A week of healing, helping and development of hope.
Five rain sodden and mist filled days on the Devon moors in South West England and one hundred people.
Twenty workshops and live music at night in the big white tent. Rolling fog and banks of clouds may have descended but could not dim the light we lit with our sharing and collective positivity.
Last year we had a camp in central Scotland and, to our amazement, five scorchingly hot summer days. We decided to head South in anticipation of guaranteed good weather (woops) and to bring to England some of the benefits and excitements of a recovery camp.
Folk travelled here from far and wide, all to be met by myself and a team of elders, tasked with welcoming new arrivals and guiding them around the site, helping them settle in.
What is it about camping out in nature that enhances friendships and a feeling of positivity? How is it that international "strangers" can bond slowly over days, form new friendships, help one another with problems and also work on their own individual recovery journeys?
That is what we were here to do. As Percy the Peacock greeted each new day with his piercing calls, perched on high up in his tree, we emerged from tents, camper vans and bunk houses, rubbing our eyes, and soon the smell of newly brewed morning coffee wafted through the air and across the fields.
Ron Coleman and Karen Taylor of Working to Recovery had a great idea.
Bring people out of their "normal" environments and to a stunning beauty spot, deep in the bosom of nature. Add in a team of inspiring speakers, workshop fascilitators, presenters and awareness raisers, all involved in actual recovery practice and see what might happen. Good food, live music and healing and relaxing activities were added to the mix.
We had such diverse choices for the week and often, it was like being at a music festival and having favourite bands playing on different stages at the same time!
"Safely getting off psych meds", " Reframing vulnerability", "Getting out of the Illness Trap".
We had sessions of Chi Gong, meditation, and mandala workshops.
"Five ways to Wellbeing", and others I have missed out on remembering. We shared narrative and storytelling sessions, late night campfire chats and games, walks on the misty moors and on the final night, a "Mad Pride" big tent event to help celebrate diversity and differences and let our collective hair down and where folk, often quite shy on their arrival, sang beautiful songs, rapped street poems, recited poems and even expertly played banjos. There was a hidden pool of creative talent lurking in our congregation for sure.
We had some top class conjuring tricks, performed by the amazing Jim Campbell, who worked so hard behind the scenes in helping to organise and pull this circus of possibilities together. Thanks Jim.
Marius Romme and Sondra Escher, such huge inspirations to all who wish to work in positive ways with voice hearing, attended. Glen Roberts and James Wooldridge represented Recovery Devon and helped welcome us to their beautiful county with talks and sharings of personal experience. The ups and downs of life, hard times and successes, the mosaic of temporary madness that sometimes affects us. All very inspiring.
The morning big tent meetings celebrated the previous days` endeavours and laid out the coming days`choices as well as providing a chance for checking in with everyone..
What was working well and what wasn´t? Who was doing fine and who felt they needed some help? There were always volunteers on hand to offer support and lots of lived experience in those who were present that could be called upon when needed.
Just like last year, we co- created a healing wheel, one with many spokes and the hub the stunning countryside itself. It was beautiful to see, as days went by, the growth of confidence and self belief as strangers from many lands got to know one another and became friends. Many stories were shared, of highs and lows, dramas and tragedies, comedies and farces and all of us had something in common, a desire to share ideas on recovery and to encourage ourselves and others to live more fully.
A wish to have more personal ownership of the lived experience and a determination to be able to do more in managing and maintaining better mental health in the weeks, months and years ahead.
My own role kept me very busy, often I was last to my bed and first person awake.
(let´s face it, who could really sleep in when Percy decides to greet the dawn in his inimitable style?) I didn´t know these birds call call so loudly and so regularly.
Along with others, I gave a couple of talks, the first, of famous voice hearers who changed our world and then a lecture on sacred geometry and the power of pyramids.
I spoke with folk who needed a little time or an ear to listen and cooked a huge vegetable curry in the mens` bunkhouse which was enjoyed by many, including the adjacent girls who, on smelling the sweet aromas drifting down the hallway, turned up and knocked the door, holding paper plates and bowls to ask, like Oliver Twist, for a serving and then back again to ask for even more!
I was asked to give a final Zen blessing to the camp and was honoured to end our week together with a short speech to send us all on with the lamps of hope and possibility lit and taken with us to our respective countries, continents and homes.
It was so nice to meet with people who came to last years`Scotland camp and made the journey south to reconvene. Lovely also to work with an amazing team of "elders", who, frankly, never stopped working and did everything and anything that was asked of them. Hats off to you all, you led by example.
I got to hang out and chat with folk from Thrive in Edinburgh who do great work and spent a happy fireside late night hour sharing tales of my travels and cosmic misadventures with Kermit Cole from "Mad in America" and am now asked to blog for that brilliant and provocative website in the coming weeks and months.
We are here to serve! The team of Elders at Recovery Camp 2016
Ron, Marius, Sondra and Luc leading from the front
Bluegrass boys with a slice of saucy Devon humour.
We had locally based holistic healing Angels on site too.
Reiki, massage and even Gong baths which all proved very popular. Below is a mass "bathing" in action and a very powerful experience for realigning and relaxing our energies. Thank you ladies!
My own takeaway on these camps? They work.
When folk come together, discard unhelpful and stigmatising labels and self limiting ideas, venture into a new space, meet others who treat them as equals in the game of life and share what has worked for them in recovering good mental health, something special happens that cannot happen in the same way in institutional settings mired in institutional thinking.
Recovery becomes more than just a word on a hospital document, more than a concept considered hard to achieve by folk who rarely witness it in their own daily practice.
It becomes a reality and that, dear friends, is the power of the Healing Wheel. See you next time around!
Activist/ Health worker/ 20 years. Specific interests : wellness/ voice hearing/ coping/ exploring/ sharing/ stigma reduction.