Speaker Series: Full Episode Page

A Wilderness Journey: The Story of a Teen's Road to Healing


Tami Ann, mother and author of A Wilderness Journey


Brenda Zane is a Sky’s the Limit Fund board member, Founder of Hopestream Community, and podcast host of Hopestream

About the episode:

Tami Ann is the mother of a son who attended a life-changing wilderness therapy program followed by a therapeutic boarding school. With her son’s collaboration, she wrote a book about their family’s transformative experience called A Wilderness Journey. This episode features delightful conversation with Tami Ann as she shares her inspiration to write the book – to provide healing and to provide a source of relatable information to help others – and why she created the unique components to tell the story as a hero’s journey.  

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Book and social media links:
● A Wilderness Journey linktree:
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Youtube videos about the heroes journey:
● What makes a hero? – Matthew Winkler
● FINDING JOE | Full Movie (HD) | Deepak Chopra, Robin Sharma, Rashida Jones, Sir
Ken Robinson

Brenda 0:01
Hello, and welcome back. We are here for another episode of the Sky’s the Limit Fund Speaker Series. I am Brenda Zane. And I am the lucky board member of Sky’s the Limit Fund that gets to talk with all kinds of interesting people and have some really great conversations about wilderness therapy. And wilderness therapy is a treatment modality that is really, really important and really effective for the right young person. And this could be a teenager or young adult. And it is also incredibly expensive. And so Sky’s the Limit Fund exists to be able to help families who need some assistance in getting their young person to wilderness therapy. And that’s often in a time of crisis. And so we’re really, really proud to work with incredible funders and sponsors who donate money to Sky’s the Limit Fund to be able to do that, and really help families in a very serious time of crisis. So I’m incredibly honored to be on the board of directors. And I’m also incredibly honored to be here today with a really special guest, Tami Ann, who wrote a book all about her son’s a wilderness therapy journey. And the book is called A Wilderness Journey. And I’m ready to talk today because I think we have a lot of parallel experiences. So welcome, Tami Ann.

Tami Ann 1:22
Thank you, Brenda, thank you for that warm welcome. It’s nice to be here.

Brenda 1:26
Yeah. Great. Well, as we were just chatting before we hit record, we could probably talk for weeks because we had similar experiences. And I, when I was going through it, I also was like, Oh my gosh, I have to write a book about this. And I never did it. And I’m so glad you did. Because it’s so needed. And I know that was part of the genesis of where your book came from is that desire of like, how come? There’s not a book I could read right now. Is that sort of where all this began for you?

Tami Ann 1:58
Yes. Well, I didn’t ever plan to write a book about wilderness therapy ever. But yeah, so I’m like, I’m the mom of the wilderness therapy grad. And I, before I decided to send him to wilderness, I was that parent that was a little terrified of the whole experience of learning about it, like you send your child off into the woods, and you don’t talk to them. And you just write letters, and it just kind of made me nervous. So it was just that unknown. That I thought it was one of my research projects was to find a book and I searched all over, all over Amazon or all over the place to find a story thinking, well, somebody must have written a book, think of all the 1000s of students that have gone through this or parents that have gone through this, there must be something like a story kind of I had it all designed in my head before I wrote it. And I actually never planned to write even like it was two years later, after my son graduated, that I came up the idea. And I just wanted to provide what that information or just like a story or just like I wanted to be that parent that was sharing kind of like you’re sitting on a couch, sharing your story to hurt somebody, comfort a parent that was afraid, and was looking into the treatment. And it was really, it’s also a guide book. It’s a story. But it’s it’s because I’ve learned better through storytelling, like I have a pile of books next to my bed, therapy books, and I have so many books that I don’t always crack into. And I learned better through storytelling, and I think most people do. So that’s how I formed the book. It’s sort of like a guide book. But it’s a story along the way. And it’s all the feelings that I had as we went through it.

Brenda 3:50
Yeah, I’ve tried to imagine you sort of, if we rewound back to that time when you were trying to make this decision, and you were looking at wilderness therapy. What were some of the emotions that you were feeling as you’re trying to make this decision like is this the right thing or not? Were there things are there things that you remember feeling that another like somebody who’s listening to this might be feeling?

