To My Little Sister, Now a Married Woman

I always knew this day would come. Of the three of us, I always knew you’d be first. You’re too beautiful, hilarious, sweet, and sincere. You love God, and you love people. You love Star Wars. How could a guy not want to spend the rest of his life with you? Your wedding day was among my most memorable spent with our incredible family. So many of our loved ones flocked to unassuming Alabama, including our grandmother to the dance floor, and these are memories I won’t soon forget. […]

I Just Want My Dad to Want Me

I walk into work on Tuesday morning and look up at the group assignment board, and my heart drops. For the first time in two months, my name is not listed beneath the addicts’ group. I’ll be returning to the first group of boys I ever worked with here, but now that all these months have gone by, only one original kid remains. Will he even remember me? What will the seven others be like? And what about all those other teens I’ve […]

I Want to be a Drug Addict, Too

I’m with the teen addicts for the third straight week, and they do not frighten me anymore. Their gruff voices and patchy ‘staches no longer leave my masculinity-challenged soul reeling. These 17- and 18-year-old guys aren’t big and scary; they are still kids, small and wounded. Their hearts, gentle and genuine. I am enjoying this group more with every passing day in these increasingly orangeifying Blue Ridge woods. That we get to watch an entire episode of Star Wars on Therapist Donna’s DVD player each week around a […]

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. […]