I just had a wonderful evening with my parents, Rob and Kathy Bentall (the directors of Barnabas Family Ministries, the family camp on Keats Island where I’m currently writing from and where my sister’s lovely wedding took place yesterday) and Domino Gourley, one of my sister’s close friends (and former roommate from Boston).
Sorry about all the parenthesis. Lots to explain to readers who might not know the people about whom I am writing.
Anyway, my parents, Domino, the Barnabas staff, and I spent much of the day cleaning up after the wedding. The guests all left this morning around 10am, and aside from a late afternoon nap, which we all needed, we were cleaning up and packing things most of the day. So when Rob and Kathy invited us to their own home on the other side of the island for dinner, I, at least, was grateful. It was break from the work, and an excuse to kick back and chat with family and friends. I think I may have said this in a previous post, or perhaps just a few times to different people this weekend, but there have been many times in the past 5 years where I truly thought I’d never come back here. I spent at least a week here every summer for 13 years. Barnabas is a camp for families, and my family has been coming here regularly for as long as I can remember. Both my sister and I have worked on staff here, and so has Luke, my sister’s new husband and my new brother-in-law. It is a special place for me. I’ve basically grown up coming here, and the thought that I might never come back felt like an empty place in my soul. So being back here feels somewhat like having an irreplaceable part of my soul returned. That might seem melodramatic, but it sums up the truth pretty well.
Yesterday was really all about Rachael and Luke. Although I spent much of today helping clean and pack, today (for me at least) was really about me. About moving forward in my healing. I had lots of comments yesterday from many people telling me how well I was doing, how happy they were to have me here for the wedding, and how happy my family was that I could be here. It used to be hard because for so long I have been the family pariah, and when people encouraged me, I just felt like it was veiled criticism – I couldn’t believe them. I was that one person in the family whose life was constantly in the toilet. The person everyone was afraid to talk about. The person whose constant crises pulled everyone else down and turned the family’s collective life inside out on a regular basis. And yet everyone I spoke to yesterday (most of whom know my story and many of whom have been praying on my behalf for years) were full of acceptance, gratitude, love, and encouragement, and I believed what they said.
Despite the fact that I wasn’t even in the wedding party and was hardly included in the planning because no one could trust that I would follow through with anything, people seemed to be truly happy that I could be here. Even Rachael and Luke, the most important people, and the people I feel who had the most right to resent the fact that I was hardly able to participate in their amazing wedding (when both of Luke’s siblings had significant roles), seemed to only care that I was here and clear-headed and healthy. All I was able to do was help out with a few odd tasks during the wedding and give a heartfelt toast during the formal dinner after the wedding. But people seemed to really be on the same page with me. They all seemed to recognize something that I think I am only just beginning to understand – that healing is a process, and that I may not be “there” yet, but that I am truly moving forward. I guess there must be something about my sincerity that is apparent to other people.
Like I said, yesterday was Rachael and Luke’s day, and I spent the whole time thinking about nothing other than how I could best help them have the best experience possible on their special day. But today is a day for me to acknowledge myself. I have made a lot of progress in the past few months, despite a couple blips on the radar. I’ve certainly not done everything right since May. I’ve made some mistakes. Some have been little, others have been bigger. But on the scale of mistakes I have made over the past five years, they have been minor inconsistencies in a new pattern of wellness I am developing. In the past, I had brief periods of marginal wellness within a framework of devastating sickness of my body, mind, heart, soul and spirit. But I believe with my whole being that I have entered a new world now. I believe in the possibility that I could live a full life in which I use my experience for the good of others. I believe that wellness is not only attainable for me, but that it is desirable.
I think in the past I actually haven’t wanted to be well. Because with wellness comes responsibility. It was easy to justify not using my talents. It was easy to justify not following through. It was easy to justify my life having no meaning when I was constantly so unhealthy that I was incapable of making any serious contribution to the lives of others. But I am finally reaching the point where I have climbed far enough out of the hole into which I dug myself over the past five years that I can see new paths opening before me.
