New memoir recounts childhood of being raised off the grid in Canada's north
Published Tuesday, May 6, 2014 7:11PM EDT
Cea Sunrise Person always had a strange feeling her life was different. Even though she had nothing to compare it to.
Born in California in 1969 to a 16-year-old mother, Person moved to Canada at a very young age with mother and her grandparents -- free-spirited hippies who wanted to live separate from society, surviving off the bare minimum in a teepee in the forest of northern Alberta.
“Until I was five years old, I lived out in the wilderness and I had never even really been to the city,” she said.
Brought up by an eccentric family, Person’s existence as a child was completely free from the conventions of society; she was exposed to sex, drugs and nudity.
Person didn’t know any better than her life in the forest, eating only what her grandfather hunted, and living without electricity, plumbing, or running water.
Nevertheless, Person says she began to crave a normal life, despite not knowing what normal necessarily was.
“I felt like there was something really, really different about me and about the way we lived, and I began to question it. I really wanted a different life from an early age,” she told CTV’s Canada AM.
Now, Person is telling the story of her unconventional childhood -- how she struggled to achieve stability -- in her new memoir, North of Normal.
Person’s young mother often rebelled against her parents’ reclusive lifestyle, taking off with various boyfriends, with Cea in tow.
Sleeping in abandoned farmhouses, witnessing drug deals and seeing her mother have sex in front of her were regular occurrences in Person’s childhood. At age 8, she says one of her mother’s boyfriends molested her.
Quickly learning that her grandparents’ rejection of modern life wasn’t what she wanted, Person understood some drastic steps needed to be taken to transition away from the anti-establishment environment she grew up in.
At age 13 she was discovered by a fashion photographer, setting in motion an international modelling career that she maintained until the age of 31. However, Person couldn’t escape her unusual past and she eventually fell into her own patterns of substance abuse and poor relationships with men.
Person says it is only in recent years that she has reconciled with her tumultuous past, and finally began to feel truly happy.
Years later and now living in Vancouver, Person is grateful for her childhood experiences despite their abnormalities.
Still, she calls her grandparents’ choice to raise a young child in the wilderness “absolutely irresponsible.”
And yet she says she understand where they were coming from.
“My grandparents had a dream that they wanted to follow, and they just didn’t want to let a child get in the way of it, and I understand that. In a way, I’m grateful for it, because it made me who I am today. It gave me a very unique upbringing and a lot of strength.”
Apart from the fact her story is a fascinating tale, Person says she wrote her memoir because she wanted to share her feelings of being an outsider with others.
While Person says how she was raised made her feel “like a freak” once she moved to the city, she “wanted people to understand that they’re not alone if they feel like an outsider, within society or within their own family.”
North of Normal is out now, published by Harper Collins Canada.