This is my public recovery journal for a little while. I hope it takes both myself and the reader on a useful expedition. A tool of public recovery.
Today I walked down a path from my counsellor’s office to get coffee. Normally there is a coffee caravan near her office, but the owner of that has also, like me, decided to leave town after a long time here in Alice Springs.
The only nearest coffee is MacDonald’s, which this time of year is filled with travellers. I’m not partial to a packed MacDonald’s, but I put on my brave face and head down the road.
The ice-cold wind, which dropped the temperature from 11 degrees Celsius to around 5 degrees, blew directly into my face. I enjoyed it, the crisp desert winter air. I felt the pang of sadness again.
The sadness I feel at leaving my desert home of most of the last 13 years (I did go away for three years). Last time I left I felt nothing, this time I feel this sadness keenly.
Part of this journey recently has been the reflection that I have become more reclusive than I needed to.
As an Aspie I am very easily led. Not on matters of politics and social justice – that is my special interest and I will doggedly stay on track there (perhaps even to my own detriment). But I am very susceptible to other people’s idea of fun and I often neglect my own interests for the interests of whoever has influence in my life at a point in time. Rather than deal with this I have chosen to hide in recent times.
Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. Hiding can be a useful tool when you need to recover or rest or reflect. But what is better for me is actively reflecting on who to hang out with and why and then getting back out there. Wherever “there” is (funny expression “get back out there”?).
I stand in Maccas and make my order at the café, just for a latte and an iced lemonade. I get the lemonade because I can tell the coffee is going to be a while and I’m thirsty.
It’s super busy for Alice Springs Macca’s reflecting the winter months of June, July and August when we get a decent tourist trade. It’s a funny time to be local. Caravans, campers, 4WD’s with trailers and rooftop tents dominate our relatively old and narrow roadways. There it is…that word “our”. Yes, I think of it as my town. But it’s not my town, just one myself and my family have a long history with.
You can witness visible culture shock as people experience remote life when they visit here. People who think 200km between towns is remote…are suddenly presented with 500km, 600 or more kilometres between towns and literally nothing in between. Some stretches of the Stuart Highway you go 300km with literally nothing to stop at and then there will be a roadhouse and then nothing again for a similar stretch.
Ten minutes later (which is a long time in Alice Springs MacDonald’s) I walk back with my coffee. I have had my fill of people watching tired looking travellers and bored children.
Last time I left Alice Springs, in late December 2012, there wasn’t many in my social circle that had similar interests to my intrinsic interests. Those with the same political interests were there, but those aligned with my “fun” interests, not many. So, work was my focus during that eight-year stint from 2005 – 2012 and was super rewarding but burnt me out. There was not much fun. There was sport, but that was more for survival to assist in the doing remote anthropology fieldwork that saw a lot of trauma and sadness and was physically tough work as well. I had great friends here, but not many that shared my artistic passions.
So, this time, in the last two years in Alice Springs, I have sought out “my people”; performers and artists to hang out with and it’s been wonderful. But my work situation has been shithouse, to be frank (whoever this Frank is, sorry Frank) and my arty life rewarding. I need a balance and I need to shift my career to an art based one. I can be arty and political, in fact they go together.
However, there is this internal struggle that rages inside me about leaving.
Wherever you go in Alice Springs you are reminded of country. It’s all around you. If you are not familiar with the term country – it’s how Aboriginal peoples describe the landscape, but also its energy, it’s lifeforce and the bearer of their traditions, law and culture.
I’ve been very fortunate to see an awesome amount of that country with traditional owners and custodians. That will always be with me. That will always humble me and keep me on the straight and narrow in terms of social justice work in the future.
You cannot hide from country here. You cannot hide from the sweeping eaglehawks and galahs, native pigeons and ring neck parrots. At every turn here is a rock formation or hill or the caterpillar dreaming ranges.
It gives the place an amazing energy. I had someone I was travelling overseas once say to me “but in Sydney have the blue mountains”. Yes, of course, and they are magnificent. But you must drive some distance to see them. You cannot go anywhere here without seeing and feeling country.
I’ll miss that. I’ll miss the people. I will miss the culture. Inside of me lately is the slow shredding of who I once was giving way to who I am becoming. It’s interesting because the who I am becoming feels more like “who I really am” than I have ever felt and that is a strange feeling.
So this morning I spend time with my counsellor, going over the treachery my brain has committed in the last four weeks. I’ve been dragging myself to work, literally replaying an assault experienced at work in my head on mute. It’s on a mute because I was suppressing it, not wanting to deal with it or feel it. I knew that if I did that I would be the mess I was a few weeks ago, when this episode began.
I’ve been masking my trauma, instead of dealing with it. Masking is a powerful thing. I mask because I want to fit in and replay cues from my early life that said I had to fit in. However now, as an adult, I don’t fit in and nor do I want to. Now I have to concentrate on not falling into old patterns of masking again.
However this place and it’s people and vast stretches of the country around it, have taught me who I really am. I am sad to leave, but also immensely grateful for my experiences here. I leave a big part of my heart here.
I know I need to leave to heal and to expand the work in the arts I have begun here.
However, now that I am being more of who I know myself to be, I am not sure where I belong. Maybe it isn’t in one place. And that is something I am beginning to quietly celebrate.
Yes, you read that right.