Last week I got up at what I somewhat lovingly referred to as the “a** crack of dawn” and cautiously made my way to Magician Lake, in Michigan for the Turning Tides retreat. I was nervous and sleep deprived, and doing everything in my power to make sure I didn’t lose my wallet or have any other travel incidents. I was apprehensive about leaving home…I’m a homebody and I prefer to stay as close as I can to John and Lucy the cat. This year was the first time I’d ever travelled alone, let alone not knowing anyone once I got to where I was going. My fears of the unfamiliar and unknown were swirling around in my head as I met up with the other girls attending and rode with them from Chicago through the tip of Indiana and then into Michigan. At that time I had no idea what the experience was going to mean to me, but I knew I was on an adventure for sure.
The retreat was such a good experience! On the surface, I had a ton of fun learning and drinking and eating and staying up way too late playing games and chatting with my new friends, but the experience was so much more than that for me. How am I ever going to be able to sum up my experience last week in a few paragraphs?? I don’t even think it’s possible to do so.
But I’m going to try.
For me, trying was a huge part of my experience at the retreat. There were things I didn’t feel comfortable with or understand, but I tried anyway. I tried to understand what art really is to me. I tried paddleboarding. I tried believing in myself. I tried writing in a journal. I tried not talking about my cat the entire time (I could have tried harder at that…) I tried getting into the water, then getting onto a float…and then I tried swimming. My swimming experience kind of sums up my trip in a nutshell.
I never learned how to swim when I was growing up. I actually had swimming lessons when I was really little (maybe four or five?) and I remember being in the pool, smelling the chlorine, and being too afraid to float. I couldn’t take my hand away from the edge because I was too scared of what might happen if I did, so I failed the class and gave up on swimming. In a lot of ways, I’ve been living my life like that ever since. Too afraid to quit holding on to the edge and believe in myself. Too afraid that I would sink if I even let go for a second. But last week I opened myself up. I shared my deepest fears and worst insecurities with people that I didn’t know very well. I felt safe. After that, I don’t know what happened inside of me. Maybe it was the fact that I shared so much and felt so safe. Maybe it was just the warm sun on my face and an ice cold summer shandy (okay, maybe a few summer shandies). But I got out on the lake and decided I was going to get into a floatie. I thought to myself, okay, I think if get in really slow and put my butt in the float, I won’t drown. So I did it. My hands were shaking as I climbed the ladder off of the boat into the water and I felt like my stomach could fall out of my butt at any point, but it didn’t. One of my new friends held my hand and suddenly I was floating on 30 foot deep waters with literally nothing but mesh and a piece of plastic tube to support me and keep me from dropping like a rock to the bottom of the lake. The water was ice cold. Some Titanic jokes were made (I can’t be near water or a boat without a Titanic joke).
I don’t know what made them decide to do it, but once they saw me floating, Lauren and Heather decided that I needed to learn to swim. I know for a fact I wouldn’t have been brave enough to get out of the floatie by myself and try to swim. I know I would have panicked (like I do) and then sucked up a million gallons of water in my lungs and then decided to quit because it was too hard. Floating was cool with me because it felt safe with the little mesh raft to support me and keep me from falling. But support from people who care about you and who have seen you be vulnerable and afraid and seen that you are trying to try, trying to do SOMETHING, ANYTHING to get out of where you are is so incredible. With Lauren’s careful guidance and Heather’s support I treaded water first. And then I swam. This story might not sound like a big deal to you….maybe you’re like Michael Phelps and you can’t even imagine not being able to swim (if Michael Phelps reads this, HOLLER!) but for me, it was the biggest thing in the world. The fact that I was so far away from home and let down my guard enough to trust others and more importantly myself. To trust that my friends would support me and keep me safe. To trust that I had it in me to swim and keep my head above water. To take my hand off of the wall (or float in this instance) and believe in myself. When I reached the ladder of the boat and climbed back up I was in disbelief. I couldn’t believe what had happened. I SWAM. In deep water. And DIDN’T DROWN. I will remember that moment for the rest of my life. My friends pushing me, the ice cold water and the warm sun on my face, my own determination/fear, and then their hugs and support at the end of the short swim back to the boat. I only swam about ten feet or so, but I may as well have run a marathon for how I felt when I finished.
Having my friends at the lake believe in me enough to invite me to come, and then gently pry my fingers away from the wall and tell me that I can is something I won’t ever forget. Not only did they teach me that I can, they taught me that I SHOULD. Because I deserve to. I owe them so much for doing something for me that I couldn’t do for myself. I know I’m not where I need to be yet, or where I want to be, but I know that if I can believe in myself the way that I did the day that I swam, I know that I’ll get there. I no longer have to doubt myself as much, and I know that I’m worth at least TRYING. And that’s all I can really do, is wake up every morning and try.
Here are a few images I took at the lake!