My story is not unique. 

Juniper Canyon Field Guide and Alumni Jess Wagner courageously shares her story of recovery and finding purpose through her work. Jess’ story is not unique, but it is deeply personal. Thank you for sharing, Jess! 

Alcohol and drugs came into my life in highschool and like most, it started innocently enough. In fact- keeping the illusion that everything was ok would become a pattern of mine. Externally everything was copacetic for years; holding down employment, paying bills, graduating college–even living in 7 different states and another country! All of these accomplishments helped delude everyone from my functional alcoholism for over a decade. 

This illusion was not a reality. My relationships became increasingly strained over time and were based on deception. I would lie, steal, and cheat my way through justifications. My behavior and my character was unreliable. As time went on the unmanageability increased. I started losing close friends, isolating, getting into legal trouble, and my family could no longer support or believe anything I said. Alcohol had such a tight grip over me it became impossible to think rationally. I became untethered and was unraveling at the seams.  

I found myself standing on this precipice battling my own reason. I was hopeless and alone. I had ruptured all of my relationships and was filled with complete abandon. I swam in denial for years about my reality. My mental health had deteriorated and substance use disorder had complete control. With my last drop of hope I reached out to Juniper Canyon Recovery Center and within 48 hours found myself in Loa, Utah.

Grappling with life on life’s terms was never going to start inside a traditional treatment center. For me, I needed a hard reset. Having worked in the outdoor industry, guiding commercially and working with various land management agencies, the healing power of the outdoors was not a new concept for me. The Juniper Canyon and Legacy programs offer a unique hybrid of adventure, wilderness, and clinical therapy to create a powerful foundation to healing. I found myself looking at recovery from a different lense and seeing the endless avenues my life could lead me. I had reignited a sense of hope and vision for my future, I started to feel worthy of living the life I had always dreamt of. 

Being in the Utah wilderness created a safe space for me to process the reality I had been running away from. I learned how to sit with myself, how to deal with my past and the shame around it. I became comfortable in the present moment, harnessing the ability to accept all feelings, thoughts, and sensations. I was able to practice what it truly meant to be mindful. My mentors helped me ask the questions I had been afraid to ponder. The group of women I was with leaned on each other to accomplish challenges, picking up pieces of purpose as we traveled landscapes that were awe inspiring. The process of becoming more self-aware was both painful and beautiful. My character, desires, and motives were explored with what felt like a magnifying glass, both vulnerable and raw. The gifts I received from Juniper Canyon are priceless. But perhaps the greatest gift of all was returning to work as a field guide to help provide a safe space for others to ask questions of their own. 

The choice to come back to Legacy and Juniper Canyon as a guide was easy. I was fortunate enough to stumble upon this treatment center years ago, and coming back to the very place I found myself truly living again seemed foretold. Mentoring people in the early stages of their recovery is something I am passionate about, and the power of Wilderness and Adventure Therapy is something I wholeheartedly believe in. Living in an environment that promotes healthy relationships continues to teach me to never settle for anything less than that. Practicing open communication, being impeccable with my word, and striving to see conflict as a means to grow have been necessary for me to continue living in alignment. The outdoors will always be a pivotal part of my recovery, and sharing that is something I am grateful for every day.  

Juniper Canyon helped me find purpose. It taught me how to live honorably. Today I live with integrity while practicing the values that fuel my spirit. Juniper Canyon helped build the foundation of my recovery in a way that can’t always be expressed with words. It is seen in the quiet moments by a stream, in backpacking through aspen groves, or summiting mountains. It is heard in the silence of self-reflection and contemplation. It is felt by the support of mentors and group members as you unravel to begin anew. It is knowing that anew can happen at any given moment, all it takes is stepping back from that precipice and forging a different path. 

My name is Jess, and I am in recovery.