I write this blog entry several days after visiting True North – eight years after having attended the program.
This time I was able to ask the right questions. This time – I got a much better picture of who I used to be.
I found out I had the longest intake in True North history. Of course I hadn’t remembered that, since I went on to see True North as my second home, a place that at times felt more like home than anything I ever knew. I was 15 and I didn’t want to remove any of the 17 piercings I was required to (in order to go out to the field). Like many teens – I was superficial. I was very external about everything, because the internal was too painful. Eventually we had come to a compromise, and my wilderness process had begun.
Physically coming off of nicotine and drugs was hard, but peeling away my skewed conclusions about life was harder. It was like battling layer after layer of trauma, disappointment, and defense mechanisms – but we did it. The emphasis is on WE, because I found that the most patient, intelligent, kind, respectful, and intuitive people I had ever met – stood right beside me. They stood beside me through temper tantrums in the middle of the woods, painful retrospective epiphanies, but most importantly – they stood beside me as I reconstructed who I want to be. I came in as an extremely angry, provocative, attention seeking street kid – and left as a young adult aware of the fact that life could be better – I could be happier if I took some time to figure things out.
My teenage years were turbulent, a vulgar display of confusion, disappointment from my family situation, anxiety, and rage. A very destructive road to ruin led me to adventures, seeking after adrenaline, belonging, or just another story to tell – anything that would distract me from how lost I felt. Life was passing me by, and I was able to manipulate my way out of everything…until I got to True North.
Getting through the program was the most challenging thing I ever did. It was a period of in my life that ended up designing who I would become as an adult. The visceral experience of climbing a mountain went on to push me in so many situations. I am proud to say that I went on to do good things, for others and myself. My pursuit after closure led me in two directions – art and work with youth at risk. Being productive, dedicated, and fulfilled from the things I do, is something I attribute greatly to the program.
During my visit at True North last week, we reminisced over shared memories. I was one of those kids who needed to debate the ethos of Fight Club, in order to tests one’s character. As we laughed about days of analytical debates, putative arguments, and difficult decisions – I realized that no matter how exhausting I was as a kid – we were cultivating a true sense of love and accountability together.
At this point I have been exposed to the difference between public and private systems and now work at the juvy I would have gone to if True North hadn’t taken me in. I stand beside teens and do my best to pass on the support and positivity that was given to me. Not many adolescents are as blessed as my fellow True North alumni and I. Whether I could see it at the time or not, as a teen I was going through complex issues at an age too young to comprehend them. I first tried to work it out by myself – too young and too obsessed with independence – and only made things worse. Then just when I thought it was the end, I found myself in the ideal conditions for healing and growth. And I will forever be grateful for that.