Wanderlust 2021: Weeks 3 & 4

Wanderlust 2021: Weeks 3 & 4

Campgrounds: Harbor View, Colonial Beach, VA Chesapeake Bay, Gloucester, VA

Sometimes comfort takes precedence over adventure. Feeling free requires first feeling safe..
On Halloween, we packed up the camper and drove about 1.5 hours south to our next campground, in Gloucester, VA. Going from a cozy campground like Harbor View where everything is a quick walk away to a much larger and busier place felt a little jarring to us all. 
We set up our camper and headed to grab dinner at a cute place in Gloucester Village. The views in this part of VA were just stunning! 

The next day we decided to take a trip to Yorktown, VA (fun fact: this harbor is where the British were surrounded by the combined American and French forces, leaving British General Cornwallis no choice but to surrender, in 1781). 

Much of the day was spent on the fishing pier and also exploring the beach! 

We decided to head back to Harbor View campground in Colonial Beach a few days early because we all missed the comfort there, especially the kind and friendly staff. Somehow, even hundreds of miles away from home, it is possible to find “home” in unexpected places. 

One thing that became apparent to me after the first few times we transitioned to somewhere new was that moving triggered a bout of PTSD symptoms for me. It left me feeling vulnerable, scared and anxious. My therapist helped me to realize that this is my amygdala hijacking the brain. Anytime it is triggered (by moving to a new location for example) my amygdala makes my brain and body believe that I am in danger.
Childhood trauma led to a lack of safety in my younger years. Because of this, my body has what are known as emotional flashbacks, which cause my physical body to feel as if it is back there in childhood, feeling scared and uncertain. Even though modern day Mel is very much safe and secure, my body has this feeling of unsafety trapped inside and whenever triggered those feelings of anxiety, fear and vulnerability kick on full force. Slowly, with lots of work done both on my own and in therapy, I have learned ways to calm my body back down and recognize that she is, indeed, safe and well. And one of those ways I care for my damaged nervous system is by trusting my gut instincts…and my gut told me that I would feel calmer and more peaceful somewhere I felt safe. 
Arriving back to Harbor View really did feel like coming back home. We happily settled back in for 6 days before planned to leave for the Outer Banks of North Carolina. 

The kids had fun fishing for smaller fish (we think maybe pumpkin seed?) at the pond. 

We went to search for fossils and shark teeth at Westmoreland State Park on what was supposed to be our last weekend here in Virginia.

The kids and Brandon loved fossil beach! A less enthusiastic paleontologist in the making, I spent my time trying to keep warm on the beach. 
Our last Saturday in Colonial Beach, we were all really struggling with the idea of leaving for the Outer Banks, me especially. After fighting so hard to find a feeling of comfort and safety after some really hard days with my PTSD, I was scared to move again and disrupt the calm I had fought so hard for. When I awoke Sunday morning (day before departure) to some weather advisories for wind and coastal flooding at the campground we were planning to stay at, I took it as a sign. We put it to a vote and a unanimous 4 person vote made the decision to stay put in Colonial Beach. I felt baptized with relief but I also felt a little bit of shame about this choice, feeling like I sold out and chose comfort over adventure. And then I realized, taking care of myself so that I can feel happy, calm and SAFE was far more beneficial to my children than a trip to somewhere new with a frantic, panicked mama. 

Brandon spoke with the amazing manager, Lisa, to ask her to extend our stay and she was happy to oblige. When I happened to speak with her about it, I broke into tears of gratitude to be able to stay put in a place that truly felt like home on the road. Lisa wrapped me in a big hug while I cried and just made me feel so validated and loved. Living with such intense emotions and learning to honor my feelings in my recovery has been so challenging, in a world that often shames any showing of emotion at all. Lisa met my emotion with kindness and acceptance, and it truly made all the difference in the world. 
The choice to stay was the right one, even if at first I felt a bit of shame for choosing safety instead of adventure. But it dawned on me…finding safety was the whole reason I left Chicopee. As much as I have tried to document this trip as a big adventure across the East coast, I was quietly reminded of what this trip actually was: a way to remove myself from a place that no longer felt safe and beneficial for me and my mental health. Years of bad memories, pain and trauma that I cannot outrun. But somehow, being in a new place with less triggers created a chance for me to move forward. Even on the hardest days, I know I faced my biggest fear dead on: I left Chicopee in search of a new journey, in search of peace, meaning, transformation. But mostly: I left because I could not continue to stay in a place that held so much pain. I needed a fresh start. And this trip, this adventure into the unknown, has given me that opportunity. 
 Once I showed myself enough kindness and compassion to truly begin to understand that this journey to create my own sense of safety and comfort, this was the work. Learning to create safety for myself over and over again…that is the work of trauma recovery. And I am doing it, one day at a time. 
Our final week has been spent doing a lot of resting and relaxing. A few afternoons at Colonial Beach brought my heart so much joy. This place truly is so incredible. 

I also decided to teach myself how to crochet, something I have wanted to learn for awhile now as it was my vovó Gracinda’s favorite hobby. She tried multiple times to teach me as a young girl but it never stuck. I am proud to say that after a bit of trial and error, I think I’m getting the hang of it!! 

We spent all afternoon on Wednesday at the beach. The kids and Brandon searched for shells and did some fishing and I worked on my crochet and took in all the sites and sounds. We stayed all the way until sunset, and it’s a good thing we did…

Today (Sunday) is our last day here. We have all been counting down the days until we leave to head back to MA and close on our dream home at the end of this week. I’m overjoyed to be able to head back to the place I love more than anywhere else in the world, my home state of Massachusetts, and in many ways start again. But a part of my heart, and my home, will always be here in Colonial Beach. This place that kept me safe and wrapped in love when I really needed it most. I know it’s not the end; rather, it’s a new beginning. And in this new beginning I give myself permission to feel all the feelings, both pleasant and not so pleasant. I allow myself to hold space for the bitter sweetness of leaving this beautiful place behind, while also feeling joy at the thought of going home. 
My therapist reminded me this week that it is often hard to find the full meaning of something until we are able to look at the situation with hindsight. I am sure the meaning of this trip and this time in my life will continue to develop as I learn more about myself over the next several months. But one thing is certain…the highlight of this adventure for me was found in a quiet coastal town…a place that will always hold a very special place in my heart. 
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