I have been writing this piece for ages now. I keep sitting in front of my laptop, fingers poised, ready to begin, and then……words fail me. For how can you explain a feeling? How can you explain when something magical has happened but even you aren’t entirely sure what took place. Like when you see a comedy show and you laugh so hard you nearly pee your pants; then when you try to repeat the jokes to people they look at you blankly, bemused half-smiles on their faces until you give up, shrug and say, “you probably had to be there”. So, for anyone reading this piece who was there, hopefully, I will do BEE WILD justice and for anyone who wasn’t, that’s too bad but read anyway as it just might pique your interest …… but remember this piece is based on my experience only. If you asked another BEE they might describe the weekend in a completely different way and that to me is brilliant! How each of us has our own version of events and reality, but I digress…on we go.
As I sit here surrounded by the madness of a house renovation, brick dust, concrete and boxes of life’s paraphernalia, the sound of mini-diggers and pneumatic drills ringing in my ears my mind wanders back to a place where I was truly at peace, surrounded by my tribe, a place of serenity, compassion and joy. Let me tell you more. Eleven days ago, I went camping. It was a trip I’d looked forward to for over a year. An opportunity that offered itself to me at just the right time. I had just experienced some sadness and felt alone and lost and then there it was. A camping trip with Bee Sober and the people within its community of which I had recently become a part of. Two nights staying at the North West Girlguiding headquarters in a tent alone or sharing. It doesn’t sound that special when you say it like that, it doesn’t sound life-changing or magical does it? And yet…..
Let me set the scene…
Imagine the Lancashire Countryside bathed in sunlight, warm and balmy. Cows grazing happily, a field full of safari tents, and a beautiful hall taking centre stage. At the back there is another field, this time smaller tents scatter the green grass, and groups of people are gathered here and there. Some campers sit quietly alone but not lonely, of which I am one.
My home for the weekend was a pop-up tent with an un-comfy air bed made for one very small human, which I’m not. Small that is, I’m not small, but I am most definitely human. In fact, I felt more human than I have for a long time whilst there. For me to camp alone is a major achievement. I haven’t slept alone in a place of my choosing for many, many years. Always a husband, child and dog for company. I loved it! I pitched my tent, I pumped up my air bed, I used the camp stove. I ate what I wanted to and when I wanted to eat it…I sat alone when I chose to, quiet, reflecting. So, content I didn’t even doom scroll or read. I simply sat; I simply chose to just BE. I was thinking of course because how can we not think and whilst thinking I had a little light bulb moment. It was more of a flickering fairy light of which there were several this weekend.
Let me explain…
It occurred to me that at 52 years of age I am finally ok with just being. I could hear the other campers, laughing and chatting and it was lovely, but I had no desire to join them. Not for any other reason other than that I was enjoying not being in the thick of things for once. When I was a drinker I always felt like I was missing out, that it was essential to be in the centre of things, making the most noise, having the most fun. I realise now that this desire to be at the centre of things, to make people laugh, to be the ultimate party animal was less about the FUN and more about the fear of being alone with myself. The fear of being thought of as anything but a laugh or fun to be around, the fear of appearing aloof or unapproachable and dare I say it boring!!!! But now…I’m ok with it, I’m finally happy to be on the periphery and observe. I gain as much pleasure if not more in watching the fun than being part of it. It’s a relief.
Flickering fairy light number two came whilst gathering with a group under a wooden shelter. The sun shone down on us warming our backs. An altar of cards and flowers takes centre stage. There was a lone voice and then the group repeated the mantra, the words and wishes we had tentatively spoken given life. That lone voice and then an echo. The emotion is palpable, soft tears flow. But there was something else, it wasn't visible but its presence was felt. From each person I sensed compassion, for themselves and their peers within that space. It’s as if the energy flowed around the group, touching hearts and opening minds. I recall a memory of being a child, seven years of age, crying at an airport knowing that this is the end of her complete family and that it will be forever fractured. The adult me wants to hug that child and tell her I am sorry that I didn’t value her as I should have, I want to tell her that just because her family broke to pieces it doesn’t mean she needs to please everyone, to fix everything, she is not responsible for the breakage, that it is not her fault she was abandoned and that she will not be abandoned anymore. She will be loved, and she will be cherished. I remember her now; I won’t forget her again as I did during darker days. We move on.
