People can grow from a multitude of different obstacles they overcame, but the growth I experienced called for a unique journey. About six years ago, my parents announced they were getting a divorce. Being the youngest out of 3 girls, I was the one most affected. The following years were, without a doubt, not how I would have imagined my life ending up. Although some people may fear to talk about their past, I am proud of the Sofia I was then and the Sofia I am now. I refuse to push aside who I truly was just because I had not been the accomplished women I am today. Due to the strength I have received from my past experiences, I am able to acknowledge my feelings and emotions to convey my story.
So here is my life-altering journey. I was extremely rebellious, belligerent towards every person in my life, treated everybody as if they were my enemy, and began abusing substances. I was not allowed back to my high school to start my senior year unless I attended Aspiro, a wilderness therapeutic program. I was 18 at the time, so legally it was necessary that I signed myself into the program to begin my journey. I constantly resisted in the beginning, but I had no other choice because the alternative was to see myself go down a road of failure. It took me 24 hours of being curled up under my blankets with tears streaming down my face to realize this. Everything in my life had taken a toll on my mental health. Everything was just miserable. I thought it over, through constant headaches and tears, until finally I had answer, “Dad, I will go.” It was not easy for me to say this, and once I had, my father called my mom, and before I knew it I was on a plane to Utah.
I would never be where I am today if it was not for Aspiro. My life is different in every aspect. The wilderness teaches you that life does not always provide you with everything you want. Fortunately, my parents were able to hand me anything I asked for, but I became too dependent on them. Everybody has hard times in life, but the hardest moments for me were in the wilderness. These are the times that change you as an individual, make you think, and help you realize why you ended up there. I had to learn to cope with things that were challenging, and encounter activities that were unprecedented in my life. Almost everyday of the week for two and half months, I carried a 45-pound pack on my back, and some days hiked for miles. I constantly reminded myself to persevere, knowing that when I came back home things there would also be challenging. If I refused to continue in the wilderness, then I would bring back home that same mentality, so I had to just get through it, and it would all be worth it. I had to continue pushing through, get right back up and keep working just like everybody else. It was not easy rock climbing on high mountains. However, I had to conquer my fears and doubts. I needed to push through activities like mountain biking, climbing, backpacking, or miles of walking, to learn that I was capable of being independent and expressing myself in front of others without the help of my family.
Also, allowing myself to open up to others including my therapist and group members, helped me to grow as an individual. Hearing other group members and their stories, allowed me to understand and take into account others hardships and added to my empathy and personal growth. There was a time when I was reading an impact letter from my parents outloud to my therapist. While reading it, there were certain points where I didn’t want to continue because I knew that the truth was finally hitting me. I could not call home, but I could talk to her about how I felt and work through those emotions. Her advice, support, and commitment to helping me along was an eye opening experience and was life changing. All of these experiences combined, helped me maneuver and figure out who I was, and who I have become as an individual.
When I came back to school, my teachers got the chills and cried when they heard my story. Nobody recognized me and they were surprised by the immense amount of progress I made in such a short time. I ended up being valedictorian and was able to speak at my high school graduation. Currently, I am a sophomore at Muhlenberg college and on the dean’s list. When you put in hard work, the outcome can be substantial!
It starts with the one person who can make the most difference in your life. You. You have the power to tell yourself YOU CAN DO IT! I now make it a priority to offer my guidance and support for other families, helping them to figure out positive next steps in life, just like Aspiro did for me.
I end with lyrics that are a favorite message of both me and my mother.
“There’s always gonna be another mountain.
I’m always gonna wanna make it move.
Always gonna be an uphill battle
And sometimes I’m gonna have to lose.
It ain’t about how fast I get there,
Ain’t about whats waiting on the other side.
It’s the climb.”
-Miley Cyrus, The Climb
Thank you to my parents for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity, and allowing me to see this potential. If it was not for Aspiro, I am not sure where I would be currently. Family, friends, teachers, and last but not least, Aspiro – I cannot thank you enough for the constant support I have received throughout these last three years. You all are a blessing and hold a special spot in my heart.
– Sofia E.