And part of what I see is me being able to use my firsthand experience as a perpetual hospital and clinic patient with a chronic illness, chronic pain, and drug addiction; my significant (although not formally taught) knowledge of medicine and the health care system; and my creative writing background to reach out and help others who might be going through something similar. Whether it be those struggling to attain the goal of optimal wellness like I am, or just someone trying to cut back their drinking, lose weight, or quit smoking…maybe it will be people who are struggling trying to figure out how to navigate the health care system, maybe it will be people with a recently diagnosed chronic illness who are struggling to deal with everything that comes with properly managing their condition – or maybe people who have genetic illness like myself but who are only now coming to terms with the fact that they have to deal with their condition or, like me, it is going to make their lives unmanageable – I don’t know how things will turn out. But as you can see from the list above, there are a lot of people who could benefit from my knowledge and experience. And I am really looking forward to having an opportunity to use what has been five years of hell for me and my friends and family for a positive purpose.
I am coming to believe that the universe does have some sort of plan for me. I may not be able to see it. But I feel like some of the directions (namely the one where I die an early death as a desperate drug addict, abandoned by my friends and family because I turned away from them to pursue my addiction) are closing down and new avenues are opening. For the first time in years, I am starting to feel like I have options again. Like I could actually do anything to which I put my mind. I haven’t felt that way since 2007.
And incidentally, that was the last time I was here, at Barnabas Landing, on Keats Island, in British Columbia. At that time I had just quit my writing job because my chronic pain had taken over my life and my use of prescription pain killers (although still technically legitimate) was beginning to eclipse everything else. The last time I was on this island, I was pretty much high the entire time. I wasn’t present. My mind was overrun by the influence of the drugs that were in the process of consuming me from the inside out. So being here again, being clean and healthy, being able to interact with people and not even have a sip of alcohol despite the fact that everyone around me was drinking just because my sister requested that I not drink (and because I have made the choice that drinking alcohol does not fit with my goal of optimal wellness) – being here feels like a step toward true healing for my heart.
Last time I was here, I wasn’t a whole person. This time, I think I am much closer to being who I am meant to be. I love this place. I love Rob and Kathy Bentall, whose vision and backbreaking work have made this place a reality, and who, with consistent grace, have welcomed me back no matter what my situation or personal beliefs. I love my family and friends who have stuck with me and help me reach this place again.
I lay in Domino’s hammock late this afternoon, strung between two trees in the orchard where I used to pitch my tent as a young teen and stared into the sky and the catharsis was unbelievable. The truth is that the me who was here 5 years ago in 2007 and the me who is here tonight are not even recognizable as the same person. I told Rob in a conversation briefly last night when he told me how happy he was to have me back, that being here feels a bit like coming home. Not physically, but spiritually. Part of my heart will always reside here, and if one day I get married, I might just take a page out of my sister’s book and do it here. And one day if I have a family, I will most certainly bring them here every summer so that they can experience singular energy of this place and of the people who are inexorably drawn here.
I apologize for the length of this post, but it has been a long few days, I am emotional, tired, and in such situations I can tend to ramble. But I think this all needed to be said, somehow.
I am filled with gratitude for everything in my life, but particularly for my sister Rachael and my brother-in-law Luke for making this healing happen for me. They may not have intended it. Indeed, I hope I was the last thing on their mind yesterday. But being here to stand up and tell them both how much I love them and how much hope I have for their marriage and how much I appreciate their inexplicable grace and particularly my sister’s undeniable, unswerving, unconditional love…being here to dance with them, to do a few little errands and tasks – to be able to stand on the pier and send them off – has been so healing for me. And it was their choice to have their marriage here in this place that created this opportunity for me. So tonight I want to thank my sister and my new brother for helping me move one more step forward on my wellness quest.
Goodnight, and peace to you,