Tami Ann 4:18
I the first word that comes to my mind is fear. I was afraid of losing control. I was guilty thinking, well, if I do this, am I a failure as a parent because I can’t help him at home anymore, and nothing was working. So it was like a lot of things going on. But a lot of it was fear. I think that was the main feeling I had and I didn’t know like what happens. I don’t know what happens when they go out there. Is it safe? Who are these people he will be with? It’s a long time to be out there. It’s three months almost. And I wasn’t able to call him was just a I would communicate through letters And so it was really scary. And I thought, this is a good book to be out there to just comfort parents. And I know all the stories will be a little bit different. But the pattern is the same. They go through a separation from home, and they go on this journey. And they go through trials, and they slay their dragons and learn all kinds of new skills, and then they come home a different person. So it’s sort of the same pattern, even though maybe everybody’s issues are a little bit different.

Brenda 5:36
Yeah. Is that how you and I noticed that you sort of follow that Hero’s Journey pattern, and it’s, it fits so perfectly. But when you were, I just want to rewind for a minute and go back to when he was in wilderness. So you made the decision. And he’s in wilderness. And there’s a letter writing process, maybe you can talk a little bit about the letter writing in your journaling, because those seem like they were kind of the foundation of your book.

Tami Ann 6:07
Yes, that was the glue that that put the book together because I actually was, I love to write, and I’ve always been a writer, and the writing was a great tool for me, journaling. And I journal even before you when all these problems are going on with my son, I journaled and, and I’m gonna back up a little, when I was, I was never like, I was not an author is a profession. But when I was a little girl, I’d always hide myself in my bedroom and journal about what was going on in my life. And I loved writing, I would just hide away for hours. And I’d actually tell myself, I think someday I’m gonna write a book. And then, you know, my life went on, and I never imagined I’d write a book, but, but it was really a foundation of my life is writing. And so when my son was going through this, I was keeping track of everything and not thinking I was gonna write a book. But then when he was in the program, that was our form of communication was letter writing. And, you know, it was so intentional, and it brought you back to the old fashioned days of writing. I mean, even when I was a kid, I would write letters to my friends in a classroom and I have piles of letters still that I kept. There’s just something about like letter writing that is so special. And it really brought us closer together is in my husband to like, we spent a lot of time writing letters while he was in the program, we would write at least two a week, or one or two a week one was we were working on the impact letter as we were, that was a long one. So that was a little bit at a time, but every week, we would send them a letter. And we would wait for that one letter to come from him with bated breath. So it really did bring us closer together. So my son keeps, he wears his heart on his sleeve. So at the end of the program, and about a year later, he we discussed this book, and he, you know, he shares everything. And he told me, I could write this book. And actually I suggested he write it. But of course, he he’s pretty busy and did not want to write it. So he suggested that I write it. And he gave me his journals. And he gave me all the letters. He said, You can you can use. And then I pieced it all together. I you know, of course, I didn’t use all the letters, because they’re not all interesting. But I pieced the whole thing together. So there’s excerpts of letters, there’s little bits of our journals and his journal from the field. And he actually, would he I actually recorded him. We sat together on the couch one summer, and I would ask him questions, and he would tell me the story. And I recorded him. And he also read some things and reflected back on some of the things that we wrote, and on his perspective, a year later on how he felt about it. So it’s all woven together like a patchwork quilt.

Brenda 9:01
Hmm, it sounds amazing. It sounds like such a beautiful sort of piece of history, too, that you have that it’s, it feels like it’s going to help so many parents who are potentially like going into this phase of their life or the season. So I like to call it but also for you to have that. And I’m wondering what, as you were going back through your journals, what were you finding things that you had forgotten about or that were sort of surprising to you? I’m curious about that process of as you were writing it to go back and kind of unearth some of the, the, you know, memories and the things that you were experiencing in the moment as you were writing them.

Tami Ann 9:48
Yeah, it was in it because it had been like a year or so later and I had to really kind of actually dig it. It was a massive first I had to dig through everything and it was it was nice to read Some of the things and it was hard to read some of the things again, like actually couldn’t read, it was hard for me to read my impact letter to him. It was, I didn’t actually include that. It’s hard to go back to some of it, but some of it was there were some gems that he wrote that actually, I think I’m one of them, which I would like to read, which I think was the catalyst to the book. Because when I, he let me read a little piece of a journal. And when I came across this one exert it, he’s a really good writer, and he was describing the, when there was a part in the in the book where I talk about all the five, we go through a parallel process, and it of grief, we go through this parallel process of grief, because I went through grief, my husband and I both went through that, of being angry, being depressed. I can think of all the five at the moment, but yeah, and you get to an acceptance point, he went through the same thing, and I kind of parallel them in the book, and this one exert where he started to accept being out there in the field. Because he was really angry. At the beginning, he was really angry. He did not want to be there. It wasn’t his choice. He was 17. And he would not have gone to treatment on his own. And this one excerpt really resonated with me, and it just made me cry. And I said, this, you know, this should be, this should not go away, this should not be put away in a keepsake box. And actually, I’d like to share it. I’m going to I’m going to dig it out. Yes, please do.

