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FINDING MY GREAT BIG LOVE | Part 3 | Deer Lake Lodge: My Chrysalis in the Country

Updated: Jul 11



HOUSE No.3 ~ DEER LAKE LODGE


It is definitely for the best that I didn’t know how hard it was going to be to start life over as a glamping solopreneur, and that my foundation needed to crumble in order to rebuild (again). My favourite expression is life begins on the edge of our comfort zone, in my experience that is absolutely true. But stepping outside of one’s comfort zone does make life uncomfortable indeed, and most people choose to stay well inside it instead. If I felt like I had a choice I’m sure I would have too.


But I didn’t feel like I had a choice, it felt like life was forcing my hand and pushing me in a different direction.


 

FAULT LINES OPEN UP


One thing that I didn’t expect were the emotions that selling my family home would bring up in me. Moving was a grief process of reconciling the idealistic dreams I had when my ex-husband and I moved back to Canada with the disappointing reality. I had thought I was done grieving the loss of my family unit, but as I went through the motions of closing up what I call my ‘Guelph Chapter’, I ended up grieving it all over again.


It also meant letting go of all of my kids all at once to embark on my next stage of life without them.


I knew that I was enabling my oldest son and that we were stuck in a toxic co-dependent relationship that needed to change, but I did not know what that looked like for him and he wasn’t exactly figuring that out for himself. I just knew that for both of our sakes I needed to start letting him go. My daughter was already semi-launched because she was finishing off her first year of university in Kingston, but it meant that she would spend summers living at her dad’s instead of with me, our house was no longer homebase. That was a small bullet to the heart. As was the fact that I had really wanted to see all of my kids all the way through high school from our house on Oxford Street, but I couldn’t stick it out, so the plan was for my youngest son to move in with my ex-husband for grade 12. I did not know at the time how bereft this would ultimately make me feel, but I comforted myself with the thought that at least I had my boyfriend.


Or so I thought.


Unexpectedly my move exposed fault lines in our relationship that I didn’t know existed and this discovery rocked my world. He had been extremely supportive of everything right up until the move itself, at which point he gradually disappeared. During the final week of my move I didn’t hear from him for five days leaving me feeling completely abandoned during a really big life transition. I didn’t need him to help me pack, but I did need him to check in on me so that I felt like I had a co-pilot in life.



Looking back on it I’m sure he was going through his own emotional upheaval, I was moving four hours away after all, but all I knew at the time was that I felt very alone and a big fault line in our relationship had been exposed. We managed to throw a bandaid over that rupture, but it was a superficial repair job at best, and after 2-1/2 years together it was the first time I was left with big question marks about whether we were going to make it as a couple.


Most difficult of all though was that I had decided to give my eldest son one more chance to live with me hoping that the move to the country would be the change that he needed to get himself onto a better path. And although I’ve already said that his story is not my story to tell, I will share a little bit about this chapter of our lives to explain what happened next. Because unfortunately a couple of months after we moved north, he moved out.


But this time letting go of him meant tolerating nine months of homelessness in British Columbia, something that most parents would find unthinkable.


 

GOING INTO THE ABYSS AND MY YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING


To recap, in the winter of 2021 I had been hiding away in my attic in Guelph and my boys were basically COVID buddy basement dwellers. But at Deer Lake there was no basement, and no buddy, so we didn’t have the luxury of a buffer and too much square footage. We were living on top of each other and it quickly became clear to me just how much he was struggling with his mental health and how bad his addiction to weed had become. Specifically what really struck me was how paranoid he had become because of it.


It’s a long, convoluted story, but that summer he was hospitalized for 11-days with a Cannabis Induced Psychosis. That was a real wake up call for me, and I realized that I had to get really serious about my role as an enabler and getting him help for his addiction or risk his brain becoming hardwired with a permanent psychosis. I also found my own mental health going down old familiar roads that were scaring me.


I am a fixer. When I am anxious my go-to coping strategy is to do a ton of research and come up with a plan, and it was due to some savvy internet sleuthing that I learned about the John Volken Academy in Surrey, BC. Remarkably I convinced my son that attending JVA was worth a shot. Regrettably I now know that he had little intention of actually going.


