I remember arriving very early one Monday morning in July, 1995 to start the five-day Survivor’s workshop at South Pacific Private. I was nervous and hopeful at the same time. The movie about a psychiatric hospital, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest- was still embedded in my mind. It did not bode well for what I was about to experience, but I was at rock bottom emotionally and I figured the only way I could go was up.
Thirty years later, give or take, I still remember my five days and nights as a patient at SPP as a highlight of my time on this planet. I was 46 and SPP was only new. I’d been struggling – and failing – all of my life with fitting in with other people. I wanted to find out why and what to do about it. I was hoping my stay in South Pacific Private would work a miracle – I was religious and believed in such things. As soon as I walked in the front door I saw a sign hanging above the reception area: Expect a miracle. Oh boy! Talk about a message from the universe. When I walked under it on my way upstairs to start my personal growth journey, I turned around and saw it said on the other side: You are a miracle. I think I cried then and I am crying as I write this. I now know that was true.
My stay at South Pacific Private was a miracle. Not so much the course I did, called Survivors, which dealt with dysfunctional families and child abuse, but the extended time I spent in an atmosphere of acceptance, safety and love. I can still picture in my mind the lovely lady who brought the finely sliced pieces of melon out for our lunchtime smorgasbord. Her smile lit up the room and her personal warmth thawed out some of the frozenness of patients like me suffering from extreme extended stress. I soon learnt that was the permanent freeze response, a bodily sensation emanating from my CPTSD (Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), which at that point I did not know I had .
After I had climbed the stairs from the entry foyer, I went through a doorway in much the same way Alice did when she fell down the hole into Wonderland. The people were speaking a different language and it took me a while to catch on: ‘false self’, ‘inner child’, ‘better than/less than’. And they were talking about feelings but only seven, of which we had to identify two that each of us was feeling every morning before breakfast. It was hard for me – usually I could not feel any feelings. The best I could do was anger and fear. I never felt joy and did not think I ever had. Or ever would.
There were also lots of people buzzing about, and being a loner, I normally may have felt threatened by this, being surrounded by strangers, but I felt quite at home at SPP. Indeed, it felt much safer than my childhood home and I remember thinking I felt safe for the first time in my entire life. In a psychiatric hospital. And I did not like psychiatrists, having already met a few of them. Go figure.
Prior to my stay, I had been immersed in a then very popular co-dependency program for a couple of years and had heard about SPP and its founders, Lorraine and Bill Wood. They had been to a treatment centre in Arizona, whose program was founded by a woman named Pia Mellody, an expert in the field of addictions and relationships. Her work would be the basis for Lorraine and Bill’s new hospital beside the sea in Sydney. I was immersed in that program for the five days, doing two group sessions every day with Survivors led by an American, Earl Cass. What a life-changing experience that was. I felt like I had travelled halfway around the world psychologically and emotionally by the time I finished. I could even stand up to my perpetrator for a while before I was ground down again. That in itself was a miracle.
What I remember most distinctly about my stay at SPP was that I felt I belonged for the first time in my entire life. Was it any wonder I did not want to leave when the time came for me to do so? I will never forget you, South Pacific Private, and will always remember you with gratitude and love.