutic consulting.
I’ve always said that consulting is really all about connections. Not only connections with program and school people but also connections with your clients. Many years ago, really the only way to effectively connect with programs was to spend weeks on the road trudging around your own version of a filing system so that you could take copious notes. One had to spend hours trying to figure out directions to some of the most remote places in the country all the while worrying if your new client was struggling at her new program, or what time you were going to get back to your hotel room so you call your office’s answering machine mail to see how many messages you missed and how many phone calls you needed to make before preparing for tomorrow’s adventure.
Today, we are able to complement the visits we do to programs and clients with face to face chats utilizing FaceTime and Skype. We can easily set up informational meetings with colleagues, schools or programs utilizing programs like GoToMeeting. And, because of the advent of smartphones and tablets, we are able to take our office on the road with us and organize our information in ways which were unimaginable just a few short years ago. As far as staying connected? Well, I don’t need to go into how connected we ALL are these days!
So things have changed, yes. And while it seems more complicated now, I actually think it’s a bit easier. With all of this technology I know my office (which is silenced in my pocket) is taken care of, my other clients can reach me if needed, I can easily check messages, and if I get lost getting to the next client meeting or program, I always have Waze or Google maps. All of this allows me to be present during my meetings and focus on the now; I actually find myself much more centered and focused.
Sure, the old way worked, and there are countless IEC’s who did amazing work under those circumstances. However, just like so many other things in our world, while the new way is tough to wrap our heads around and kind of tough to accept, in the end, if used correctly, is more efficient and easier.
It was Grover Cleveland, by the way. I know it’s been bugging you for a while now; I just asked Alexa…
I struggle with meditation.
There I said it.
Now that I’ve said it, I realize it isn’t true.
Meditation is easy for me.
There, that feels right.
So why the switch?
It’s expectations vs reality. I’m sure that a lot of people who know me or follow me on social media, know that I put out a video recently focusing on the idea of expectations vs reality, and for me this is a perfect example. What we expect meditation should be vs what it actually is.
If one were to ask a group of people what mediation means to them, many people would respond that is something like this picture; sitting in a quiet space, in a very specific pose and have silence for an hour. Maybe it’s dark, maybe there’s some incense... and look, for some who practice that’s exactly what it is. And that is great.
Yet for some meditation means sitting in the woods listening to nature. Or it's sitting on a beach listening to the waves crash or watching the dune grass sway in the wind. And still for for others, it can be standing on the top of a mountain.
The reality is that no two people’s meditation is the same, and I have learned to embrace my meditation and how it works for me. I don't allow others perceptions if what meditation should be ruin what is a wonderful, and essential, part of my day
That’s the point.
We as a society place so many expectations on what should be as opposed to simply allowing things to be. It doesn’t matter if we do it to ourselves or to others, when we do this we place our emotions, our baggage our struggles onto others. Or even more damaging, we do it to ourselves. We assume that we are supposed to feel a certain way and that we are bad people if we don’t.
At Loeta we have a saying, “Meet the client where they are.” We embrace every family in a spirit of acceptance and presence and we come from a place of support and empathy. So many times, by the time they get to us, families feel emotionally beaten up and feel that they are failures as parents, parents, siblings or people. They have been hearing from society that they should be doing better in school, that they should be able to handle the alcohol, that they should just tell their kids no. We spend time working with everyone to break down those expectations and we focus on the realities. The realities that every family has issues, that no-one is perfect, and that to take care of others, we must first take care of ourselves.
Expectations vs. reality…
Growing up I watched my father manage to simultaneously know everything and nothing about just every subject. He had a unique quality of knowing exactly when it was time to try to fix the lawn mower with duct tape and when to call the repair shop to have someone come to the house to work their magic. I was always fascinated in seeing his home repairs which, miraculously, didn’t kill any of us and always seemed to take care of the issue. In hindsight, my Dad had some serious self-awareness.