In September of 2021 we flew out to BC together and in hindsight neither of us got on that plane with a covert agenda, but both of our plans involved a healthy dose of magical thinking. My agenda was to get him to walk through the doors of the John Volken Academy, his was to have some autonomy and get a fresh start in a province that he had been told was beautiful and grew the best weed in Canada. Getting on the plane I was feeling cautiously optimistic and he did walk through the doors of the John Volken Academy, but unfortunately he stayed just one night.  


The next day he called me to say that he had flown out to Vancouver to give John Volken a try but he just wasn’t ready yet, so with their help he was going to check himself into a local homeless shelter. I had mentally prepared myself for this possibility and I had my response ready. I told him that I respected his decision and I trusted that he would figure it out, we exchanged I love you’s, I hung up the phone and had a good long cry.


 

LETTING GO IS A GRIEF PROCESS


Flying home from BC alone knowing that my son was choosing to be homeless was one of the hardest things I will ever have to do. Truthfully I had thought he would bottom out quickly in the shelter system — three weeks tops — and then return to the John Volken Academy for help. But he is far more resourceful and resilient than I gave him credit for, ironically I think we have Pine River to thank for this.


By this point his father and I had each been doing our own work and we were ready to hold healthier boundaries around ourselves, but even if we weren’t events outside of our control made sure we did. My son has a phobia of needles and never got vaccinated for COVID, and a week after I returned from BC all means of long haul transportation stopped allowing passengers who weren’t vaccinated to travel. He also (predictably) lost all of his ID, so even if he had been vaccinated, he couldn’t have boarded a plane, train or long haul bus without it.


Living with the discomfort of knowing my son was homeless and waiting for him to bottom out was an emotionally brutal landscape to navigate and I had to learn how to get comfortable with uncomfortable emotions that I didn’t know were possible to endure. But there was no way around this particular grief journey, only through it, and it felt like I was changing on a deep, cellular level, and my core self was growing stronger as a result.


For a while he kept in touch regularly, then sporadically, then the only way we had of knowing if he was alive was the occasional social media post but even those petered out to nothing. Sometimes we wouldn’t hear from him for months and our catastrophic thinking would go haywire. I would imagine he was dead and we would never know what happened to him and have to live with the guilt of wondering if we’d done enough to save him or if our faulty plan had lead him to an early grave instead.


Then he would make contact and he usually sounded better than one would expect, because in spite of the instability of his day-to-day existence he loved the lack of expectation and the complete freedom of life on the street. He also met some wonderful people, the homeless community (and its front line workers) is a very caring community in its own special way.


But eventually the novelty wore off and he became dangerously depressed, and as time went on it became abundantly clear that he was never going to step over the threshold of the John Volken Academy again. So when a doctor called from the hospital in Mission and told my ex that if we didn't come to pick our son up and bring him back to Ontario we may never see him again, he decided to fly out to BC and rent a car to drive our son home.


So one long, hellish, year after my eldest son and I moved into Deer Lake Lodge together hoping this was the fresh start we both needed, he returned to Ontario after nine months of homelessness in BC. That was not at all how I had hoped that chapter would play out, so much for my Pollyanna plan, but looking back on it this was a phase that we all needed to go through on this particular journey.


I would love to say that it was all worth it and this chapter had a happy ending, but the past two years have been extremely challenging with more long stints of homelessness. However, things are stable at the moment. My son is sober, and because he is making good choices he is once again living with me at Deer Lake.


Lately I've noticed that a fog I've lived with for years now is starting to clear and there is a lightness starting to happen, I don't feel like I'm getting through every day wearing an invisible lead blanket. I am only just now realizing how much PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) we both have. I don’t know where this script is going, and if we'll both get our happy ending, but it feels like the worst is behind us and living together is what we both need for now for our own healing. I'm just taking life one day at a time for now.



I can also honestly say that nothing has forced me to work harder on myself than my eldest son has. My children are the only people in the world that I love enough to do “the work” for because the work itself is brutal. He has put our family through a lot, and if it had been anyone else I would have put my walls up and not taken them down a long time ago. But there is something invaluable that comes from struggling through adversity, and even though there have been many times when I have felt resentful and overwhelmed by the challenges of raising a super-feeler, he has forced me to dig deep and embark on my own hero’s journey. I didn’t choose it, I did everything in my power to avoid going into the abyss, but I am oddly grateful for the experience because I know that I am a wiser and better person for it. (For this analogy I'm referencing Brad Reedy's book,The Journey of the Heroic Parent).


