My boyfriend and I had just broken up, and the best way to describe me was ‘a shit show’. An absolute mess. And amongst all of the crap that you feel when you’re is in the middle of a terrible break up, the most painful to me was a future of… nothing. All I could picture was this gray foggy mist, a completely unknown wall of darkness that lay in front of me.
(If you’re already depressed, then you get the picture. If you’re nodding in agreement, then you’re amongst the best of us that have been through this kind of loss. But hang in with me here, I promise things will look up.)
You see, I thought he was the ticket. The story I told myself was that he was the key to doing all of these wonderful things in my life — he had the motivation and the drive, he had the experience, and he had the equipment to do just about anything. And more importantly, he wasn’t afraid of anything — he’d just get up and go, wildly creating his path as he went.
In fact, he was so much the epitome “all things” to me that I had begun to cling by his side for the last few years. I had transformed, slowly but surely, from his partner to his sidekick. He knew it and I knew it. So now, as I was tasked with facing life without him, I felt like I couldn’t even start to tackle some of the wild fantasies I had for my own journey, things that were just starting to glimmer in my peripheral vision.
You see, the problem is that you can’t be your own sidekick — someone needs to play the lead role to have the job description of “sidekick” open up. I knew that heroic leader could be one of two options: a new man in my life (which I couldn’t even start to fathom) or it could be ME. The feminist in me said, “You don’t need no stinking MAN!”. Which left me with really only one choice: I knew I had to become the heroin of my own life. And I was fucking terrified.
I did two things in this gut-wrenching downturn.
The first: I started seeing a counselor. Regularly, desperately, like it was the only air left in the world. Because it literally was; it was keeping me afloat.
I will write more on this sometime, but I mention it to continue chipping away at the stigma of seeing a therapist. Mine acted as a big sister to give me the healthy emotional insights that no one else could or would. She helped me retrain my thoughts and make sense of my life. And most importantly, she helped me to plan and think ahead – to start to dream about a future that felt joyful and light.
Which brings me to number two: I planned a trip. Just me.
I had never traveled alone, nor had I even considered it as an option. I did everything with another person — at that time, I didn’t even want to go to a restaurant alone (and I know a lot of people that still feel this way!). It felt terrifying, the thought of getting off the plane in a different place having no one else for company. No one to talk with, no one to bounce ideas off of. No one to keep me safe.
But once the glimmer of the idea came into my head, I couldn’t quite let it go. I wanted to travel, I wanted to leave, I wanted some downtime. I wanted to leave my home and my work behind, and do absolutely NOTHING. And I wanted to exit the country.
Mexico — why yes, Mexico sounded particularly good. It was a place I deemed reasonably safe and reasonably close. What a good baby step. I did some simple research (thanks Costco Travel) and closed my eyes tight, and pushed the button to book a last minute trip.
I jumped on my own. I traveled alone.
I will spare you the boring details of this particular vacation. In summary, it looked like this for me: sleep, eat, drink, read, read more, walk on the beach, swim, read again, eat more, go for a stroll, read again. Rather boring if you can imagine. But it wasn’t. It was everything that it was supposed to me.
The thing I didn’t expect to happen was this: with all the quiet, and all the time by myself, my mind stopped yelling 100 different things to me at once. It. FINALLY. shut. up.
My churning, angst-filled mind — you know, the one that had been grieving and panicked for months now — finally quieted in a way that I hadn’t ever experienced before. It was still. I didn’t cry, I didn’t stress about work, I didn’t make plans for my day or try to fit anything in. I just… was.
It’s amazing how much your mind can slow when you’re not thinking about someone else (are they upset?), making a shared agenda (does that timing work for you?), or planning someone else’s needs (is this what do you really want to be doing right now?). For once, it’s all all all about you. And you don’t have to feel guilty about it, because it’s literally. just. you. There’s no other option.
The final result of this trip — the most important piece — was a side effect that I hadn’t even imagined.
On my flight home, high above the US, a list of all the most important things came to me: a “you-better-focus-in-on-this-shit-because-it’s-important-if-you-want-to-live-a-good-life” list. It was like they were being thrown at the plane from the heavens themselves and I was just catching them, like someone trying to add extra beanbags into their juggling hands. I know without a doubt that I was finally able to narrow in on these focus points because my brain had quieted enough in the days that had just passed.
I wished for random and sometimes simple things. But all things that meant something to my life:
- Go to more dance classes.
- Be with Grampa when he dies, and hold his hand.
- Live in a hut on the ocean.
- Be honest and upfront about who you are. Chose people who are safe to be around.
- Nurture friendships that make you feel lighter. Get rid of ones that don’t.
- Name my daughter Libby.
- And about 20 other things…
This was my first of many life lists that I’ve created in the last few years, as I’ve transformed what I’m doing, and how I’m living. These lists have become goals and then realities. But this was the very first list that let me dream of something more, and imagine a different life for myself. A happier life. A life where I was in charge, where I was the hero. For the first time since the sadness had descended in on me, I had actionable steps that I could start living.
That was the start of the grey cloud lifting, the fog of the future turning into a colorful picture that I now call my life. That trip cleared up the space in my mind to dream, to create my own journey, and to start to take action on it.
Take a Solo Trip
So my suggestion is to you, you beautiful girl out there doing you: go on a trip. More specifically, take yourself on a trip. Take yourself on a long extravagant date alone, all by yourself. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a just long weekend away or a month-long adventure. Just go.
Since I went on this first trip, I’ve taken two more, I’ve had multiple friends do the same. Just like exercise or eating healthy, it’s a way to take care of yourself, your mind, and your own well-being.
I realize that to some people, this idea may seem like common sense or a wonderful adventure. But to others (and you know who you are) the prospect of traveling alone sounds terrifying — I know, if you can’t eat at a restaurant, how will you spend 5 days traveling on your own? You, my friend, are just the one that needs to do this most.
But wouldn’t you have more fun with your friends, you ask? I know, a lot of people say that they just don’t enjoy doing things alone. I understand that, but I also call bullshit on it. I can read between the lines — I can see that it’s terrifying to be alone, and it makes you really uncomfortable. Of course, friends and family are fun. But a trip like this is not meant to be only fun. It’s meant to be a reset button, a reclamation of your own life. And it’s hard to do that when you’re attending to everyone else, planning timing and schedules, and thinking about the rest of the people in your group.
I know it’s scary, but being alone is the key here.
Doing things by yourself takes bravery. It says, I am not waiting to start my life to have a significant other, to have best friends in my new town, or to wait for the right lineup of everyone’s schedules to do the things I want to do in my life.
It says: I am living, fully, by and for myself. I am designing the life that I want. I am taking control. And that in itself is incredibly empowering.