I spent this weekend braving 50 mph winds, dropping temperatures and seven inches of new snow to be with my other “family.”

We have no biological connection. But all of us have come to experience wilderness therapy in one form or other. As a video producer, it’s some of the most difficult work I’ve ever done. As a mom, I’ve heard some heart wrenching and inspiring stories of teens who were lost, then found, through their struggles in the wilderness.

This weekend the RedCliff family decided to hold reunion – inviting prior graduates, staff, and parents to meet again in the southern Utah desert. It wasn’t about re-creating the wilderness experience that helped these students, now young adults, change their lives. It was an opportunity for them to stand on the summit of their lives thus far and see how far they’ve come.

Knowing a little bit about how hard wilderness therapy is, it’s difficult to imagine anyone would willingly return to such a spartan existence, even it’s only for a few days. But come they did. 47 parents and students from as far away as Australia and the UK.

As I sat shivering in the kiva, listening in on my first Narcotics Anonymous meeting, I was amazed to hear their stories of triumph and tragedy – even after leaving RedCliff the first time. Some had stumbled again into drugs or drinking. But all of them referred to their wilderness therapy experience as the first time they had come face to face with themselves their capacity to succeed.

Telling someone you understand wilderness therapy because you’ve been camping is like telling someone you’re a professional ballerina because you’ve worn dance slippers.

These students, some who graduated as long as seven years ago, were back amongst peers who truly understood and respected what they had accomplished, both in the wilderness and the daily battle for sobriety and strength since then.

They were home. I was honored to be with them.