For many of you who follow us on Instagram or Facebook, you have seen our short videos which many times focus on giving us permission to take care of ourselves whilst we navigate the craziness of life. We talk about utilizing a combination of meditation, awareness and empathy to help us deal with an increasingly busy and uncaring world. And while most of the time this self-help mantra works, there are also times it all just becomes too much. In short there are times in life when, like Dad would sometimes have to, we need to call the repair shop.
At Loeta we pride ourselves on being the ones who are there for families and clients when despite them utilizing all of their own expertise, need some extra support. Certainly we don’t profess to be experts at everything, and as those of you who have worked with us know, we allow everyone involved in the process to utilize their expertise. We always depend on the expertise of our client and their family to help us to learn more about what will, or will not, work in helping them move to the next step, whatever that may be. We also rely on the expertise of other treatment professionals who have worked with our client who can help us paint a clearer picture of what has been going on. When dealing with placement services, what we bring to the equation is knowledge of the programs, treatment centers and schools which work best for each of our clients; we have spent years learning about, visiting and analyzing literally hundreds of programs and because we are independent consultants hired by the families, we are able to offer unbiased recommendations.
As far as our coaching practice goes, that is a newer and different set of parameters altogether. Keeping the metaphor of home repair going, in coaching we like to think of ourselves as YouTube; we won’t do the work for you, but we will show you how to do it for yourselves. We will give you the ideas, and even talk you through it, but in the end, you have to do the work yourselves.
Similar to my Dad’s home repairs, it’s all about balance. So next time we find ourselves in a situation where we have tried everything and it’s still not working, that would be a good time to do just like Dad used to do, call in an expert…
As regular readers of our blog know, we are always encouraging new insights and voices. We strive to educate ourselves, and others, about whats going on in the worlds we don't explore; the worlds which scare us due to our lack of insight, knowledge and, yes, compassion.
One of those worlds is that of adolescence.
Written by my daughter from my wife's first marriage, this month's blog entry on what it's like to be a teen today is one which all of us over 30 should read very carefully. Personally I feel we put too much pressure on these kids, and we forget just what it's like to caught in that world where were are neither a child nor adult.
A Teen's Life
It is often said that teenagers live in their own world, captivated by social media and not paying attention to anyone but themselves. Adults treat us like children, children look at us as adults, and here we are: stuck in an unknown middle ground, forced to find a way out. It is a hunger-game of popularity contests, homework, and endless commitments to school, sports, and whatever else we have put on our plate. Welcome to the all-but-idealistic teenage years.
All throughout my life, I have excelled: from the moment I was born, six weeks early, to the day I finished first grade, one year ahead of schedule, all the way to where I am today, a sophomore in high school. Never once, in all fourteen years of my life, have I ever been told to slow down. Throughout adolescence, lives are looked at as an object, and always looked at from a perspective where finding the next step on the ladder is the number one priority. There’s pressure to take harder classes while maintaining good grades, to be popular, to wear this or buy that and everything in between. As we are turning up our music on $300 headphones that we buy just to “fit in,” our authenticity is being drowned out.
Throughout our lives, most all of us have heard the phrase, “stop and smell the roses.” Looking at this phrase in literal terms, it just means slowing down and taking time to observe your surroundings, to admire what is around you. Looking at this figuratively, while it is cliché, it makes a whole lot of sense. Ever since the start of high school, there is one question that has been appearing more and more frequently: “What do you want to do after high school?” Never have I heard parents, teachers, friends and peers ask that question so much as they have these past few years. However, not everyone is as clueless as I am when it comes to this question. Some people want to enlist in the military, others branch off to a mathematical or law degree, while others want to simply stay in Boothbay and fish until the end of time. I, on the other hand, have no idea whatsoever. Other adults in my life say not to worry about that kind of thing, that it is too early to be thinking about those kinds of plans anyways, but the constant nagging in the back of my mind says otherwise.