Brenda 11:43
I would love that. I would love that. And I, I agree, I think there’s so much that parents can learn from them, when they when you hear their words and what they experience, it’s so valuable, because it’s hard to get that insight any other way. So yes, I would love it if you want to share with us from the book

Tami Ann 12:06
So what I did is like the road of trials, chapter six, I compared our grief and anyway, the five stages of grief, I have my my book and finally I can tell you now. So I had the mom stages of grief, the anger the bargaining, depression acceptance. And, and I will say the acceptance is when I stopped trying to compare my son’s life progress with that of everyone else’s child. Because I would it was really hard when he was going through it beforehand. And I would see all the other kids going through looking at colleges and you know, getting ready for their SATs, and everything’s kind of normal and my son was spiraling out of control. And it was really hard going through that I was I was angry and I was sad and but I became I became I started accepting it and but now now I’m getting into his grief and he was angry which I won’t read that out loud. Because I didn’t I didn’t take out some of the words that he used that I wouldn’t say on a podcast. So the anger the bargaining acceptance and this is the part that really resonated with me or it just it made me sad or it made me happy actually read it. And it my glasses on here. So acceptance. This is the excerpt from his journal. Walking through the valley, my feet and back hurt from carrying my CPAC on my back. I was feeling disconnected emotionally and spiritually from this land. Like I’m marching through a foreign place on the way to fight another tribe. I sit, take a sip of water and close my eyes to take me away for a moment. Suddenly, I hear a screeching sound. So I take a peek at what’s making a ruckus. I see a figure soaring through the sky swiftly, like a knife cutting through butter. A hawk and his partner were playing in the air dogfighting as if there were two planes in a battle. Their dance was magical, like two ballerinas on the dance floor. Enchanted by their showmanship. I looked around at the scenery, realizing how bright all the colors were around me. The trees were dancing along the two hawks, the nature in Utah seem to be all connected. I feel like I’m at peace and connected with this land. So when he handed that to me, and I read that I was like, does it make a great book? TJ I think you should write this book and put any weight in here I am I have this book in front of me. And here it is, if anyone can see there it is a wilderness journey. And and the cover of my book is an illustration of my son about to take the journey. And he thinks that’s pretty cool because he’s he’s a on the cover of a book. He thinks that’s really great. But he’s Yeah, he’s about Take this journey and there’s a trail that leads to the mountains and the title of wilderness journey. And as you can see, there’s a in the, there’s about there’s an O right there in the journey. And I never really tell anybody this, but there’s some metaphor to this. There’s symbolism, the Oh in the journey is representative of the monomyth in the hero’s journey. And so what I wanted to do, I agonized over this cover, I wanted him to take the journey, and end up inside the O, which is the monomyth. Journey. And you can see here in the picture that he’s very hesitant, because every hero, when they start their journey are always hesitant, I don’t know, if we’re for any journey, any life journey, you a lot of times you start out, you refuse the call. Because you don’t want to jump out into the unknown, you want to stay home in your familiar world. And that’s where the, that’s where the book starts, it starts at home in the familiar world. And he ends up going to cross the strip the threshold into a special world, which was the wilderness. And he needed to have his mentors to help him get through and cross the threshold. And the mentors were his wilderness therapist. And he and he provided tools, which were a bow drill, so he can make fire and, and a backpack. And tools like to roll up his tarps so he can learn how to tie it and sleep on the ground with protection. And so that’s part of the hero’s journey is you have these tools, you have these mentors, and then you go through all these trials and you learn how to triumph and come home triumphant. And it’s not all journeys are are supposed to end up like a fairy tale. And we’re where it’s this perfect ending, because no, no journeys are truly that way. There’s always another journey that you enter, but it’s an experience. So yeah, and I actually would like it, I’m going to read another. I would like to read the beginning of the of the book, kind of like an intro. Because it is reads like a story. And so like you could take out your cookies and milk. And I even have illustrations in the book because I work well with visuals. But I’m going to start with the intro of the book. I know it sounds a little corny, but I started it with once upon a time. So once upon a time, a hero was escorted by his dad early in the morning on a quest far far away in the woods of Utah. Everything was taken away from this hero, home family friends electronics weed, it was a call to adventure to a special world. At first he was outraged, confused and sad. He did not choose this journey. And he refused the call by sending furious text messages to his mom and dad while he was on the way to the woods. But there was no choice for him. He had a mission to carry out. After he entered this strange and unfamiliar land. He was introduced to a mentor, a wilderness therapist who encouraged and guided him across the threshold. This mentor bestowed him that special tools he needs to endure the hardships of snowstorms, homesickness and uncertainty. The tests and challenges he faces along the way, gave him super strength to enter the deepest, darkest cave where he faces his personal dragons.

