Into the Wild

By The Fix staff 12/04/17

A wilderness first aid course taught these clients a lot about recovery.

A man with a backpack overlooking wilderness

When Austin, 27, left his construction industry job to get treatment for addiction, he never imagined that six months later he would be completing a wilderness first responder course in Arizona. However, that’s exactly what he recently did, taking part in an opportunity offered by Back2Basics Outdoor Adventure Therapy to advance his skills and reintegrate himself into life outside rehab.

“It was a good opportunity to experience some of the challenges I’ll be facing once I am out of rehab,” Austin said.

Back2Basics uses a hybrid approach to rehab, where young men use wilderness therapy and traditional residential inpatient treatment to address their addiction over six months. Throughout the year, clients at Back2Basics are offered the chance to complete a Wilderness First Responder course through the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).

In November, four clients, all of whom are almost done with the initial six-month program at Back2Basics, took the nine-day course along with residential staff member, Jenny Knox, who works at the treatment center. Knox said that the course is an important way for clients to begin thinking about what they want to do with their lives after rehab and how to balance those plans with their ongoing sobriety.

“Part of our program is thinking and preparing for future goals in addition to career paths, and this opportunity prepares them for just that,” she says.

The NOLS program combines classroom and outdoor instruction to teach people how to respond to a variety of emergencies that can arise in the wilderness, from broken bones to seizures. For some clients who plan to work in wilderness treatment, the course is a necessity. For others, it is a way to prove to themselves that they can accomplish yet another ambitious goal.

“Considering I hadn’t taken a test or been in a class in eight years, you could say I was a little intimidated, to say the least,” said Rob, 25. “But it gave me a really good opportunity to practice my new program that I learned at Back2Basics and to see where I was at in my sobriety.”

While the classroom work — including learning anatomy, spotting fractures and other necessary skills — was tough, the biggest challenge for the young men who took the course was learning how to work their program while also doing the class from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. each day.

“This was relevant to my recovery because it helps me to understand how to keep my sobriety a priority over anything else,” said Zack, 27.

The group from Back2Basics had to work with other people who were taking the course on their own and who weren’t in recovery. Knox said that class participants would often meet in a bar to study, until the group from Back2Basics asked if they could meet in a coffee house instead. Learning to navigate those relationships was another important aspect of completing the course.

“I learned how to be ok with honesty when people ask about my recovery. Also, how to set boundaries for myself with other people,” Austin said.

Knox agreed.

“They have to work on building relationships in sober settings, and hanging out with people when they’re not loaded,” she said. “They still got to have fun with peers and go out and mingle.”

Oftentimes the group would come home from the class and divide responsibilities such as cleaning the dorm and packing lunches for the following day so that everyone could make it to an evening meeting.

“It was interesting seeing how they juggle this real-life commitment outside of our bubble and figure out ways of maintaining sobriety,” Knox said.

The participants passed the test with flying colors.

“Overall it reemphasized why I need to constantly work a program of recovery and how that can fit into a normal daily life while being a productive member of society,” Austin said.

Zack agreed.

“The Wilderness First Responder course not only gave me an idea of what life looks like outside of rehab, but also how to deal with my sobriety before anything else,” he said.

Get more information on Back2Basics Outdoor Adventure Therapy and Beyond The Basics at, or visit them on Facebook.

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