Hello my friends! I’ve been back from my holiday a while – but lying low. It was the most amazing holiday I’ve had in my life so far, but all that excitement took some coming down to earth from – and then a lot of lying around in utter exhaustion!
I want to write about every detail (and I’ve been doing a lot of writing since I’ve been home, more on that soon.) I want to paint everything I saw – and I tried to imprint it all on my memory so that I could do so. In brilliant timing, the yearly art workshops I take part in started on Friday – and I leapt straight in this year. Usually I dither about unable to choose something to paint. This year, I’m painting a scene from the last night of camping, at Heathcote-Graytown National Park. It is from a camper’s point of view – the campfire is in front of you, you are surrounded by a forest of tall, silent gum trees, and beyond the ring of light from your fire is utter blackness. (It was DARK out there at night!) You are looking up, past the forest canopy, where you can see the stars in the night sky.
Oh the stars. Oh, oh, oh, the stars. If you have never seen the night sky from the middle of absolutely nowhere – you must be miles from civilisation, from electric light, from the glow that the city always casts on the skyline – then you have not lived. Every single night I gazed at those stars (I tripped over an awful lot, believe me, head in the sky like that!) and I wished that I’d thought to bring books along on both the hard science Astronomy, and the new-age science of Astrology. But even so, just staring at them left me in awe. You realise how small you are, how big ‘out there’ is. It helps put a lot of things into perspective. And, along with being out among the trees in the fresh air, seeing the stars re-awakens my spirit. I have long identified myself as Christian – except that I have become disillusioned with the churches and ‘religion’ – and also found myself questioning whether that power I can feel so strongly DOES exist, is actually ‘God’. But it doesn’t matter – for want of a better name, I know that it exists, and the outdoors, the natural world, is ‘church’ for me.
There is no way I could ever recap my holiday in one blog post, or even several blog posts – which is why I’m not trying. Since I started therapy at Isis I have started writing more than I have managed to in years. My counsellor has encouraged my writing – encouraged all my ways of expression – and once I started, I could hardly stop. I’ve been writing like a maniac since I came home in order to preserve those memories and observations, and I’m also really excited to be having a piece published in their next newsletter (not about the holiday, but about my thoughts on recovery.)
I will try and give you the short version though.
I flew to Melbourne on the Monday – and it was a challenge to even make the plane. My anxiety levels peaked in the week before the great day arrived, and on the day itself I was so exhausted that I slept through 4 alarms on my phone, only waking when my friend K texted me frantically! But I made it to Melbourne, arriving in time for a candlelit dinner prepared especially for the guests – myself and my best friend K’s partner’s little sis A, 16 years old. K’s partner is a chef, so it was a pretty delicious meal! And terrifying – but I watched what K took as she served herself and served myself similar amounts of food. I also enjoyed the wine along with everyone else – ended up rather tipsy on just two glasses! We were all pretty exhausted so went to bed rather soon.
I had been falling into a hole of depression in the lead up to the trip – my eating had been steadily getting worse along with it. By the time I left, I was not eating or drinking at all until about 8pm at night, usually later, then having a bit of a binge and purge and going to bed. This made EATING in Melbourne a huge challenge for me! I was determined to eat as well as I could, because these people are my loved ones and I can’t bear to hurt and worry them as I did my father when he was alive. I was constantly burping silently because there was SO MUCH FOOD. I only purged 3 times in the entire trip (which would have 30 meals not including snacks) and I ate many things completely new to me. However I also misjudged my energy output (camping is hard work!) and my intake – I take about three times as long as everyone else to eat, and I usually took a smaller portion of whatever everyone else was having. Thus I found when I returned to Brisbane that I’d lost 5 kilos in 10 days – a big shock. However since I’ve been home, I’ve been working at turning that around with the help of a very close friend, who has been encouraging me and texting me with meal support. I can’t let this go further and I’m not going to.
The next couple of days we explored Melbourne. Highlights for me were the Dandenong ranges, and Portsea. The water in the bays is so clear and clean – I could walk right out along the pier and still see huge schools of fish swimming and see the sandy bottom. One of the bays we visited had huge rock pools that you can swim in when the tide is out, and apparently seals live there – and come out to play too. Unfortunately we were picking our way over the rocks as the tide was coming in, which made for some hair raising near misses! S and A are daredevils. I think my friend K’s hair is going to be white in just a few years. S, who went skydiving just the previous week, and A insisted on swimming out to a huge rock and jumping off into the sea on the other side, it’s hard to describe the danger in that, and also the thrill!
