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April 12, 2018

By:  Mark White, LMHC – CDC II

“Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above ground lasts only a single summer. What we see is the blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains.” (Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections)

Mark White, Primary Therapist

Jung theorized that human beings – like plants – seek to grow whole.  At the outset of our lives and through the lived experiences of childhood we send our roots out into the world and find what nourishes us and what doesn’t.  At a young age we inherently come to know the wisdom of playing more and touching the hot stove less. Our learning is largely instinctual; with knowledge found through trial and error.  As children, our brain’s Limbic system largely guides our exploration of the world and our place in it – we thus ‘fight, flee or feast’ in response to our making contact with our environment.

In a similar fashion, a germinating seed reaches out through the darkness of the soil seeking nourishment – sending it’s initial roots toward water and nutrients and away from rocks and other stressors.  It finds what makes it grow and seeks more of that.

As childhood gives way to adolescence and young adulthood we continue to explore and grow.  We have a series of firsts – a first crush, first time driving a car and for some of us our first use of alcohol and other substances.   Our Limbic system continues to guide us as the pleasure receptors in our brains feel the ‘high’ of the first buzz’. Our primitive brains tell us to do more of this (feast) and we oftentimes do – especially as the executive/consequential thinking function in our Prefrontal Cortex may not yet have fully developed.

For some youth, the process of addiction begins.  Tolerance increases and we need more of the substance to produce the same amount of pleasure.  Our focus becomes narrowed as we seek to find, procure and/or otherwise obtain our drug(s) of choice.  We spend growing amounts of time and energy thinking about and seeking the substance and less time engaged in pleasurable activities and familiar relationships we once enjoyed.  Essentially, as we send our roots more and more toward our drug(s) of choice and the behavioral patterns of addiction take hold.

At Pacific Quest (PQ) we utilize Horticultural Therapy (HT) to understand the equivalent of the human process of addiction in plants – a condition commonly known as ‘root bound’.  When a plant becomes root bound it has grown to the point where it exhausts the available nutrients. In an effort to thrive, the plant begins to consume itself to stay alive. At this point, if the plant is not transplanted it will inevitably suffer and is likely to meet an early demise. In our knowledge of addiction we understand that without intervention, a young person developing the behavioral patterns of addiction may unfortunately experience similar outcomes.

At PQ young people are both educated and empowered to become aware of how the process of addiction has impacted their growth and are supported in engaging in the process of Recovery.  Within our Sustainable Recovery tract students begin to actively send their ‘roots’ -time and energy- back toward the relationships/activities/values in their life that nourish them. Caring for the gardens, exploring the Big Island and all its rich diversity and engaging in sober fun with peers are all part of the growth process – in addition to Recovery-focused clinical services.

Our unique clinical process invites students to become mindful of their personal behavioral patterns of addiction and become both knowledgeable and skillful in preventing relapse into these old behaviors.   Recovery programming includes personalized Recovery coaching as well as HT-based clinical interventions that empower each student to learn effective relapse prevention skills to address their own, individual circumstances.

Students also engage in a weekly Recovery Group and become knowledgeable of practical ways to make meaningful behavioral changes to support their personal Recovery.  In addition to group and individual therapy, through our active daily schedule students are supported in making these life changes at PQ. Learning to actively manage peer and other social pressures, awareness of relapse triggers and cues and use of effective coping skills are all growth opportunities students have each day.  Our active approach to care ensures students partake in intensive preparation for sustaining important behavioral changes post-treatment. Additionally, for students also interested in learning about a 12-step approach, access to an on-campus ‘PQ- only’ meeting is available as is individualized ‘step study’ work as well.

Last and perhaps most importantly, our Sustainable Recovery model of care invites students to affirm who they are in this world and their opportunities and responsibilities in Recovery– a deep sense of knowing that for many of our alumni has served as the ‘rhizome’ for their sustainable growth into adulthood.

About the author:  

Mark White is Recovery Coordinator and a Primary Therapist at Pacific Quest.   Mark has a passion for wilderness rites of passage work and integrated healthcare.  He has worked with young people and their families since 1999. Mark believes Pacific Quest provides an unparalleled healing and growth experience.