The Sea Saved Me From Myself

Without the sea, I’m a total mess.

Eight years ago I made this Caribbean-style dress. It’s forest green with fringe and neon beads. At the time, I was living on a 26 ft. sailboat in Jamaica Bay. The boat didn’t belong to me. I don’t even remember her name. I will call her No Name. No Name’s head /toilet was a bucket and there was barely a galley / kitchen. Her settees and v-berth were covered in indigo blue. She smelled like sea grass and crabs. I wish I could tell you about No Name’s sails, but she never left the slip.

JFK airport was just across the water. Planes were always coming and going. Flying low and loud. I couldn’t help but think of all the faces moving through the clouds.

Back then I was bartending at this joint called Bungalow Bar. The bar was 40-some-odd blocks southwest of the marina. On the same side of the water. It had a little dock that was falling apart. I kept a 13 ft. yellow sunfish tied to the side of No Name and I would sail the sunfish to and fro work. From boat to boat to dock to bar and back again. Her sail looked like the sunset and she was all mine. I called her Queequeg.

I named her after my favorite scene in Moby Dick, the one where Queequeg is unconsciously cuddling Ishmael in bed. That part of the book always illustrated to me the human need for physical touch. Without touch our skin grows hungry. Without touch our immune system weakens. Without touch our heads are depressed. Without touch our hearts are spooky. Without touch we might as well be 6 feet under- dead- with dirt piled high and crows flying over.

At that time, I had touch, but it wasn’t safe. And touch that isn’t safe is worse than no touch at all. He was a captain and he was giant. Next to him I looked nothing but knee-high to a grasshopper. He was insecure. Loved me most when I was down, so he kept me down. And I let him keep me there, because I was insecure too. The damaged part of me drawn to the damaged part of him.

The sea has always been alluring to those who are damaged. Salt is that ancient cure for all our wounds. Inside and out. And water, well what is life without it? It’s essential to our existence.

On nights that I worked, I would set sail at sunset and return home not long before sunrise. The early morning fisherman always cussed me out, because I didn’t have any navigation lights. I was a ghost at the tiller of a tiny ghost ship.

I made the dress on a Sunday. I had worked the night before. I was tired. Tired of a lot of things. Lethargic really. I was with my friend Stefania. In a state of boredom, we bought beads and xxl T-shirts, then went back to No Name. We sat there listening to Alice Coltrane‘s album Transcendence while cutting fringe into the shirts and beading them.

It was then, that I had my first panic attack.?

I remember the scissors in my hands. The sunlight bouncing off of them. My fat fingers woven through their orange handle. I remember thinking how imperfect my dress was. I remember thinking how imperfect my life was. I remember thinking how imperfect I had always been. I was thinking. Thinking too much.

The music started rattling my skull. Coltrane’s harp swelled into a harpoon. Each pluck of a string, plucking out my sorrows. My mind started misfiring. I was trapped in a loop of foul thoughts. Catatonic. I could feel everything, yet I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move. I was drowning! The weight of everything, holding me under and cackling as I struggled for air. The sound of everything, a deafening cacophony. The smell of everything, putrid. Everything, all of it, life, an unbearable curse. I thought, this is death and I’m the freaking devil! ?

In hindsight, I panicked because I kept trying to hold onto so many somethings that were never meant to be held onto in the first place. And those somethings were gulping the life-force out of me. Until finally, there I was, at the state of zero.?

I think it’s hard to let go. I think the need for control, for perfection, for external validation, is what keeps me grasping for all the wrong somethings and pushes me further out of alignment with all the right somethings. ?

I hold on so tightly to anything willing to be held, that I ignore all the signs and turn a thousand ways the wrong direction. Until I’m all twisted and the only signs that exist on my path are indecipherable and illegible. ?

I love sailing because it has taught me to let go of my need for control. I can’t control the wind or the currents or the waves. But I can alter my course, or lower my sails and go slow, or change my position in relation to the seas circumstance, until I feel comfortable and at ease again. The sea has taught me how to love wherever I am and who I am. It has forced me to stay present, to be patient, and to be grateful for each day that I’m alive. It has pushed me to do things that scare the bejesus out of me, and by doing so a strength is gained. Most importantly, it has taught me that for every down there is an up, and that the downs, like a good squall, are fleeting. ?

Now, I can sit still through the rain and stay ecstatic for the coming sun.

Thank you sea, for the lovely new frequency you have given me. Thank you for all of my life-altering expeditions. Thank you for showing me that letting go and following the flow is the essence of life.


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15 Replies to “The Sea Saved Me From Myself”

  1. hi,

    this was a great post on fear and panic attacks. i, too, have been saved by the sea and am forever grateful for that. it was good to get up this morning and recognize a sailing sister.

    take care and have a great day!



    1. Hi Billie! Thanks so much for reading and sharing. This was a hard post for me to write and it is awesome to hear that my experiences in life and lessons from the sea have been felt by others. I hope to catch you somewhere on the water 🙂

  2. I don’t yet have the courage to untie the lines and live the sea life like you. That’s why I come read your post time to time. Keep following that wind.

