Legacy Spoon Ceremony

Welcoming struggling teens to wilderness therapyIn 2001 I worked as a wilderness guide in a wilderness recovery program in Utah. There I saw my first hand-carved wooden spoon. It was a beautiful piece of woodwork being used by a fellow guide named Becky. She had been given the spoon as a gift from another guide where she had previously worked. I was an experienced cabinet maker, and had seen and done some nice wood working, but I had never seen a hand carved wooden spoon before. It was made of aromatic red cedar, was elegant, smooth, and oiled to a dark red finish. It was love at first sight.

I began experimenting with my own spoon making abilities, and soon found that my years as a professional cabinet maker were helpful in becoming an expert spoon carver. I quickly found that instead of burning out the bowl of the spoon with hot coals, I could use a gouge from my wood carving set. That instead of smoothing the wood with a stone, I could use a small square of sandpaper, and in place of oiling the wood with peanut butter from the camp supply, a small amount of vegetable oil gave a nice, no mess finish.

I experimented with Red Cedar, which is a nice wood for carving, then moved to dry fallen branches of Quaking Aspen. Utah Juniper was pretty but more challenging.  Then I took a leap to Sage, which is more challenging still, but the amazing color and grain of the wood made the effort worthwhile.

The clients I guided liked the spoons. I taught them how to make their own. Without years of experience and training as professional wood workers, the clients’ spoons were often more utilitarian than elegant. Finding my spoons admired, I began giving them away as gifts to the graduating clients. I would write some personalized encouraging message on the handle, and give them the spoon as they departed the wilderness.

At Legacy, I met Derek, our field director, and saw a new angle on gifting spoons. Derek made a spoon for our first client, with the instruction, “I made this one for you, now you make a spoon for the next guy who comes in.”

And so began the tradition of clients who have already received a spoon themselves make spoons to give new clients upon their arrival in the group. But it didn’t stop there.  Derek then introduced the spoon ceremony. When the team of clients is aware of the imminent arrival of a newcomer, a spoon is carved, usually by one of the senior members of the team. Then within a day of the new arrival, a group is held, always in a circle. The new spoon is displayed, and then passed around the circle, while each team member holds the spoon in turn and tells of his own spoon ceremony and relates the fears he experienced, the concerns he had when he was new in the program, how he might have felt lost, or afraid he would not fit in, or might not be accepted.  He also speaks of the good wishes he has for the new guy, and symbolically puts those into the spoon. The spoon is passed to the next team member, who does the same, and so it progresses around the circle to the newest member of the team who receives his spoon with all the good wishes and welcome messages of his team mates.

The spoon is then used for eating meals, and also as a pattern for making his own spoons, with his own style and flair. It’s a beautiful tradition, and one that I am glad we have at Legacy.

Relapse Prevention in the Canyons: Training ourselves to be aware of and deal with Triggers

Relapes Prevention - Dealing with TriggersRelapse prevention is an important topic in substance abuse treatment. At Legacy Outdoor Adventures one topic of relapse prevention we focus on is education, awareness of, and how to deal with triggers.

What are triggers? Triggers are things that induce an emotional response in us that can lead to obsessive thought or behavior around drugs and alcohol. A trigger could be a smell that we associate with using. A trigger could also be seeing someone who we associate with using or going to a place we used to use. It could be hearing a song we have listened to while using. Triggers often appeal to the senses. There are also emotional triggers. Something that creates stress, anxiety, anger, or depresses us can be a trigger. When using drugs or alcohol all the time, all of these things can create a conditioned response that makes an addict obsess and crave drugs and alcohol.

This week at Legacy we worked on creating awareness around the things that trigger us and tools to help deal with them. We incorporated this with a canyoneering adventure. Canyoneering is descending technical slot canyons by hiking, down climbing, and rappelling through the canyon. It requires teamwork and good communication to navigate and descend the canyon safely and efficiently. After gathering all the equipment we needed to descend the canyon we began our approach hike from the trailhead. The first half mile of the hike was flat and did not offer much of a challenge. Then we came to a trail that lead straight up hill where we would gain 700 feet in elevation over the course of ¾ mile. At this point we sat down and took our packs off and had a discussion about triggers. We defined what triggers are, what experiences people have had being triggered, and what specific things trigger us. We then talked about specific tools we use to fight triggers. Then we introduced the idea of a trigger buster. A trigger buster is a tool to interrupt the internal response that the trigger causes and reconnects us with our purpose in living a life of meaningful recovery. The trigger buster starts with awareness that we are being triggered. Then we take a deep breath to calm ourselves and slow down our thoughts. Then we have a mantra that we tell ourselves that connects us to our purpose. After explaining what a trigger buster was we all took a few minutes in silent meditation to think about our trigger buster and develop a personal mantra or saying that we would tell ourselves when things got tough that would connect us back to our purpose. Everyone shared their saying out loud and we began the hike up hill. When the hike got tough we encouraged each other to take a deep breath and say your mantra. “Be Strong” “God, grant me the serenity.” I have the freedom to choose to be me.” “I am capable of dealing with hard times in positive ways.” “I want to make my Grandpa and family proud.” These were some of the mantras the members of the group shared.

The most fear, stress, and anxiety inducing thing encountered canyoneering is often the rappels and because of this response that it creates we wanted to use the rappels to practice our trigger busters. When each member was half way down the rappel his partner below would take him on belay so he could let go of the rope with both hands. With both hands free of the rope each member practiced taking a deep breath and saying their mantra. One group member stated that he realized the purpose of this exercise and saw the value in it. “If I can learn, practice, and condition myself to practice a trigger buster while hanging off the side of a cliff on a rope I will be able to do it when I am tempted by something in my regular life. But I know I have to practice it so it becomes my natural response to dealing with stuff when it comes up.”

This canyoneering adventure proved to be a successful one. Not only did we have a great time hiking, exploring, rappelling, climbing and celebrating recovery but we also learned about addiction, triggers, and how we deal with triggers.  The canyon helped create a meaningful setting for us to teach and talk about relapse prevention and having meaningful recovery.

Working with triggers in wilderness therapy