 

RIGHT WHERE I’M MEANT TO BE


Needless to say, the stress of that first summer at Deer Lake took its toll on my relationship with my boyfriend. When I got back from BC it was clear that he needed some space from the intensity of my life and I was once again on my own and blindsided by grief. I headed north to my yellow farmhouse and spent the next two months grieving deeply. I have never felt so alone, psychologically and literally. I tend to turtle in times of stress so I spoke to almost no one during this period, sometimes a week would go by and I hadn’t connected with a single person, not even by text.


In her book Untamed, Glennan Doyle sums her spiritual journey up like this: We are alive only to the degree to which we are willing to be annihilated. Our next life will always cost us this one. If we are truly alive, we are constantly losing who we just were, what we just built, what we just believed, what we just knew to be true.


During those solitary two months in the fall of 2021, much of what I believed to be true had just been annihilated. To keep myself busy I refurbished the small rental cabin on my property and listened to podcasts to distract myself as I worked. Winter came and some days I worked on the cabin until well after dark. As I walked back to the house on those evenings the newly fallen snow on the ground would glitter in the moonlight and I would stop to look up at the stars and breath in the fresh winter air while soaking up their vast, twinkling silence.


In those moments the solitude of my property wrapped me up in its magic and held me tight, and with each passing day something elusive deep down inside of me felt sturdier and more grounded. When I first moved to the country this city gal found the isolation so terrifying that my whole bed would shake at night with the pounding of my heart. But during this period of mourning I knew that in spite of life’s curve balls and crippling uncertainty, I was exactly where I needed to be, and the universe was watching out for me in some intangible way.


 

NOT MY GREAT BIG LOVE AFTER ALL


In mid-November I moved back to Guelph into a five month rental in our old neighbourhood. Moving to Deer Lake was too much change all at once and the idea of not being there for my youngest son’s final year of high school was more grief than I could handle.


My boyfriend and I slowly found our way back to each other and got back together over the Christmas holidays, but it was strained. Our relationship was far from solid but neither of us broached the difficult conversations that we needed to have. There are no honest conversations without a degree of vulnerability to them, but I bottled up my emotions around him because I had learned pretty early on in our relationship that he couldn't handle my pain, he would embody it. But ultimately my joylessness and the unpredictability of the situation with my son was more than he could handle. In his opinion I was living in a place with too much sorrow with no end in sight and he wasn't equipped to be my palliative care nurse. So when my son returned from BC seven months later he ended things for good.


It turns out he was not my Great Big Love after all.


When I think back to our earliest conversation about what we were each looking for in a new relationship it was uncomplicated companionship, that is what he signed on for. Maybe we both did. But love always gets complicated, because eventually real life intrudes and when you hang around someone else long enough disillusionment sets in and old wounds get activated. At this point you can either choose to work through this baggage together, or jump out of the plane with your own parachute on.


To be fair to him, there were definitely times over the years when he did show up in the relationship in a big way. But by that point neither of us had the skillset, nor the intention, to work through it. It never felt safe to be fully myself in that relationship because he was looking for someone who moves through the world in a lighter way, and that's not me. I feel life intensely, and he views this as a liability, not a superpower. In my own defence I also feel the need to point out here that I am not a total drag to hang around, I am fun and funny in the right company, under the right circumstances. According to a Friendship Quiz that I just did from the New York Times, I am a 'firefly'  I retreat into the darkness to guard my energy, but when I light up I am highly present and connect deeply, and that is a gift to others.


 

A GIFT IS EXCHANGED


Whether it works out or not, with every romantic relationship a gift is exchanged. We lasted several seasons (3-3/4 years to be exact) and he came into my life for a reason. Because from him I learned what it really means to hold space for someone else’s emotions. It does not mean to take them on, or try to fix their pain, or take it personally, or jolly it along. All you really have to do for someone else in crisis is to make them feel safe by showing up in the relationship, listen to them without judgement, and validate what they are feeling even if you don’t agree with them or can’t relate. Especially then.


