“McCall, breathe with me. Breathe in 2…3…4…out…2…3…4”
I could hear the words being spoken to me, but couldn’t catch my breath. I sobbed and shook uncontrollably, my body curled tightly in a ball on the stiff therapy couch. I was in treatment and having my first panic/anxiety/emotional tidal wave attack.
Without my eating disorder to numb out my emotions, they all hit me at once. My emotional tidal wave had been rising for days and on that cold day in December it crashed and I began to drown under its surge.
My ED mind kept telling me to “Get your shit together. Stop crying. What is wrong with you?” But I had no control. I could not stop.
“McCall, breathe with me. Look up, tell me where is that one place you can go in your mind that brings you peace.”
April 3, 2016
The grass crunched beneath my feet and the brisk morning air pierced my face. I slowly walked to the top of Otie’s Knob, my happy place.
I was on my way back home after what was another epic weekend with my people, my Green Cove camp tribe. But before I could drive down the mountain, I had to return to Otie’s Knob. But I had to do it alone. I had to go back and say thank you. Thank you to the people and place that make up my escape. The place that is always there in my heart and available when I close my eyes.
It had been years since I stood atop this mountain by myself. Even though my friends and I had hiked up the day before, it was drastically different being there alone. The air was quiet, except for the wind rustling through the trees below. No chatter or laughter. Just me and my happy place.
I folded my arms around my body and began to cry. This place, this view and the spirit of this mountain has been my sanctuary my entire life.
Green Cove is a camp in every sense of the word. There is not a pool or fancy cabins. You will never hear a bugle call the end of an activity period because that is not what Green Cove is about. Green Cove was created to empower and cultivate every child to be her own guide. It helps campers find their strengths and develop real skills. Green Cove teaches that while we might be different, we all deserve love and kindness. Our circle of camp friends came from every walk of life. We embraced each other, our awkwardness, our strengths and weaknesses. There was no judging – just laughter and play.
As a child, camp was my escape from middle school cattiness and feeling like an outcast. No one was an outcast at camp, not even me. In fact, Green Cove was the place I spread my wings and discovered many of my natural gifts: empathy, intuitiveness, leadership and creativity. I never felt judged or cast aside.
As the years went on and my eating disorder began to take over, camp was still my escape. While the eating disorder raged in my mind, symptom use drastically lessened in the summers. Camp Green Cove saved me every year giving my body and mind the rest it needed beneath the starry North Carolina skies.
This past weekend, I held back tears on more than one occasion as I looked around at the extraordinary women surrounding me. Teachers, doctors, lawyers, moms, entrepreneurs and every career in between. We are liberal, conservative, rich, not so rich. We’ve shared graduations, weddings, births, divorces and death. And through it all, we support, love and accept one another. Every year or so, no matter how matter how far apart we are, we return to Green Cove, the place that made us the women we are – strong, empathetic, brave and loving.
In these last two years of heartache and grief, I have gone to my happy place more occasions than I can count. And when I was too weak to go there in my mind, my girls would bring camp to me with messages, calls, an epic video and love.
The day after Marjorie was diagnosed with cancer, I had a long talk with her. I sternly told Marjorie there was a new pink room waiting for her at home. She had to come home because I have plans for her, the world has plans for her. I told her she was going to beat cancer because she is a Green Cove girl. It is in her blood.
Her pale body weakly gasped for air as I gently rocked her singing our camp song, “Angels Watching Over Me.” I described to her the magical place in the mountains that was waiting for her. There was a campfire seat with her name on it, camp songs waiting to be learned and mountains ready to be hiked. I told her there was a happy place in the Western North Carolina mountains that I would take her one day. “Yes, my dear Marjorie, you WILL heal and hike up that mountain one day and your momma and her Green Cove tribe will be by your side.”
Yesterday as I stood quietly atop the mountain, I whispered, “Thank you.” Thank you to Green Cove for giving me my happy place, my sanctuary, my tribe. I slowly walked off Otie’s, tears still streaming down my face. I hated leaving this place, but I know that it is always with me. Camp Green Cove is just a dream away and my Green Cove girls are always one phone call or massive text chain away.
To my Green Cove tribe,
Thank you for loving me all these years. Thank you for loving me even when I couldn’t love myself. Thank you for carrying me to Otie’s when I was too weak to climb. Thank you for reminding me of my strength within. Thank you for never letting me give up. Thank you for always, always making me laugh and reminding me that love (and killer dance moves) conquers all. And most of all, thank you for being my happy place.
God be with you until we meet again…