Hello all, my parents sent me away when I was 15 for what I now believe to be a valid reason. I went to second nature utah for 8 weeks, and then to Caron, a 12 step based, 30 day RTC. Immediately fallowing Caron, I was sent to an all boys ranch in Tombstone, AZ called In Balance Ranch Academy, a long term work ranch which is centered around A.A. The stay at In Balance is a minimum of 10 months with the average stay around 16 months. I graduated from In Balance a day short of one year. I was away 15 months overall, I am now 17, I have been out of treatment for 8 months, and I am not sober.
Upon reading this information you may disregard what I write as biased, or you could decide that reading this is a waste of time. What do I know?, you may be right in either case. Since I am not sober, you may even regard me as a failure. You may stop reading, or you might continue reading my story, searching my treatment process for flaws, so that you wont make the same mistakes in treating your own children. I cannot blame you, for I have just listed my own preconceived notions about you readers; and I believe that your intentions are right, for you would be doing what you believe to be in your child’s best interest. However, I share this information so that you can at least trust my message as being an accurate perspective of a kid who has graduated from the kind of programs you are considering for your child, or that your child is currently attending.
I write this to those of you who have a child in wilderness or any sort of residential treatment, and to any parents considering sending their son or daughter away. You will never understand what it is like to get sent away, just as I (unless put in your position) will never know the pain of a parent witnessing their child destroying themselves with drugs.
I have listened to many parents reminisce over the wonderful times they spent with their child, before he/she started do drugs. Any of you, who are imagining this past relationship resuming or becoming a reality once your son or daughter has completed treatment, are due for an eye-opener. I cannot say whether treatment will be positive, negative, or “effective” for your child, but I will tell you that your child will never be the same, and your relationship with your son or daughter will never return to what it once was. I have not seen it from your perspective, but I would also imagine that a parent would never be the same after sending their child away, no matter what their motivation.
For better or for worse there will be change, especially in your child, but also in your family; and do believe that such a decision effects all family members, particularly the innocent sibling (for me my younger sister). There is only so much a parent can do for their child, and once you pull the plug, there is no going back. All I ask is that before you make any decisions, realize what a humungous step sending a child away is, and only proceed if you honestly believe that residential treatment is your only chance, and that such a huge chance is worth taking since life for you, your family, and especially for your child COULD NOT get any worse. If you truly believe this to be the case, do what you believe is right and do not allow yourself to be bullied by your child. If you do decide on treatment, do not at the absence of your child, allow yourself to be bullied by therapists, program owners, and ed consultants. Your child will attempt to manipulate and argue that they do not need treatment regardless of their condition, just like therapists and most other “professionals” will always argue that your child needs further treatment. Almost all parents will receive a letter from their child during their stay in wilderness which either describes their horrible conditions, appealing to pity, or pleading for forgiveness, or both. I wrote one, I’m sure many of you have received this same letter. Do not think they are lying or exaggerating for there is no need to, but their intent is clear. Either way the child is begging to return home. Other than this letter, which is edited and monitored by therapists there, parents have no contact with their children, and therapists provide all parents with the same basic updates, and statistics about further treatment options. These people may know more about addiction or treatment, but there is no one who knows more about about a child than his or her parent. Do not be swayed, make the choice that you believe to be right. Statistics can be manipulated to support any side, allow for some time to observe your child’s change in behavior, at home or after wilderness. Leave time to see how much progress your child makes. The threat of being sent away is often motivation enough, and don’t make the decision for long term treatment to quickly, a lot can be accomplished during 8 weeks in the woods.
I’ve heard some parents say that their child’s situation at home was one of “life and death”. This was not the case for me, however my parents gave me plenty of forewarning before sending me away and I ignored them. I know that my parents believed that what they were doing was making a sacrifice for my well being. I do not know if it all ended up being for my well being, but I know they were acting in what they believed to be my best interest, so I do not blame them. For a long time I hated them, and I thought that I would always hate them for it. Many of my good friends from treatment, sober or otherwise, still hold onto that resentment.
I will not go into the details of my drug use, or the many stories from my time away from home. Getting sent away was horrible, treatment in general was the worst thing I have ever experienced, but today I am a successful college student, I have a good relationship with my family, and I have many friends that I can trust. I do not know if I would be better off without having gone through treatment. My time away was awful and depressing, but I did a lot of things I never would have done, and met a lot of great people, many of whom (students and select sane staff members) I am still in contact with. I was completely sober for 15 months (i.e. no nicotine, alcohol, drugs, girls ect.), and I “relapsed” the night after graduating In Balance on alcohol and pot. (I put quotes around relapsed because I had no intention on staying sober after getting out so I wouldn’t really consider it relapsing). My parents are aware of my use, and during my time in treatment they were committed to me staying completely sober after graduating. Since then we have been through a lot and they have been very understanding. Today they judge my well being on how I am doing in general (school, work, life), and not on my drug use.
I have to admit that I am using as much, if not more frequently than I was before treatment, but I am certainly managing my life much better than I did before treatment. Treatment didn’t teach me the skills necessary to accomplish these things, I had them all along, its just that after going through it all, I realize that my life is pretty good, and to keep it that way I need to take care of my responsibilities. Sometimes I feel detached and disconnected from kids who haven’t been through the things that I have. I feel much more mature now, and less naive, but also much less innocent, and often times unhappy. I do not know if treatment was for better or worse, but either way I do not regret it in the least. Nor do I regret my drug use, each has made me who I am today, and I am happy with who I am today.— for those of you who simply scrolled to the end of this long explanation the main point of it is; do not send your child away unless you have exhausted every other possibility, unless you are willing to risk permanently losing your relationship with your child. you should only exercise this option if you believe that it is the only possibility you have to save your son or daughters life.