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  • Writer's picturePatrick Devlin

The Wilderness Solo Journey

“The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely” - Carl Jung

The first time I was exposed to a wilderness solo was over 13 years ago when I was newly sober and in a wilderness therapy program. I had never heard of anything like this before, but I knew the thought of it scared me. I didn’t know how I would handle being alone with myself, I didn’t know what feelings or memories would arise, and as a newly sober person, I had no capacity for dealing with the unknown. My addiction and struggles as a young adult were completely centered around avoiding discomfort and managing my feelings, and this opportunity in the wilderness was the exact opposite. During this solo I didn’t have any big revelations, I wasn’t given some grand vision about my life, and unfortunately, I wasn’t visited by a majestic animal with a scroll about my life purpose (which would have been cool too). But I found that I had a greater sense of self-confidence, a better ability to face my feelings, and a deeper connection with nature. 

I didn’t realize at the time how influential this wilderness solo turned out to be. Since that time it has become a foundational part of my recovery and my life. I continue to go out for extended periods of time alone in the wilderness, often with fasting, and have been trained by the School of Lost Borders to facilitate this rite of passage. The mentorship I received is the inspiration for the experiences we offer to the young people at Skyline Recovery. 

At Skyline our intention is for every young person who comes through our doors to learn what it means for them to walk their individual recovery path, which is going to look different for everyone. We offer this solo wilderness experience as a tool that they can utilize in the future to deepen their recovery. It can be used as a way to connect with their higher power in a spiritual sense. It can also provide a place for someone to pause and reflect when they are in times of transition. For others, it is used as a way to find a sense of purpose and meaning outside of the distraction of technology and the busyness of life’s responsibilities. 

This past weekend a group of Skyline students ventured into the Cascade mountains for an extended wilderness solo. The participants were asked ahead of time to consider what the purpose of their time alone in the wilderness would be centered around. The group came together and shared their hopes and fears and what their intentions are for the future. Afterward, they set out to their solitary campsites to be with themselves and the natural world. Everyone had their own experience related to their intentions. For some, it was simply to grieve the loss of relationships that they had to let go of on their journey of recovery and sobriety. For others, it was reconnecting with things from the past that they hadn’t been willing to acknowledge. And some were there to mark their transition into adulthood. Afterward, everyone came back together to tell their stories about what they experienced and what was going to be different in their lives moving forward. It was a time to be real and seen by others in a way that isn’t available in the movement of day-to-day life. Everyone did an amazing job and showed up with vulnerability and courage. 

In order for us to fully recover, we have to be willing and able to sit with ourselves, learn to face our feelings, and be in our bodies. These wilderness experiences are a powerful part of real and lasting recovery. Sometimes they can be powerful and full of revelation. And other times it is more like the slow seed that was planted during my own experience 13 years ago. Our goal is to give these young men tools and practices to find their own recovery path.

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