More flickers of light as I discover other hidden memories and feelings. It comes in the form of twenty women crazily banging drums, shaking tambourines and dancing…with scarves! Oh, and crying. Yes crying, tears of unadulterated Joy. The energy within that space was high, it was primal, it was infectious. I have never experienced anything like it. It was better than any drink or any drug I have ever had the misfortune to cross paths with…and I realised that this beautiful feeling can come in a room with relative strangers by doing nothing more than banging a drum and leaving our egos at the door. Nobody cared if they looked foolish, nobody cared if they had rhythm and by the end of that session, we all beat together in time with wild abandonment like the crazy fools we allowed ourselves to be. To me, those women are like warriors. Beautiful drum-banging warriors!!!
In another space more lights flickered to life amongst the sound of the group as we laughed like naughty children at silly innuendos. There was wood and there were knives. There were things being made, whistles and gypsy flowers. Admittedly some of them weren’t that good. Nobody seemed to care. It’s in the stripping away of the outer layer of bark that the fun lies. It’s in the forming of something useful (or not!) out of something which looks ordinary that the learning takes place. For aren’t we all ordinary but with a little work can become something which we can take pride in, we can look and say see what I did? See how I changed; because change is something we all aspire to when we set out on a journey into sobriety. Admittedly I’m not very good at whittling but I was laughing anyway. I was so bad I had to use a potato peeler. I didn’t care because the lesson wasn’t how to make a gypsy flower but more being ok with just having a go at something new and knowing that’s it ok to say, that was fun but not for me, thank you anyway. I don’t have to pretend to be good at everything, it's okay to fail, its ok to be average, it's okay. Everything is ok.
There were many more flickering fairly lights of memory and realisation this weekend, too many to mention in a blog if truth be told but a significant realisation was that of bravery. I am brave, I am resilient. I have been through things that I thought I could not withstand but I did. My family have also been through similar things whilst on this journey with me and they have survived and thrived and continue to do so. Maybe yours has too. Let’s not forget them, let's honour them as they quietly watch us blossom and grow. A gentle supporting hand on our back as we take further steps into recovery and new beginnings. As I stood at the front of the whole group I could feel their touch. As I read my poem to our community, my tribe, my heart was filled with love for the people who had forgiven and loved me when I was unlovable and did not love myself. But my heart also felt full of love and connection to these amazing souls who listened quietly as through eyes full of tears I spoke the words that summed up my six years of sobriety. When people clapped at the end I had intended to be gracious and humble but instead, I fist-pumped the air and did a celebratory dance towards my chair. I felt so light! I felt so happy! I felt so brave!
My companions also took leaps of faith and read poems and spoke their own truths. It was something I felt privileged to be a part of. They were amazing and their own bravery felt like a gift.
In conclusion …
The weekend had such an impact on me that it’s taken me sometime to process my thoughts and feelings. It was the most incredible fun. I have never laughed so hard in ages. There was so much love and connection with people I’d only ever seen on a computer screen. Here they were, I could touch them, and they felt like family.
I haven’t mentioned everything I experienced this weekend as some things just don’t translate to the page and again I feel I’d be left saying “maybe you had to be there” But you can be…next year, twice I believe. I’ll be there, I have to be as I’ve already purchased a double airbed!!!
So..BEE WILD 2023, thank you. Thank you for allowing me to leave heavy pieces of my story in your safe spaces but an even bigger thank you for allowing me to take so much more away.
Blog article written by: Jane Sproston - Bee Sober member and Ambassador
If you're interested in joining Bee Sober for another round of Bee Wild, we'll be hosting events in 2024 for both Bee Wild South and Bee Wild North. Click on the links to learn more and join us for an exciting adventure!