YPW Partner Impact Story: Cece – A Journey of Healing
Before entering Pacific Quest and Dragonfly Transitions, and consequently becoming introduced to rites of passage work, my life was devoid of meaning. I was entirely consumed by depression and anxiety. I was barely leaving the house, I had dropped out of college, I was plagued by self-harm urges, and was consistently pacifying my emotional pain by abusing alcohol and other drugs. I hated my life and I hated myself. And I was obsessed with this hatred; it was all I could think about. This went on for months, and after thoroughly and repeatedly contemplating taking my own life, I resigned to signing up for treatment.
I could not be more grateful for ending up at Pacific Quest. Granted, my experience there was difficult, tumultuous, frustrating, and filled with tears… but it gave me the impetus I needed to take the power back from mental illness. My PQ experience showed me my own strength, my own courage, and why I was worth putting in the effort to try to overcome the darkness and shadows. Over those three months, I slowly but surely eased myself into becoming comfortable in my own skin and took back the power from depression, enabling me to save my own life. One of the most poignant experiences I had at PQ was the solo I did. It was my first involvement with a genuine rite of passage. I was forced to sit with myself and be alone for almost two whole days; a scary thought for a person whom previously would dread being alone for even an hour. The experience was incredibly empowering! I overcame my fear of being truly present with myself, free from technology, substance abuse, and the infinite other number of distractions so many of us unconsciously use throughout our lives. After completing my solo, and successfully finishing out the rest of the Pacific Quest program, I was extremely proud of myself and felt motivated to continue to heal.
I then entered a program in Oregon called Dragonfly Transitions, where I continued my recovery for the next year and a half. It was there that I was introduced to rites of passage work in a more in-depth fashion, and I was given the opportunity to partake in two different vision fasts. My first fast, which was three full days and nights spent in the woods, with no food, no human contact, and no real shelter…. Well, it’s hard to put words to such a powerful, mythical experience. The fast was incredibly well-timed; it was to occur right after I was scheduled to move out of the Dragonfly house and into my own living space! I used it, in one sense, to mark my transition out of the transition home, and also to honor all of the work I did while living in treatment. My first fast was a unique challenge; I had never been faced so intensely with myself and my fears. But I’ve come to the conclusion that this sort of turmoil must be addressed, it must be worked with, in one fashion or another, or we will be forced to live forever as uninitiated adults. Maybe surviving, but certainly not thriving. Lacking purpose and fulfillment. Like me, pre-treatment.
My second vision fast was just as meaningful as was my first. I fasted several months after graduating Dragonfly, and my intention was to sever with the idea of being a person who is mentally ill and to come into my own wholeness. The fast didn’t totally go as planned, for me… but it went as it was supposed to go. I ended up being struck with the idea that this work, this rites of passage work, this work of helping people heal by facing their deepest and darkest fears out in nature, is what I am being called to do.
What I have learned in the past two years, throughout treatment and rites of passage work, is that I am a person who is hungry. My soul craves fulfillment, purpose, and meaning. And I won’t be satisfied if I’m not doing this work, this work of soul-searching, of learning, of listening, of intention. This beautiful, strange, mysterious work of healing the self, and, in turn, helping others heal.
The Power of Dirt
When I first met Cece she was weeding a garden bed, knees pressed against the ground, diligently pulling away the sprouting grass surrounding a long row of kale and broccoli. I remember the sound of the trade winds coming in from the ocean as we spoke. I watched Cece’s hands shaking as she dug her fingers through the dirt. It was our first meeting, and it was the beginning of a long journey with the filters and distractions removed, exposing a deep unequivocal yearning for love.
As a therapist, my job is to navigate many different worlds; to work within the imperfect system of mental healthcare while honoring each person’s inner capacity to activate his or her own self-healing. Cece’s journey was in many ways a mirror into the journey that we all must face. Each of us living a story that is about something more than ourselves. Each of us learning to let go, sitting with our fears and silent questions; learning to pray as if it were a simple conversation between the past and future. Sitting together in a garden tending to the weeds felt like the beginning of a ceremony. We talked about the obstacles to love, about fear and self-doubt. I remember the sound of tiny roots breaking as we pulled at the weeds, and the smell of dirt and sweat as we talked about loneliness and the search for meaning.
It’s hard to imagine, but two years later Cece would be sharing her story at the 2016 Wilderness Therapy Symposium. She would join me in advocating for the integration of rites of passage and horticultural therapy and in the process she would inspire attendees to deepen their commitment to ceremony and ritual. Now, with her involvement at Youth Passageways, I feel inspired by the power of ceremony to set in motion a chain of events that is beyond imagination. Cece’s journey is a reminder that there is medicine within the wound, and with this wisdom I see organizations like Youth Passageways forging opportunities for healing and transformation that honor the collective story of this generation and the generations to come.
The Right Kind of Accountability
You could say that I came about this type of work honestly. I was raised in an empty cookie-cutter culture of middle-class suburbia. There was no conception or emphasis on young people having a valued seat in the larger community and certainly no methods of navigating the treacherous road from adolescence into adulthood. Many of my peers fell by the wayside to drugs, crime, or the hollow pursuit of a life that that was prescribed to them by the machine of materialism and popular culture.
I found myself lost in my adolescence, which in itself is actually necessary, but with no Mentors or path to tread which would lead me to understand my place in the world in a real way. By my late teens, I was a drug addict and committed to the only lifestyle that had given my any real validation, drugs, and dealing. By a miracle, life initiated me in a way that was almost as abrupt and jarring as the overdose that preceded it. I got clean and sober at the age of 20 and through this process began to meet people who really saw me and understood my plight. This is where I learned the sacred chain of Mentorship through which we are connected to our ancestors, and must continue this transmission to the coming generations.
I have been working in the helping profession for just under 10 years and it was in this work that I met Cece at Dragonfly Transitions. Cece demonstrated a level of commitment to herself, intelligence, depth, and insight that was noticeable from the beginning. She quickly emerged as a leader in her peer group and took ownership in her growth process. She lit up when I first broached the topic of a wilderness-based rite of passage experience and I could see something begin to awaken in her psyche that had otherwise been lying quietly.
She participated in two Vision Fasts that were offered at Dragonfly. Through these experiences, I saw her grow deeply in her understanding of her past, the purpose of her present, and the whispers of a future in which she is called to a life of healing, service, and leadership. Being a witness to her growth called me to stay committed to my own unfolding as a person and to show-up to this work fully and with authenticity, integrity, and an open heart. I am held accountable to continue to in my own development, asking the deeper questions in my life to bring me to the center of my passion.
This work of rites of passage takes many forms and must fit the context of the community it serves. Knowing that I am part of a larger movement in bringing this work to youth brings me a flicker of hope and the inspiration to continue to draw from the well of Mentorship and wilderness based rites of passage. The poverty of true initiation for young people in the larger culture can bring a bitter taste followed by feelings of doubt and disheartenment. It is through this larger web, my own Mentors, and people like Cece, that inspire me to hold this seat.
Over this next year we’d love to publish as many Impact Stories as we can find, if you’ve got one, reach out HERE