Brenda 18:42
Intriguing. Love that. A couple of so many, so many thoughts, but a couple of things. When you were reading his from his journal, about the Hawks, and all of that, I think what’s so important for people to understand is what you were probably seen at home. And I don’t know the you know, all of the ins and outs of what you were seeing at home. But I can imagine it if you were even considering wilderness therapy, it was probably extreme. And I think we can as parents see our kids in that situation and not remember that they have in them. The ability to write something like what your son wrote, right? All we’re seeing is the anger and the defiance and the acting out and all the craziness that they’re doing. So I love that you read that because it just shows that you can they can be both at the same time that they can be having these real struggles at home and with their friends and substances and mental health. And at the same time, I don’t know how much longer or how far that was into his wilderness therapy but clearly he is a brilliant person. Her son with an incredible imagination and ability to communicate. And he had both of those at the same time. And it’s just important to remember that because we can tend to only focus on the bad when they’re at home. So that was just one observation.

Tami Ann 20:15
And that’s what’s so amazing about writing, you get deep into your soul, and you strip everything away. And that’s, that’s what the wilderness therapy programs do is they, they strip them from all the things that are, are creating all this dysregulation, like the substances and the electronics and and the friends influences and the struggles that you have at home. All that toxic environment is stripped away. And now you’re out into this clear wilderness. My son said he started to see colors when he was out there that he didn’t. And it’s reflected in that in that excerpt, and yeah, you’re right. It’s just you see another side your child?

Brenda 21:06
Yeah. Well, I know that you learn a lot through this experience. And when you think back to his wilderness experience, and in your involvement, are there a couple of things that come to mind for you sort of key learnings or lessons that you feel like really originated there and that you’ve been able to carry with you through through the experience? And even today? Oh, yeah,

Tami Ann 21:33
I mean, when you when you’re going through wilderness therapy, which you know, Brenda, because you’ve been through this as you, you go through this, you go through this? Well, I started out as a freshman parent, I consider myself a freshman parent. When, before this, and after the program. I don’t want to call myself a senior parent, because that sounds old.

And I wish I had learned all these things before I had kids. I wish that this was like a class that we had, there should be something for parents to learn these skills and tools that they taught us that are just, it’s their life skills, or life communication skills, and some of the things we learned. Which I was to say this book was a good thing to do, because it reinforced the things I learned because it’s so easy to backtrack. But I was as mentioned, the things that we learned for anyone that’s never been through wilderness therapy with their child is first you learned to take care of yourself, you learned the importance of just taking care and filling your cup and and like doing the things you need to make yourself available for your child like you know, for me, it was taking more yoga classes and doing my own therapy and learning deep breathing and meditation skills. But in addition to that, you also learn new communication skills. Such as like I feel statements, and you learn to respond rather than react and pause and cash. There’s so many it’s so hard, I did like a kind of a wilderness therapy for dummies in one of the chapters. So you have an overview. And there’s so many things. It’s like a crash course. But the book was really helpful for me to to reinforce everything. And I’m still learning new tools, communication tools. So it’s actually a perilous journey, because the kids are learning these things in the field. They’re they’re actually doing this all day long in the field, and then we are getting homework to do and it’s when I first started wilderness therapy, I remember I had an educational consultant and she said, Oh, you’re going to do a lot of work. And I said work would what does that mean? Like? Why would we do work our child is being taken care of. And their child is not here? How do we have work and so then I got it when once he started the program, and we have homework and and I’m still learning like new things. I mean, for example, oh, I listened to your podcast with Lindsey Myrick and she gave a great tool that I actually use the next day, I was so lucky. I had this little tool in my pocket from listening to your podcast about reacting versus, or responding versus reacting. And I learned this new tip of the five senses where to help you calm dysregulated moments where you think of like something a smell or a taste and a feel and something you feel I can’t remember all the five senses but I can’t think of at the moment but it was really helpful because my daughter I was really upset when you know, the next day over something at school and I did the whole thing like, Okay, do you see any trees outside? How many trees do you see? And what do you feel on your skin right now? Do you feel your jacket on your skin? And what do you smell? And what do you taste? And it really calmed her down. So these are these these little tools that I mean, anyone can use. Anyone can use these. True. So yeah, a little more. I’m still making mistakes, which is okay. I’m still making mistakes. And my son actually reminds me, I mean, he actually is better at it than me because he was there every day. He reminds me like, Mom, you’re stressed, you’re trying to fix me, I just want to be heard, I just want you to, I just want you to listen to me right now. Don’t try to fix me. But anyway, these are the skills. It’s hard to throw it out into one podcast, but you have to read my book to learn all the different school skills we learn. And you are still learning them too. Right. Brenda? Your did you use your skills?

