an open letter to the staff at Timberline Knolls

hey there, tee kaa here.

So a fundamental part of my recovery was the alumni program component within the treatment center I went to.  My first time in Residential treatment I left feeling prepared to continue living in the world.   At the same time, I was scared as hell. I didn't know how to live to live, and with my new formed forever friendships scattered from Alaska to New York, Wisconsin to Florida and the places between the ends of the country.  I knew I had the support, and at the same time, I felt very, very alone.

My second time in treatment I met the alumni coordinator along with a few alumni board members and learned about the alumni events.  The last Friday of every month Timberline Knolls is reserved for "Alumni Night" where an alum in recovery comes and shares their recovery story with the current residents.  Other alums are also welcomed and then there's an informal dinner for the alums after the speech.

Alumni Nights were always filled with a "back row" of staff who would come to here the speaker and also say hi and check in with the other visiting alums.  I can say with complete confidence these "check ins" with staff is why I kept making the next right choice and step in recovery.  I did not have the feeling of being alone my "second time back in the world."  

I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to use the staff's, other alum's and current resident's strength, experience, hope and encouragement when I attended alumni night and other alumni events.

Over the past year, maybe closer to two years now, I noticed less and less and less staff coming to alumni nights, and then less and less and less alumni came. 

My heart hurt seeing this, to the point that I wrote the following open letter to the staff at Timberline Knolls.  I had the honor of reading this letter out loud to the staff at their 2018 holiday staff party.  Staff came up and thanked me. Staff came up and told me they hear me.  Staff came up and told me they agreed.  Staff came up and said we can and will do better.  

My heart is sadder than ever knowing better has not happened, and that the staff and alumni community has become less and less and less active and involved. 

I do not know what else to say except, when ever you can, be you and do you, be kind to yourself and others, and be present for yourself and others.  Please take some time to read the open letter and relate it to whatever you do in this world that can be done better.

and then, let's connect and converse :)

An open Letter to Staff at Timberline Knolls:

I love analogies, so here goes one about the war us alums and resident’s battle…

First, let me explain the importance of YOU: you are the drill sergeant, the recovery instructor, if you will, for us when we are residents at TK. The skills and training that you provide to us at Camp TK prepares us to graduate from this sort of recovery boot camp and enter the combat of life.  The drills of learning to ask for support, learn and use DBT skills, gain insight through the twelve steps, and not let fear keep us from fighting are our weapons for our battles, combat after we leave the TK bubble.  And, although plenty of us showed up to the obstacles kicking and screaming, willful and resistant, and did not express gratitude for the practice that you challenged us with, we are thankful for your dedication when we are on the front lines of our recovery.

I owe a lot of my recovery to the friendships that were for during my time at TK.  I have more forever friends and support than I can put into words. The magic that happens inside those white fences is indescribable. The residents become warriors, the staff is our much needed guides, and a family bond like no other is formed. 

I am often blessed at this stage of my recovery to give back in so many different ways, including sharing the details of my recovery thus far with others who are struggling, others who are healing, and those of you who are in the helping profession.  I am honored to be able to give TK credit for helping me build the foundation of my recovery: for giving me the weapons: the skills and confidence I need to be successful. 

When I share my story, I share about the BHS who told me her name and then told me not to forget it because she wanted me to know at least one person on lodge; the BHS who enforced the rules and took my coffee away, who also did the cha-cha slide with me more times than I can count and DJed several dance parties for us; the therapist who called me out on my bull^%$; the PHP BHS that talked me into waiting over the weekend and talk to my therapist about signing the 72 I desperately wanted to sign to leave treatment (and that it turned out that I didn’t need to sign a 72 in PHP, I could have just left) the therapist who told me to make good use of the five extra days we had to literally fight, beg and plead to insurance to get; the BHS turned discharge planner that always stopped to check in with me when we crossed paths who told me to give treatment my all – leave no stone left unturned; and the therapist who sat with me and listened to me share about all the reasons I hated my body and paved the way to understanding, accepting, and taking back my body from those who used and abused it.

Yes, of course I give a shout out to the friendships I have formed: my recovery soldiers on the front lines with me.  I love and appreciate these relationships, and the moments I had with staff at TK are the ones that stick out when remembering my time at TK’s recovery building boot camp. The memories with TK staff, the challenges, falls and triumphs with staff by my side are the ones who broke my walls, caught me when I fell, encouraged me to stand up, and taught me how to fight for myself and for life. They are the ones that have made my recovery foundation.

While the friendship will last a life time, our time with all of you is limited. Within that time limit so much more wisdom is bestowed upon us through you than compared to any other time period in our lives.

Now that I have your attention, and hopefully your understanding of how important and appreciated you are, I have a request:

Join us in every way possible! 

We want to give you shout outs!  We want you to see the lasting changes your work has done for our lives!  We want to thank you!

Alumni night is the last Friday of every month (unless it’s a holiday or Jena’s birthday) at 4:00 pm in the dining hall. It used to be at 7:00 PM and it changed some time ago to accommodate staff’s schedules – so come! After the speaker concludes alums gather in the Spruce room for dinner, games, and lots of talking – come join us!  Not that long ago recovery night’s “nose bleed section” was packed with staff members.  We have appreciated having those few minutes with staff to chat about our successes.  You are a part of the TK family – and we alums love coming home and catching up with and expressing gratitude to our family.  This is our plea is to the senior staff members at TK: please come back to our family reunions, and our plea to the new staff members at TK: come, ask questions, get advice about what support and techniques worked for us at TK, and keep coming back!  

Come to the Alumni retreat that takes place in June/July – run a group, or just hang out with us!

And, most importantly, come to graduation! The residents at TK, our newest and more vulnerable family members need that last bit of compassion before the move beyond the white fences and into combat.  They need that last minute pep talk and reminder of the amazing work they did at TK to build a strong foundation to growth and the weapons you helped them packed in their bags.  Please do not send them to war without sharing the evidence of their power with them.

We alums promise to bond and take care of them on the front lines.  It is you and your wisdom though that they will always look back to: let yourself be the light as they step out into life.

With the greatest regards,

Tee Kaa,

A 2015/2016 maple leaf

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