This nervous energy grew in to a charge of excitement as the campers filled the front rows, looking up to the crowd to find their family and friends among the sea of faces that filled the seats behind them. With their bursts of laughters and ever-astounding energy, It was hard to believe that just a few minutes ago we were all huddled in closing circle, crying (or at least I was) as we shared moments and memories from the past week that will not be soon forgotten.
Soon, the lights would dim, the curtains would part, and the first band would take the stage.
If you are not familiar with the Girls Rock movement or similar camps taking place across the country and beyond, please take a minute to watch this video. My words alone really can't do it justice.
For one, I had the chance to play in a band for the first time in my life (Rugburn tape release date TBD!!!), even learning a bit of an instrument I never before held. You really cannot assign a value to the feeling of hearing your own noise amplified for the first time in front of a room of people ready to support you no matter how poorly you end up playing. (Though we actually did pretty well if I do say so myself)
It also kept me in check as an educator to the reality of so many students. Kids whose own families deny their identity, kids who have faced more struggles than I can imagine, kids who often feel like they have no place in the world, all found at least a week of salvation through art and music. At times, it was heartbreaking. At times, it was the most empowering, eye-opening and inspiring process I have ever had the privilege to be a part of.
Though there are many moments that touched me in ways I cannot even begin to articulate, I would like to share a moment that best summarized the power and magic of GRC in the context of my life:
(TW: eating disorder and behavior mentions)
I have always been relatively open about my past with mental health/trauma struggles. The more experience I gain working with young people, the more I realize the importance of my transparency and honesty so that these issues do not remain stigmatized. I want to help build a world where asking for help is not as scary as it was for me when I was younger.
However, I still love to tell people I don't have an eating disorder anymore. For one, it helps me avoid the whole "you don't look like you have an eating disorder!" bullshit and all of the other ridiculous responses people have that they think are helpful. It also allows me to convince myself that I don't have an eating disorder anymore, which is a hard thing to do when you're still throwing up 5 times a day.
For a few years now, I had kind of accepted that recovery was not really attainable, and I became complacent with where I was in my addictions and behaviors. After all, I was extremely functional. As an excellent student, dedicated artist and friend, I didn't really see my behaviors as disruptive and destructive as they had been in the past. Therapy and groups were just a place to be; I was not fully committed to actually getting better.
Then, I got in to Harvard, I started student teaching, and I was finding myself getting more involved with a scene of creative, intelligent and accepting people where I could see myself really connecting. But I felt nothing. All of these amazing, incredible things were happening, and I felt no joy, no excitement; nothing but the deafening numbness that was a result of years of self-abuse and self-destruction.
So early in the summer, desperate to find myself again, I started what feels like my 300th round of treatment. But by the time GRC came around, I had fallen in to the patterns of complacency again, realizing that the 12 hours of treatment a week and my own efforts were not going to do it. My therapist once again proposed partial hospitalization, and I once again said no way. I was getting ready to discharge from treatment and forget about recovery again.
The Friday before the GRC final showcase, and my last day of treatment, we held an open mic for the campers (and volunteers) to share some talents outside of what they had been working on in band practice. It was amazing. From original songs and poems to kids PLAYING THE GUITAR BEHIND THEIR BACK, to a My Chemical Romance cover band performance - I was once again stunned by the talent and creativity these young people had.
One of the last few campers to share was one of the youngest at the innocent age of twelve. She stood at the front of the room, visibly (and understandably so) nervous, with shaking legs and a slight hesitation in her voice. She was going to read a poem.
"I have these legs...",
Her voice grew louder and stronger with each line, and eventually she was not reading off the paper she brought to the front with her. She spoke about her desire to run until there was no breath in her lungs or weight on her stomach, her urge to pinch the skin around her fingers until they appeared bony and slender, her wish to disappear in to thin air. But then she spoke on the strength she had found during camp - how her legs could do so much more than run away and how the width of her fingers were what helped her play the guitar.
I didn't realize I was crying until another camper awkwardly patted me on the back and asked if I was ok. I wasn't ok - my heart was broken. Even though body image is not necessarily the largest influence on my eating disorder now, it undeniably played a part in its origin. So to think that this incredible, inspiring girl who I had watched grown over the week could potentially find herself ten years later with her own addictions, shook me to my core.
This was the one moment that finally got through to me. I was pretending to be this brave role model and advocate, but thats all I was doing - pretending. The fact that I could not look this girl in the eye and say "it will get better", and truly mean it from experience, broke me.
I ducked out of the room, wiped my tears, and stepped outside to call my boss to quit my job.
The next week, I started partial hospitalization, a journey that is a whole other post for another day. I am currently typing this in the kitchen of the recovery community housing where I am staying until my new lease starts. Less than four months ago, the thought of mandated meal times, assigned life coaches (certified babysitters, as I call them), and a 10pm curfew would have sent me running. But for the first time, I am committed, and I am getting better. And I truly do owe it to that young woman, and the power and magic of Grrrls Rock Columbus that gave us both strength.
If you're still reading - wow, and I'm sorry but the sappy stuff isn't over yet. Everything in this amazing experience could not have been possible without the incredible volunteers and organizers who made this all possible. From arranging food for staff and campers, to booking the lunchtime concert bands, to planning workshops, managing sound equipment and handling all of the wonderful surprises that come from working with young people - the group of people working with campers and behind the scenes are some of the most amazing individuals I will ever meet.
I made some amazing friends, learned so much from their expertise (shout out to Julia for being so patient when I had no idea how to plug in the most basic equipment), and was empowered in a way that no other experience could match. As an educator, I have reevaluated the kinds of spaces I hope to create and the kinds of environments I can see myself working in. The power of working with a group of like-minded, yet incredibly diverse and unique individuals is not to be underestimated.
Below are just a few of the amazing teachers, musicians, DIY experts and friends that I had the privilege of working with this summer. Thank you all, and thank you Grrrls Rock Columbus for the summer of magic and the many life lessons I will take from it.