The first picture they took of her when she got there looked like a mug shot. She was tired, and puffy from crying. It was one of those pictures that you could look at a year from now and a well of gratitude would rush in at how far she’d come, how much she’d changed, relief that the gift of life had been saved. The first few pictures in the field were of a girl I hadn’t seen for a very long time. Wild, curly hair, no make up, face up and open to the staff person taking the picture, to the sun, to the wild, to the desert. She was smiling. She was filling out, meat on the bones of a starved by drugs body. Waiting for the pictures and her letters to post to our family page was the highlight of most weeks from late May to late July. Giant painted desert colors of Bryce Canyon shadowed by thunderstorms or embraced by a cornflower blue sky were the backdrop of these pictures. She looked happy and free in a way she hadn’t in a long time.
Parents’ weekend came up three weeks into her stay. I drove from LA to Kanab, UT, the last 3 hours finding my way in the dark. Dark like midnight, so dark that my headlights could only illuminate 15 feet of the road ahead of me, the rest I couldn’t see. The next morning the sky was that cornflower blue and I found myself in “Little Hollywood,” so named because movies and tv shows like Stagecoach, The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, Daniel Boone, Planet of the Apes and The Outlaw Josey Wales had been filmed there. We met in a office trailer type building, all of us parents. From all over the country, we converged on “Little Hollywood” with our grief, fear, exhaustion and hope. For 8 hours we sat in the trailer office and a nice Mormon guy with an MFT talked to us about communication and other stuff I don’t remember now. I do remember sitting next to the only other two recovering alcoholic parents in the room whose son was in the program. You know when your kid is an addict and as a parent in recovery who was a teenage alcoholic yourself you know when your kid is acting out in the exact same way you did when you were her age, what that feels like, what the long term consequences might be, the chances of recovery and sobriety, that they are more likely to end in jail, institutionalized or dead. So the other parent couple in recovery and I got along great. We had lunch and shared stories of the crazy shit our kids did and how they didn’t die and what the chances were that these kids would actually begin to recovery from a hopeless state of mind and body. How grateful we were that we had a program, and Alanon, and knew what we knew about the disease and how to detach and how we didn’t have much time because next year our kids would be 18 and then all bets were off and how this, sending them away to a very expensive wilderness program run by Mormons was our last grasp of giving these kids a life they could live, in hope, in recovery, in healing.