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Wild child shares tale of survival

Memoir highlights early life spent in the wilderness off the grid

When asked how she feels about the great outdoors, Cea Sunrise Person lets out a hearty laugh.

"Oh my God, I'm so over it. I mean we've gone camping a couple of times (in recent years), but oh man, it's so not my thing," she says.

Person spent the bulk of the first decade of her life completely off the grid in the wilds of Western Canada, sheltered from the elements by mere canvas teepees. Under the loving, yet lackadaisical, supervision of her hippie grandparents, aunts and teenage mother - proponents of free love, recreational drug use and generally having a good time - the close family unit lived hand to mouth and found themselves in more than one life-threatening situation.

As Person grew older, she came to realize her wilderness existence could not be described as "normal" and increasingly yearned for something more. However, the path she chose, a career as an international model that she embarked on at age 13, was rife with its own challenges.

Looking back on her journey, Person, now a happily married, 44-yearold West Vancouver mother of three, is proud to have finally found the life and happiness she long craved. Interested in serving as a source of inspiration, as well as to provide a sense of comfort to others who may feel like outsiders in their

respective lives, she put her story to paper in a new book, her first, entitled North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Counterculture Family and How I Survived Both.

"I worked for six years on the book so it was a long time coming and there were a lot of times when I wasn't sure if it would ever see the light of day.. .. I feel really, really happy and grateful and blessed," she says.

North of Normal offers an honest and raw look into Person and her family's past.

"When I was growing up and until I was probably in my mid-20s, I didn't share my past with many people at all. If I did, it was just the bare minimum details. I was very ashamed of my past and very haunted by it still and sort of living out the consequences of what I'd been through," she says.

It wasn't until age 37 when she was immersed in yet another challenging period - her grandfather had just passed away and her mother was dying of cancer, her marriage was ending, she was struggling financially, her swimwear company was floundering, and she was a new mom - that she felt it was time to open up.

"My life was falling apart and I sort of felt like I didn't have much more to lose. So I thought, you know what? I'm going to write the story and maybe it will be the thing that will heal me and

then in turn help heal other people who may be going through something similar," she says.

For the book, Person drew on her own memories, as well as stories shared by family members over the years. "I did get a lot of information from my mother before she died. I told her I was writing the story and she was excited about that," says Person.

Despite the hardship faced as the result of her unique childhood, Person has come to a place of acceptance, and is grateful for its impact on who she is today.

"It's taken a very long time. In my 20s and even well into my 30s, I was angry. I blamed my family for everything that might be wrong in my own life. It took a long time to take some personal responsibility and to discover that I didn't

want to carry anger around anymore and also, no matter what had happened in my past, as an adult you have to reach a point where you say OK this is my life now and I can't go on blaming my parents. You've got to find a way to work through it, whether you go to therapy, or go to India for a year, whatever you do, you need to just deal with it and move on."

Person says she made a conscious decision to do so and it was incredibly freeing. "I realized that it was up to me to create the next chapter of my life and it had to be completely different," she says.

A mom to three children under the age of nine, Person often reflects on the stark contrast between their upbringings. "When I think of the difference between their lives and my life at that time, it's almost impossible for me to fathom," she says. "But it's the opposite extreme you know because I worry about them not having enough challenge in their life to make them resilient. I don't want them to grow up thinking that West Vancouver is the world, that's not the way the rest of the world is. So we try to keep their eyes open in a lot of ways."

Person is currently writing a second book, another memoir, but this time focused more on her adult years.

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