But why is there such a rush? Why are our future plans taking priority over everything in front of us now? It is quite the opposite of stopping and smelling the roses. All we are seeing are the bursts of color that make up the passing bouquets as we rush through our lives, hopelessly awaiting the next chapter. How hard would it be to stop focusing on the next chapter, and focus on what is in front of us? Everybody wishes our time away, encouraging us to look at college and focus on the future, taking for granted the moments before our eyes. Society needs to start focusing on the important things that are displayed in front of us now, not years from now.
Nevertheless, I am not disregarding planning ahead. It is a necessity for an organized and well rounded life. On the other hand, being present and being absorbed in the present are two very different things. All things considered, Rome was not built in a day. In other words, of course the pressure from adults and peers won’t go away with the snap of a finger. However, it is a good idea to keep in the back of our minds.
Navigating life in general is complicated, not to mention the constant rush coming from the people that surround us. To simply slow down, understand there is no rush, and to look at the world around you is just a small task.
Coming from a 14 year old high school student, these words may sounds cliché; but, maybe not. That, you can decide for yourself.
That is what was going through my head during the last hundred yards or so of the recent 1/2 Ironman I completed. I mean I had just done a 1.2 mile swim, 56 miles on the bike and run nearly a half marathon, a few yards in the sand wasn’t going to kill me.
Or was it?
I don’t know if you have ever run in the sand, but it’s not easy. And let me be clear, this wasn’t the nice packed sand down close to the water which after 6+ hours of racing could be mistaken for road. No, this was the soft sand which felt like it was grabbing your feet and pulling you backwards every step. Yes - I have to say, those last few yards were brutal. That being said, I made it through; not very gracefully, and certainly not very prettily, but I made it through. I just kept telling myself, “A few more steps, just make it through these few yards.” In the big picture it was a very small part of the race, but at the time it felt huge.
Now that my body has recovered from that day, I find myself looking back and trying to glean wisdom from what I put my body through that day. Completing a race which less than .5% of the population has even started is an accomplishment of which I am proud. But for me it’s much more than the physical.
For me it’s the sense of completion, of setting my mind to something which a few years ago would have been impossible for me to even contemplate, let alone complete, and finishing it. I am by no means fast at the races, but I complete them, slowly and methodically; one step at a time. In looking at it, in many ways the races I do are analogous to my sobriety.
At Loeta we work with a great number of people who are struggling with substance use. People contemplating how to live a life free of alcohol or drugs, and what that would look like. I know many clients have said the same thing to themselves that I have said when first presented with doing a race of a seemingly insane length. No way; that’s impossible.
But just like I do with the race, when we break it down into small chunks, it becomes a bit more manageable.
Don’t think about the 1.2 mile swim, just swim to the next buoy.
Let’s not think about how to make it through the holidays, let’s talk about what to do today.
Use this transition time to get yourself ready for your ride, you made it through the swim.
Before I rush off to work, I’m going to take time to set my intentions for the day.
And so on…
Before we know it, we are slowly making it through; we realize every step is getting us closer to the end of the race, and every minute sober is a victory in its own.
We also realize we can’t do it alone. We need the support and love of family and friends to make it through. Additionally, some of us need a coach, a professional to guide us through the process. Sure we can do it alone, but it is a lot easier to be able to talk with someone to bounce ideas off of. Someone to have as a guide and a support who has been there and knows what’s coming up for us so we can lean in and finish what we started.
And of course, there are the inevitable obstacles; the hills, the cocktail parties, the broken chains and the family reunions.
And then there’s the sand.
The damn sand...
But we make it through that as well.
And, just like that it’s over. We made it through the race and through the day. But of course tomorrow presents a whole new set of challenges and opportunities which we will tackle when it’s time to do so.
Like maybe the full Ironman…
Bar Clarke has been working with families for 30 years. He uses his knowledge of family dynamics coupled with his own personal struggles to help families find a new path