And if you feel yourself pulling away, pay attention to what is being brought up in you and why. Because often it is your own baggage that’s getting in the way of being able to show up in the relationship, not theirs.


This is all easier said than done though, and sometimes it takes someone else to hold a mirror up to us to see ourselves clearly. Because I don’t think I was any good at creating a safe space for my super-feeler son’s strong emotions when he was young. In fact I know I wasn’t, and I have spent a lot of time beating myself up for all the things I wish I had done differently.


But as a therapist once said to me, a mother who spends all her time beating herself up is no good to anyone, let’s move on, shall we?


It’s taken a lot of pep talks, from a lot of people, over the years for me to have some perspective on it, but I no longer think that I am a terrible mother. I think I am a good enough mother who did the best she could with what she knew at the time. And now that I know better, I’m doing better. I'm not perfect, I mess up often and I can be very short on patience, especially when I haven't been taking care of myself properly. But progress, not perfection, is the new mantra.


 

THE CROOKED PATH TO FINDING MY GREAT BIG LOVE


When my boyfriend broke up with me he told me that he hadn't seen any change in me, "not even a little bit" in the almost four years that he'd known me. That felt fundamentally false on a very deep level. So I replied with my own truth; I told him that I'm sorry he didn't see any change in me, but I had changed, I felt it on the inside.


It occurs to me now that personal growth is a solitary journey with no roadmap or destination. There’s just yourself and the road you are travelling on, and like a caterpillar in a cocoon no one is bearing witness to your inner transformation until you molt out of your chrysalis, spread your wings, and fly away.


Every time I have to pivot and rebuild my life on my own I feel more like myself and more sure of what I want out of my one precious life. After two decades, and three houses, I know that I am finally on the crooked path to wholeness, but ironically it is because of all of the difficult detours along my way.


Because there’s one thing I know for sure: If you lean into the pain, grief and growth are inextricably linked.


It would be nice to find my Great Big Love, someone who loves all of me, not just the easy, fun parts to love, but the sad, messy, vulnerable ones too. But lately it occurs to me that this is the wrong thing to be focusing my energy on.


Because by shining a spotlight on a mythical person that remains elusive, then it will always feel like something is missing — a ghost-like hole in my life. It is also way too much pressure to put onto just one person. Instead I'm going to focus on having a Great Big Life.


And if I pull back the focus then I can see that I already have a life full of Great Big Love. I have an awesome family and amazing kids whom I adore. They may be the only people who truly know all of me, the parts of me that I don’t even like, and they still love me back — unconditionally.


I have lots of loyal friends whom I am loyal to in return, and I have already had several Great Big Love’s  —  good men who have loved me to the best of their capacity, and whom I have loved back to the best of mine at the time. Each of them were “The Great Big Love” that I needed during that particular stage of my personal growth; for a season, a reason and a lifetime. Because as I write these words I realize that in spite of the heartache and disappointment, their love has helped me find pieces of myself that have shaped and moulded me into the person I am now, and the person I have yet to become.



And then there is the hardest love of all to navigate: self love. There have been times when I’ve loathed myself, when I have been my own worst critic and allowed myself absolutely no grace whatsoever, especially when it came to motherhood. In my mind I had the battle scars to prove what a lousy mother I was, the evidence was right there in front of me for the world to see after all. But we can't own our children's failures any more than we can own their successes. The best thing we can do for them is to do our own work, allow ourselves some grace, and learn how to love our horrible, rotten selves.


So, after lots of naval gazing, this is where I've landed in my search for my Great Big Love: The only person who is always going to be by my side in life every single, solitary, step of the way, is me. The only person who will never abandon me, is me. So the person I need to have a fervent love affair with next, is me.


I need to become my own Great Big Love.


And I’m finally starting to love myself, perfectly imperfect as I am.


 


"I ran the Blue Nose Marathon to challenge the stories I tell myself and to connect with the strength that I knew was within me. Doubt is natural, it happens to everyone, but I learned that every step of the way I had a choice to make — I could believe what my mind was telling me, or choose to challenge it — this was where my control over the outcome came in."






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