Language is breath. Its inspiration, a hunger. Its release, an appeasement of trauma and stress, after years of coping alone. As a child growing up in the seventies, reading and writing offered an imaginative outlet, a vital, addictive escape from a daily, disruptive violence. Home is home; you may not feel safe, but it is the only one you know. One day, at school my teacher questioned me about the bruises on my arms. I was confused, unsure what words I should use. Even at five years old, I knew telling the truth, would not help me. And so I made up a story. I said I had fallen out of a tree. As she smiled, comforting me, I realised how that story had helped me. It made the truth less hurtful, more bearable, less frightening.
That day I learnt an important lesson. I understood how words can be used as a shield to hide behind. It taught me how we each daily construct our own truth or lies. It set a lifelong pattern that was hard to break. Words became my armour. Over time, my own life became invisible. I became insensitive to my own hurts. Hungry for happiness you dissociate. Slowly as you reshape your past, you lose your present. You euthanise your own life.
Language was a survival mechanism. Yet I missed an important truth. Darkness is important. Danger is vital. Learning safe risk as children prepares us for adult life. Dissociation prevents us from valuable lessons. Forever masking hurts, over time you bury your voice with your own words. Trauma locks you inside its loop. There comes a point when you start sinking. And something inside, starts fighting for air.
Slowly as you reshape your past, you lose your present. You euthanise your own life
Everyone needs to turn to someone. I immersed into the wilderness. The silence of the raw landscape and natural elements were immensely comforting. I lived rough. Yet I found solace and kinship. Some days it felt like the mountains were listening. With just the sky, the sea, trees, rocks, birds and wildlife for company I learnt to live beyond social constraints. I started to listen more deeply, to quieten into nature. I gave myself permission to express myself more freely, and to become more instinctive. One night, beside a fire, I watched a tiny bird, a goldcrest. I was moved by its bravery and incredible stamina. Barely the weight of a twenty-pence coin, it had flown from the wilds of Russia, relying on its wits and instinct alone. A month later, in the freezing winter sea, I pushed myself beyond my own limits. It was a turning point. I realised it is never too late. You can feel as if you are in darkness. Yet all it takes is a single shattering breath to turn your life around.
I did not intend to write a book. But suddenly I found myself writing. I felt my whole body was struggling to breathe. I wanted to share my experience of how the natural world can provide when everything else has fallen away.
Some days it felt like the mountains were listening
At first it was difficult to retrieve those painful early experiences, or to access those deeper truths. Poetry was a dissociative foil, masking emotions I needed to uncover. Later, I reconnected with my family. It had been some years. We spoke about childhood. It was difficult but necessary. That night, unable to sleep, it felt like those memories were alive behind my eyes. Fear is incandescent, yet I was able to own those memories and to say out loud, ‘I am not afraid of you.’ The next morning, exhausted, I started to write. And slowly, the words flowed.
My book is a love song to the wilds. Living alone in the wilderness was my inspiration. It taught me to own my deeper deracination. And to finally come home. To fill my heart with love and to breathe deep. It forged my internal fabric differently, and gave me the strength to discover my true voice. Language demands that we show ourselves to others. But sometimes its strongest voice comes of silence.
I Am an Island by Tamsin Calidas (Doubleday) is out in e-book and audiobook on May 7, available to pre-order in hardback
Illustration by Joseph Joyce