My Brother Said He Loves Me

I’ve returned to the addicts group. It’s the first time in five shifts that I’ve reunited with a group, and it’s already made for a smoother integration. For this familiarity to occur with the oldest, previously most intimidating group full of mustaches and patchy beards is a welcome surprise. I’ve teamed back up with 18-year-old Matt, the “bad twin” who also has a set of younger twin siblings. I’m learning more about his journey beyond cocaine and his supportive family, including his latest batch of letters and […]

I’m a Drug Addict

“Hi, I’m Matt and I’m a drug addict.” “Hi Matt,” the others respond. I sit with them as the 12-step meeting unfolds around a campfire, and I can’t pretend this is just another day with another group of kids in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The air feels prickly, the people and struggles and emotions so very more real than anything else I’ve experienced in these woods. I’m surrounded by 17- and 18-year-old guys — kids? — their mustaches and beards shadowed and patchy with […]

My Parents Don’t Want Me Anymore

“It’s Jack!” they scream, peering into the pickup. “He came back!” I climb out of the truck. “Actually, my name is Tom. Jack was the other guy.” I reintroduce myself to the seven middle school boys I’d met during my training week with Jack and four fellow trainees. I’ve only just started this job in the Blue Ridge, but because I’ve been hopping around to different groups every other week, it’s already been a long month and a half since […]

I’m Fucking Afraid of the Dark

Girls. In all my youth involvement over the years, I’ve never worked with young girls. Not exclusively, at least. Not in the classroom and certainly not in the wild. I’ve grown quite accustomed to boys of all ages. Boys who swear and fight and fart. For the second week of my new wilderness therapy job, however, I was working with four teenage girls and it proved enlightening on many levels. For one, I had no idea teenage girls swear and fight and fart, too. Fart openly […]

I’m Worthless. I’m Pointless. I’m Hopeless. I’m Pathetic.

What a strange and comforting thing last week to find myself awakening in the same tufted mountains that changed my life three years ago. The differences between that Christian camp of yesteryear and my current youth wilderness therapy program are many, but the pristine setting was the same. We hiked the second tallest mountain in Georgia one sunrise, and I cried at the impossible beauty of it all. Stood and stared and sighed and shook my head at the three-year journey it’s taken to bring me back. […]

The 10-Year Reunion I Swore I’d Never Attend

Ah, high school. The zippy theme songs, brightly colored walls, and laugh tracks that followed you from classroom to lunchroom to locker room. Wasn’t life grand? Our elderly headmaster often told us high school amassed “the best days of our lives.” But if those days in the early aughts made up the best days of my life, my days in 2015 are numbered. I slammed my alma mater pretty hard in Struggle Central. I didn’t necessarily set out to do so, but I couldn’t lie about […]

Georgia’s Underbelly

I have a new job. I start next week, and while anxious about newness in general, I’m psyched and ready for the change of course to come. I could’ve gone back to Charlotte this week. I could have chilled at my parents’ all week. Restless for more, I decided to continue #RunningAway with a solitary tour of Georgia’s underbelly. ~ ~ ~ It’s strange, calling a state home for eleven years — my address, my college, my first driver’s license — and feeling no […]

To Drown Myself and Be Weak

I’m tucked in my sleeping bag amid poison ivy and dirt. I’m sliding down uneven earth, and I readjust my sleeping bag atop my backpack to compensate. It’s pitch black. I have a headlamp, but I’m not allowed to use it. The students won’t have headlamps, so I can’t use mine. I can’t use my hammock either. Not yet. Not during this first phase. Drums are beating in the black beyond my slanted tarp. Earlier today a wild man invited us to join his drum […]