Another favourite place was the Alfred Nicholas Gardens. Beautifully preserved, old gardens, a place where I just felt so peaceful and still. Outside, we found an avenue of cypress trees, wild strawberries that we picked and ate, and trees that had to be seen to believed – they must have been about 400 metres high and hundreds of years old.
On Thursday, we loaded up the car and the trailer and embarked on our long driving trip to Confest, about an hour’s drive eastwards of Moulamein, New South Wales. I enjoyed every bit of the trip – we took the ‘scenic’ route, so K could show me more of her Victoria, which I can tell you is a beautiful place indeed. We passed through a lot of small country towns in the middle of nowhere, picked up groceries in Bendigo, and camped overnight in Kerang, in the Gunbower National Park.
Dinner that night was a freak-out for me. Our groceries were packed up in the trailer and we were delayed – arriving well after dark at a pitch black campsite. We had very little money for dinner after the groceries and needed something – so K bought a huge pile of hot chips for everyone to share. Only one of my top fear foods! I did pretty well – I didn’t have a lot of chips, but it was enough for dinner. And after we had set up camp, we had our first bonfire, toasted marshmallows and drank wine before heading off to bed.
The next morning when I stuck my head out of the tent, there was the amazing, glistening misty Murray River just metres from my face! A beautiful sight to wake up to. We packed up fast and were off – over the Murray River, crossing the border from Victoria into New South Wales, breakfasting (on cheese and salad sandwiches for me) at Barham, then heading east – arriving in Moulamein sometime close to lunch time. We weren’t expecting the police!
We drove straight into the waiting arms of a police roadblock – I’d been expecting this, it was all over the internet that the police would be searching confesters for drugs. But it was still an experience to be tossed out of our car and every inch of car and trailer searched. They even gave us a pat down! It was good to know we had nothing to hide (phew!). I was rather annoyed at the assumption that people who go to this particular festival are druggies though.
About an hour along from Moulamein – we came to Confest!! What can I say? Confest!! It was amazing! It’s a five day camping festival that happens twice a year, at Easter and at the New Year. It is the original hippy happy alternative festival of them all, in the middle of nowhere. NO electricity, sewerage, plumbing, no phone reception, just trees, dust, prickles, and the Edward River. 2000+ people camp there and share ideas, holding workshops on yoga, permaculture, spirit guides, vegan cooking, tantric sex, drumming, art, so much more. Anyone who wanted to hold a work shop on any subject just had to write it up on the chalkboard and people would come. You could do anything at all, or nothing, it was totally up to you.
There was a market place which I decided was better than the local markets at home, and a spa, a sauna, a mud pit, a ‘beach’, a place where you could borrow bikes to ride, a drumming circle (where we camped! I was the only one who got any sleep!), and cooking circles. Fire was banned on site for individuals – only allowed in fire circles where people were able to cook on the fire or just have fun around it. Having camped next to the drumming circle meant that life at confest was a non-stop party. They never stopped drumming, except perhaps for a few hours after about 4am when everyone passed out.
Especially at night there would be a crowd of people dancing around the fires, and even I, bashful as I am, ended up getting up and dancing and jumping about – it was infectious and so much fun, and like the drumming, the party never stopped! (I would even get up to go to the toilet in the middle of the night and end up dancing all the way there and back!)
There are heaps of kids there – it’s a family event – and they loved heaping stuff on the fires too, armfuls of leaves or twigs, sending the flames and sparks high into the sky. All our meals were cooked here, we boiled water in the billy for tea (putting in a eucalyptus leaf or two!) warmed up the stews and soups that S had prepared before we left, toasted bread, and wrapped everything we could think of to wrap in foil to cook in the coals – my favourite being pumpkin and eggplant, which caramelise. Sometimes you had to dig about to find your food though after the kids had been through!
Clothing is optional at confest – and I found this pretty confronting. In fact the first person we met when we drove up (past the ‘Welcome Home’ gate) on the first day was stark naked – if you didn’t count his shoes and socks! It felt like a challenge – “Can’t handle me? Turn your little car and around and point it towards Moulamein and wee wee wee all the way home, kids!”
