Departing a rudderless sea to save myself

Departing a rudderless sea to save myself

Departing a rudderless sea to save myself

When young, I never imagined the world had a plan of its own. I was only aware of my existence and those close to me, never questioning there was choice between how, where, what or why anything may happen and how I was expected to manage the external world when it started to penetrate my sphere.

In a world that moves quickly, I have often struggled to stay ahead and anticipate what may be required of me. The ocean has always been the one place I can sit in silence and stare, appreciating the greatness of the world. There is water as far as my eyes can see. Within the vision of possibility, I know there are boats and swimmers, and in the depths, coral and a multitude of nature’s sea life.

The magnificence of a vessel in the distance, slowly gliding across still water, disturbing nothing as the ocean is its place to be, is a gift to witness. I assume that the vessel has a direction and people onboard are at peace, trusting the captain with their ultimate destination.

The day I met Peter, something changed within my world, and I was prepared to open my mind to opportunities. I trusted him and he quickly became my anchor in all weathers. After years of drifting aimlessly alone, he was someone to stand shoulder to shoulder with, and suddenly I believed the world had beauty I had never been brave enough to explore.

It was easy to leave life as I knew it, marry Peter and board his ship. We found our comfort zone within each other and, with this, felt safer to take risks.

Peter made me smile, we laughed a lot, and he always put me first. Peter was the only person who saw and understood how broken my childhood had left me as his childhood experience and pain was reflective of mine.

Our ship was built to take us on our joint life adventure, and we boarded with childish and naïve glee. Our ship was sturdy, sea safe, and built to survive the rough elements of nature. We packed supplies that we would need and together anticipated days, weeks and even years of smooth sailing, warm sunshine and the feel of wind and water while we dipped our feet into the water, determined to build our life together.

Perhaps ignorance is bliss as I was sure I knew right from wrong. I wanted to learn new things, be inspired to question right from wrong and challenge the world as we sailed through foreign seas. We knew, even with obstacles, time was right for the two of us and we planned to build our family as we sailed wherever the seas wanted us to be.

I thought we had life worked out, but unforeseen events rose out of the murky dark water one night, holding reign and hijacking our life. There was no light, simply the shadows of a sea witch, casting an evil spell. Treacherous weather and rough seas tore our ship apart and clinging to the boat seemed my only option. My lack of understanding of how dangerously this evening would end meant I was no match for the power of the ocean.

I am no longer young and the assumption I can glide throughout life without determining my direction, has been misleading and harmful. I forgot I was not in control. While willing to take risks, I would never choose to sail alone.

A ship without a captain runs risk of moving aimlessly through the days and the foggy nights with no hope of reaching a destination. Such a ship leaves many challenges in the wake of its silent and meaningless search for direction.

The day Peter died I took the wheel of our vessel and was expected to sail smoothly and effectively. Not once did anyone ask if I needed help and by the time everyone’s tears had dried, I was embarrassed to tell loved ones I did not know how to sail or swim.

For decades I have spent my days standing on the deck, my eyes peeled for land yet knowing, even if I sighted it, I would not know how to steer the ship in the right direction.

I often wish the ocean would exist without water as I have no idea how long I can last on this journey when my only options are to sink or to swim. Every time I close my eyes, I can feel the gently sway of the water and am reminded I am the only one out here who does not know how to set my course.

I once read the ocean has a middle point, called “Point Nemo” marking the centre of a bottomless void. If my boat drifts too close, I imagine I will be caught in a whirlpool as the water circles this endless space, like being sucked down a drain.

The need to survive while wanting to die means I have spent years navigating away from this place dark place. My job, as mother of our children, has been to keep sailing, no matter the personal cost. I have spent hours scanning the horizon, seeing nothing. Tears pour down my cheeks, but I no longer recognise them as mine as they are mixed with the salty sea spray coming over the sides of the boat, drenching my body, my mind and hope.

The day comes when I am tired of being at the mercy of the elements. For years I have drifted and never asked for help. There is food on the boat, enough to survive, but after dealing with the sun burning down on me each day and clutching the hull each night as the winds turn the water choppy, I am sapped of hope. Rescue seems impossible, and each day is spent waiting for the clock to tick over to mark the end of another day. Each hour is an o’clock, holding no meaning other than the need to eat just enough to stay alive.

I feel compelled to stay with the ship despite feeling it slowly sink. The saying that a captain goes down with his ship haunts me as I know I am the only one with the power to learn new skills.

To nurture, to nourish, these are such foreign words, but they give me strength to think in a different way and set my own course. I boarded this boat for adventure and love. I have remained onboard, based on fear and perceived comfort, but I do not have to remain rudderless and exhausted, just waiting to die based on my past. My life has been extraordinary and does not have to stop now.

The sea may be rough, and I will have to learn to swim to avoid wasting away by staying onboard.

I start to think of possibilities. I look forward and think perhaps there is land but fear it may be a mirage. I don a lifejacket and step off the stern, not looking backwards at the magnitude of the loss behind me. I paddle with my arms, doing anything I can to stay afloat and cease this passive wait to go down with the ship. Risking all I know, I strike out in the waves, pushing against my fear and perceived safety.

I have no idea if I will sink or learn to swim. The risks are many, but I am making a move. No more floating endlessly waiting to be rescued. Submerged in the water, I am hopeful of sighting and landing safely ashore. There, I know, I can heal, recover, and grow.

As a mother of four children and a maladaptive coping mechanism of a severe and enduring eating disorder, life continues to throw challenges my way.

With my family grown,  I am taking time to reflect on my values and learning to live true to myself.

For more than three decades, an eating disorder gave me a place to hide from the trauma of my past. Only now, I am discovering the trauma of my past does not have to continue to injure me each day.

To reach out to others, sharing my writing, my skills, hard-won experience and trauma recovery, allows me to create change in myself as well as support others. On the days I am paralysed between denial and perfection, I just need to take the right next step.

I am no longer addicted to thinking at the expense of feeling. I have discovered my own form of mindfulness, that of painting pebbles. Coming from a transactional world, I needed to know that pebble painting would have value for others and soon realized that painting pebbles was healing for me, too. In helping others, I am helping myself.

The pebbles have shown I am not alone. I can help others. Others can help me.

Pebble-painting allows me to give voice to the battles and fears that lie within. Today I am connecting with others and my authentic self. For details, go to



Instagram: pebbles4urthoughts


2 Responses

  1. Dear Karen,
    Thank you for sharing your story of life on the vicious seas. Paddling in the tiny ripples on the shore or out in the darkness searching always for some sort of light house to guide you away from danger or even a life raft to climb onto with hope you will be found. I can relate to your ocean. I feel for you. I also know that there is a place that’s safe for you to heal not only the outside but the inside as well. I don’t think you can swim safely without both of they go together. Keep Writing. Writing saved me and was huge for me to get to where l am now. Still working hard to stay afloat, but have gathered many things l need to steer the boat in the direction that is right for me. Keep trusting, keep believing. Stay safe. You are an inspiration. From Karyn

    • Dear Karyn, I’m sure Karen, and readers everywhere, will be buoyed by your words. You are so right – we need to heal from the inside and the outside, and by reaching out and bravely accepting the help and guidance that is right for us, we can steer our boat (our life) on calm and beautiful seas.

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