I was 21 at the time, and my attempts to break free from mental illness through rebellion from the white suburban culture I had seen as its cause had left me physically and spiritually broken – strapped to a gurney, getting my stomach pumped.
I came to Spring Lake Ranch as a resident in March 2003, following a period of severe depression and drug and alcohol abuse, culminating in a suicide attempt by overdose.
When I arrived at the Ranch, nestled in the Green Mountains, I remember the snow was hip deep, but we wore t-shirts collecting sap in the warm sun, lugging 5-gallon buckets. Coming from two weeks in a psych ward, it was almost a shock to be immersed in that much sensation: to feel my body as substantial in a rich, lived environment, as an interdependent element of so much space and beauty – snow, sun, trees, fur, mountains. The fire at the sugarhouse was an inferno to match my emotions, and stoking it felt like tapping into a simple but powerful metaphor of internal alchemy – using heat to transform, to refine 40 gallons of pure weight into something sweet.
In the year I worked the program at Spring Lake Ranch, I learned to act as part of a team; to cede the reins of control to the group, and to the wondrous vicissitudes of Work Program, while still bringing the best of myself; to focus on the task at hand and still retain some perspective and humor; to tolerate the internal moods, anxieties, and fears that had been too loud to allow me to listen to the people around me; to de-mystify the abstract space in my head by working with my hands; to balance my endeavors in art and music with the “mundane” demands of work and chores. The Ranch offered a space where I could create new “grooves” in my thinking and a lived experience of bodily solidity I could refer myself to later on – connected with senses and environment, able to sleep at night, eating at regular intervals. Those foundational elements I always seemed to devalue, the Ranch gave me an experiential reference point to come back to.
I took these things with me when I went back to school and earned a degree in Theater Performance, worked freelance in theater as everything from actor, to electrician, to stage manager, and earned an MFA in playwriting from Brown University in 2012. Whether performing, or writing plays, or hanging lights, I discovered that I thrived in situations that demanded collaboration and reveled in process. The practice of working with a group to navigate an uncertain set of tasks was an architecture I had come to rely on, a deeply valued tool that I could take with me when collaborating with the committee in my head to navigate this deeply uncertain world.
At age 35 in January 2017, after more than a decade since I was a resident, I rejoined the Ranch community as a House Advisor. During that time back at SLR, I was struck time and again by the sometimes hidden, often messy and contentious, defiantly hopeful work toward individual healing being done in this place. I feel as though I’m seeing the collaboration happening “backstage,” and it mirrors the collaboration that I have in my own head, which mirrors the collaboration happening on each resident advisory team. Each body functions in similar ways as it tries to negotiate with itself: hopes for great things, complains it shouldn’t be this difficult, gets defensive, loses its temper, processes trauma, reminds everyone we’re all on the same team, apologizes, desires to be better, learns from its mistakes, and steps up its game. It reminds me that my favorite part about collaboration is that it takes something that can seem fragmented, even seemingly dysfunctional, and turn it into a thing of grace.
It’s an honor to be a part of that striving, that daily reminder that I am more than the sum of my parts, and so is everything else - and that can be terrifying, and also utterly beautiful.