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The Real Trail Angels

The reality is that their sites are just a short walk away from a central campsite, and they are never out of earshot. Everyone is required to wear an emergency whistle. Although the students may feel completely isolated and alone, Cazares and her field guide make multiple rounds daily to facilitate one-on-one therapy sessions and deliver food, water and medications.

This period of intense self-reflection and meditation marks the shift in the psychoeducational programming from focusing on the past behaviors to focusing on the future behaviors and the passions and goals of the students. They are markedly changed upon their homecoming. Silently, the students rejoin their peers around the campfire once again to share their experiences over a hearty meal and s’mores.

Rock climbing is a highlight for the students. Cazares belays a student energetically attacking a 5.8 route. “Slow down!” she yells. The student slips and falls only a few feet before the rope stretches as Cazares catches him on the belay device. “Make a plan!” Cazares screams.

The student talks Cazares through his next three moves. The rest of the students on the ground have a better vantage and eye his proposed route. They suggest a few alterations, and the climber decides to listen to his support team below. It’s not long before the lessons are evident: trust, communication, overcoming fear.

At this point, the students have figured out the program’s MO and have chosen to buy into it. They are all here, in the moment, and Cazares is all smiles.

For the students, completing the program is the easy part, and Cazares goes to great lengths to ensure their success after they return to their homes or move onto the next piece of their recoveries. Cazares and her office team facilitate transition programs aimed at guiding students back into a life outside of their previous social circles.

At this stage, students get to determine whether they will fully accept the new identities they found while out on the trail. For many, it was a unique opportunity for them to truly let their guard down and be themselves without the anxiety that comes with that vulnerability and authenticity. Upon returning home, 22 days sober, they must decide whether they’ll maintain that identity. Therapists such as Cazares are here to help them embrace that change and begin working toward a fuller life — one without substance use and barriers to sound mental health.

Choosing to reinvent yourself is easy. It is the act of reinventing that is hard. Outdoor behavioral health care participants are uniquely equipped to handle that journey, though. After all, they’ve made it this far.

Written by Andrew Sporrer

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