Brenda 26:03
Oh, absolutely, it is a daily thing. And I’m glad that you mentioned the things that you worked on, like going to a yoga class and learning breathing, because those are the things that I often hear people say, Oh, I will do that later, I’m going to do that once this crisis is over, I’ll start going to yoga, I’ll start, you know, running or whatever it is, that kind of makes you feel better. So I’m glad to hear you say that that was part of the work that you were doing as you’re going through this because it is such a crucial part. And it’s a really easy part to ignore. And just figure well, I’ll just do that later. I first I have to fix this situation, I have to respond to this crisis. And it doesn’t work that way. We have to, we have to do all of that at the same time.

Tami Ann 26:52
I know and I even noticed it helped in like I actually noticed when I was writing this book and like organizing the letters, that my letters actually became more enriched because of the things we were learning with communication, about reflecting what they were saying in their letters and being in making them feel so they were heard. And using those I feel statements and saying, you know, I feel this, you know, I feel this emotion when you did this. And anyway, I noticed our letters were were more meaningful as as they chugged along through the program, too. So that really helped. And when we had our phone conversation, we had one phone conversation while he was there, about halfway through the program.

Brenda 27:43
Amazing. I wonder just as we wrap up, does this feel like your hero’s journey?

Tami Ann 27:50
This is just writing this book is was a hero’s journey, because I actually refuse the call at first, it seems really daunting. Yeah, when he suggested it, I said, No, I can’t do that. And then I crossed the threshold and, and I started digging in and putting all the information together. And then there were the trials of finding, finding the right artists for the cover. And I probably redid it about 100 times and finding the right editors and finishing the book. It’s just, I felt like it would never be finished. I actually finished during COVID. And I think if it weren’t for that time I had I might not have finished it. And yes, it definitely was a hero’s journey. And it changed me when you’re when I finished the journey, I felt like a different person. After writing it was very helpful. Start writing this book. And I hope and help other helps others. There’s some I also in the at the end of the book, I included stories, not just my own son’s story, but I worked really hard to find some other hopeful stories there were just like little nuggets of so for different Wilderness Therapy students from different programs, shared their letters, the their first letter from the first week they were there showing how upset they were and didn’t think they needed to be there to their final letter, which showed how much they changed and grew. And well and they also in addition to the letters they shared, just the general how it will there’s therapy change them. And I thought it’d be good to have some girls in there and and from different programs and different diagnosis. And there’s also and that was really hard to actually to get these stories because people Mmm, that have a good experience tend to want to just move on or they don’t want to share, it’s hard to get people to share their stories. Yeah. And I was grateful for for the people that did. And that also I shared some of my apparent research for the end the end of the book. There’s just my own parent research kind of like, just why why use wilderness therapy and how it helps and why it’s effective. And I also included support groups like free support groups that I found online, and I included your podcast. Thank you, in there. And of course, Sky’s the Limit Fund, finding ways to pay for wilderness therapy, and I included?

Brenda 30:51
So thank you

No, just say thank you for doing that. Because it’s when you need the information, you’re not really in a mind state to find the information quickly. And so I appreciate the fact that you took the time to do that, to help other parents who are in the moment and needing needing that information and to be able to find it quickly. And also to include the other stories because like you said, it is hard to find that to get a broader perspective of different reasons why people go to wilderness therapy, and, and really how it can be tracked so transformative in, you know, nine to 12 weeks. So that’s really important. Well, thank you for putting such a beautiful book out there and for just being you know, a guidepost for other parents who are looking to make the decision or maybe they’re in it and they want to, you know, feel sort of in community with somebody else who’s been through it. So it’s going to be just amazing as a resource for parents. And I’m sure you can buy it online, where you where you buy your books, Tami and, and the book is named a wilderness journey, so

Tami Ann 32:08
Be sure to look it up. You can find on Amazon. You can find me on social media, you can find me a wilderness journey book on Instagram. And I also have a Facebook page. So if anyone has any questions they can they can ask me any questions for about my, my journey.

Brenda 32:28
One. Thank you so much for being here. Yeah. Thank

Tami Ann 32:31
Thank you for having me, Brenda.

Brenda 32:33
Yes, thanks. It’s been great.

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