    1. Hi Kris, thanks so much for reading. Untying the lines is terrifying. I don’t think I was fully ready when I did it, but I am so happy that I did. The rewards are immeasurable. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about prepping for a journey into the blue. x

  3. Your eloquent wording of lifes lessons, many that we all have shared, many that we all are still transgressing through give us breath and courage. Your stories bring me back to my 20s on a sailboat in a harbor with so much growth both internal and external now I wish I had written those moments of becoming and change down but what hit like a hammer was I too had my first panic attack aboard my sailboat, standing on the cabin roof on a primitive cell phone trying to keep the emotional calm with a woman much older than my 27 self who lived far away in another place and time who did not give me the peace and calm I should have been submersed in but rather the opposite. I felt my own heart racing and life feeling completely out of my control…. Was a few years later I learned a word “Boundaries” and took me another 10 years to learn to practice and hold them. My entire life was boat centered, your right about the broken being attracted to the sea, its the one place we are in our element, must be a cancer thing for me, emotional turbulence. Keep sharing your words are therapy, they give a renewed sense of why we are all here and doing what we do, living how we lived and the choices we made during those times of growth… still growing and learning. Thank You

    1. Dave, thank you so much for sharing! I am a Cancer too! I think we were born with more emotions than most for sure haha. I am still working on boundaries as well. I think boundaries take a lot of self-love and self-trust. The more I sail, the more I gain in those arenas. I also think it takes a lot of courage to look at ourselves with open eyes and see what keeps leading us down the dead-end paths and even more courage to turn ourselves around from that path. I keep wondering when the self-work in life is done, but I suppose it never is. It is never too late to write your experiences down. You wrote so vividly and beautifully about your first panic attack above. I hope that you will write more about your past and what you have learned from the sea along the way, because your words are therapy for me too. There is something so comforting about knowing that our experiences in life aren’t singular. It makes the world feel smaller and more welcoming in some way. I hope to catch you on the water somewhere! x

  4. Olivia, I am feeling this post so profoundly. I am resonating on the same frequency and feeling so connected to the sea right now. I’m in Mazunte, Mexico on a silent retreat led by an amazingly wild and free jaguar woman. She is holding us in a space where we are going deep inside to find our true nature, our voices, our power that we so often give up to survive in this world. The sea is healing me deeply, the salt, the magic, her immense beauty. I’m so grateful to know you. Your writing really hits the spot for me. Bless you wild woman, may you be happy and free. Xoxo Cally

  5. Cally! I love you and think of you all the time. I saw that you were in Mexico, but had no idea that you were there for such a profound journey! Wow! I wish I was there running with the wolves with you. I am so grateful that you are with me through this blog and that together we are are letting the salt heal us. I can’t wait to hear more about your experience and hope mother ocean is keeping you all warm and cradling you sweetly through while at the same time feeding you all her awesome power. For me, the hardest thing to be is myself, but each day I am with the sea, I learn how to be unapologetically me. I wish that for you too. Sending you so much love. Can’t wait to howl at the world with you! x

  6. Olivia, Thank you for sharing and filling in the blanks of your past and letting me see how these threads are woven into your journey. Endless hours on the sea let me find the joy in simple things and solitude made me be grateful for good company. I’m bipolar and I am plagued by spiralling thoughts and anxiety so you’re in good company, no explanations necessary I look forward to vicariously sailing with you until I get my next boat.

    1. Michelle! Thank you for sharing and thank you for sharing the sea with me. I always think fondly of your food and our rasta tea parties when I am out there. I hope to one day sail with you again. I love what you said about joy in the simple things and the solitude making you grateful for good company. Couldn’t be truer! Cheers to the sea for washing away our riddled thoughts and getting us back into the right grooves. Sending you so much love and excited to hear about your next boat when you get it. xoxo

  7. Oh OO, this got me right in the guts. Been feeling a lot of those control issues myself lately. Thanks for always being a human nav light 🙂

    1. Colin! Thank you for being my anchor. I couldn’t have gotten Juniper ready for Hawaii without you. Your are my Macgyver always and forever. And you don’t know how many times you have helped me find the light. Love ya endlessly!

  8. Hello, Olivia,
    Who you are I have no idea. I just met Wilderness of Waves an hour or so ago, and your writing, the visible you, astounds me. I will have to go back, if I can, to your beginning on WP, just to see who you were then, however long ago that was.
    I am an old spirit in this lifetime, a free spirit if I may say that about myself, but I have spent my whole life on land–you make me yearn for life on the sea, but it is too late for me for that this go-around.
    If you allow, I shall follow you for awhile. Mayhaps you will lead me to a new discovery. Go with the wind…

    1. Hi Rawgod! Thanks so much for reaching out and for the sweet words. Please follow 🙂 I don’t know if it is ever too late for the sea. There are ways to be there, even if you can’t be the captain of your own helm, you could find someone else to be. Also tons of companies offer experiences upon the sea. If it calls to you, I say go and get our there any way you can! But until then, I will keep writing to you about the salt and the wind. x

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