I would estimate that about 3/4 of confesters went naked during the festival. Some of them pretty much stayed that way all the time, but the majority of festival goers peeled off the clothes in the Arts village in order to have their bodies painted (that was awesome, and A and I spent a lot of time there painting each other’s faces), to get all muddy in the mud pit, run into the river to wash it off, soak in the spa at night, steam in the sauna, or have a massage. The spa was the funniest sight I’ve ever seen – can you imagine 30 people stark naked quietly sitting in a huge open air bath tub? I found the sauna a bit icky, and didn’t swim at all because it was just too cold for me. By the end of the festival I was able to get down to a singlet and shorts, but not go all the way.
It was a very positive experience for me. I couldn’t help but realise just how natural it is to just be in your own skin and nothing else. I couldn’t help but notice that every single person’s body was different from anyone elses – different shapes, sizes, colours, etc. And it was FINE. You realise how stupid all this body image stuff is when you see a crowd of naked people – and that nobody’s body is ugly or ‘wrong’ – everyone is beautiful in their own way. It’s a great equaliser too. Confest itself was a great equaliser. It didn’t matter where you came from or what you did back in ‘real life’ – there were as many doctors, lawyers, and other professionals there as there were year-round ‘hippies’.
Confest helped me remember how to just BE. To just live in the moment and soak up what was happening around me with all my senses. To have no plans and no expectations – everything being a surprise – and it being safe and okay. To be surrounded by many people and yet able to coexist with them happily (this many people in a city area – no way I could stay there. But here, everyone felt fairly safe.) As much as confest was a full on party, it was a rest for me – a time of reflection, sharing, and play.
All too soon, it was over, and we packed up and set off again on our road trip the ‘scenic’ way back to Melbourne – and again we drove through some beautiful places – including Swan Hill (a detour one night when A had a suspected broken arm, thankfully it wasn’t broken),Barham, Bendigo, Echuca, overnight camping at Heathcote Graytown National Park; then Seymour, Yea, Alexandra, Marysville, The Black Spur rd, Mt Donna Buang, Warburton, Olinda, Sassafras, Belgrave… and just too many more to remember.
Sadly we arrived home in Melbourne at last – the night before I was due to fly back to Brisbane. Time really flies when you are having fun! I’ve only seen a tiny slice of what is out there in the wide world – I have so much more to see, and I have to get myself out there to see it.
I am really sad to have to have left – I miss my friends a lot. Getting back to everyday life has been a bit of a shock – I hit Brisbane and had to say ‘hi’ to all my problems – it was amazing that I had left them behind as much as I had. I also had a big shock in how exhausted I was – I pretty much touched down from our flight and ran out of steam to keep going. This past week and a bit has been dedicated to just getting back on track – resting and resting some more – and getting into some sort of eating routine. Although I did so ‘well’ on the trip, I didn’t eat enough and it also felt like it wasn’t real life – something I couldn’t really replicate back home.
Where to from here? Back to therapy. More writing. Art workshops. I have to get myself back to pilates and ballet – I might not have lost very much weight, but it’s scary the difference it makes to what I can do physically – at the moment, I’m not able to do that sort of thing. It’s even scarier how much stronger those few kilos make ED thoughts.
And – study! I have applied to take a tertiary preparation course – to remind myself of everything I learnt in high school and get my brain working again, so that I can go on to study something like psychology or social work. I just sent in the testing package I had to complete – maths exam, two written papers, and some forms – and am hoping so much I get in. Fingers crossed!
Life is too short to live it in ‘eating disorder’ land. I’ve wasted so much of it already. I can’t just stop having an eating disorder, but I’m determined to not let it steal any more from me.
I hope everyone has been well and safe – I have been thinking of many of you. I’m very behind on comments – both on my own blog, and on other people’s blogs – and I hope that nobody takes that personally. Hopefully I’ll catch up soon.
This is a massive post! I better finish it now – with a few words about Shalimar. I missed her terribly when I was away – I don’t think we have a normal human-pet bond – it’s much, much stronger and more equal than that. She stayed at a pet motel and came back fluffy and sweet smelling (hahaha) and fat and happy. I’m glad to have her back and hopefully next time I go away, I’ll be able to take her with me. Cats rule, after all