A few years ago my husband and I took our 2 children to Turkey. We couldn’t afford it. After a couple of layoffs and a few cross country moves we were still in recovery mode, financial and otherwise. But my friend had been inviting us to spend the summer there with her family every year since our son was in 3rd grade. Of course, each year there was always a really good reason not to go and “maybe next year” became my constant refrain. But for some reason when she asked that 7th time I paused, and thought, he’s is in high school–if not now, when? So after minimal reflection and some emotion based rationalization we blithely tossed our “financial plan” aside and bought four tickets to Turkey.
The trip itself was sublime, truly a trip of a lifetime. The history, culture, food, geography, art and people, especially the people, were a revelation to us all. It was a stopped moment of time for our family when everything was good and whole- not perfect but whole. And now, years later it has become a delineating moment as well. My life now is separated into “before Turkey” and “after Turkey” for reasons that have nothing to do with the trip itself.
Shortly after that idyllic summer our lives unraveled. My son emerged with an anxiety disorder that became complicated with depression that morphed into bi-polar. While we were scrambling to keep up with the changing diagnosis and initiating treatment and protecting/supporting/informing our middle school daughter, our son was falling into the abyss of self-medication, self-harm, and disordered eating. The prognosis was horrible, we were devastated, life was over. Except it wasn’t. We are over a year into recovery now. He has his own recovery, of course, but we, as a family, are in recovery as well. It’s been a bumpy ride with lots of highs and lows along the way, ditches and tar pits along with a fair amount of beautiful vistas and peaceful overlooks.
Recently during a Giginon meeting I talked about buying trip insurance and bemoaned that life in general and parenting in particular doesn’t come with trip insurance (whining is generally encouraged in these meetings). And then, the more I thought about it, I realized that it does, kinda. Turkey was our trip insurance. It was capturing a moment of joy in an uncertain world and being able to look back on it with gratitude and hope. Saying yes to creating joy even in chaos and pain makes me resilient, more secure in my journey, able to breathe. When a recent trip to Ireland was cancelled because our son hit a bump in his recovery, it was sustaining to look back on Turkey and realize that we had that moment and can create more.
Choosing to capture joy and live in this moment is trip insurance for life. But it’s not easy and it’s not cheap–emotionally or financially you have to pay for it (although it doesn’t have to be four tickets to Turkey expensive). Whether it’s a decision to put anger aside, admit you’re wrong, ask for a hug, or throw caution to the wind and say yes, trip insurance is choosing to live now even when we don’t know where we will come up with the resources, external or internal, to survive. For me it’s equal parts saying yes to good things and working really hard to find peace and gratitude while in the emergency room with my son. It is laughing with my daughter even though we are both beaten down and tired. Sometimes I manage it pretty well, sometimes not at all. And I’m good with that. Recovery is as banal as it is agonizing, it’s a long term, lifetime of work and I won’t always, or even often, get it right. But there are things I can learn, and stuff I can share that makes it worth it– you know, kind of like life in general.
In the end, we shouldn’t have canceled our trip to Ireland. By the time the date of our cancelled trip came around my son was in a good place and stable for the moment. Recovery being what it is we should have just trusted we would do our best to make the trip, but if the time came and we couldn’t get on the plane that would be okay too. But just like parenting, there is no manual on how to negotiate a trauma like ours, or yours, or anybody else’s. You’re just expected to pick it up on the fly, learn as you go. So now I know, and only a little late. On the bright side, we just bought tickets to Mexico and the trip insurance for them was only 40 bucks!