Last year, this time…I was carefree in a foreign country, spending my days wrapped up in endless waves, sunny days and soul-searching. Three months in Central America, traveling around, getting to know people and myself. I was in a state of complete serenity and clarity. I was okay with time, with all my needs and wants, and what ifs. I didn’t really have a care in the world, or at least it felt that way. All my bad feelings and stress had magically disappeared to understanding that life doesn’t always go as planned and I was finally okay with that. In fact, I learned to be happy with that. I look around all the people I’ve come to know…. all different types of people, all different languages and all different stories, yet we all had one thing in common- whatever we were running from, didn’t matter anymore. We all shared the same face here, the face of acceptance and contentment in its purest form. There I was, sitting on a beach, miles away from where I’d come from, with all these different kinds of people, all these different kinds of languages and stories- and I’ve never felt more at home.
I’ll never forget the 2 weeks I spent restless in bed, unable to sleep due to nervousness, excitement, curiosity and pure and utter fear of what comes next in my life. Me, someone who never drew inside the lines or took the beaten path booked a 2-week backpacking trip to Costa Rica. It was impulsive, clumsy, erratic and unplanned. I had never backpacked in my life. I had never gone out of the U.S and here I am, approaching this journey I didn’t even do research on. Sure, I did a few things…like look up the culture, anything that might be offensive or dangerous and what things to expect (the basics) but in reality, I went metaphorically blindfolded. The weeks were speeding by and the closer I got, the more nervous I became. What am I doing? I’m so inexperienced, naïve…I don’t think I could go through with this. Overthinking at it’s finest and what I do best. But yet, there I was, at the airport…waving my mother goodbye with a brave face, trying not to cry. “See you in 2 weeks, my baby,“ she said. I walked through the gates and took a deep breath. Neither of us knew then that I wouldn’t see my mom for another 3 months.
I would love to sit here and tell you all about my amazing three-month backpacking trip through Costa Rica and Nicaragua, but that’s a whole different story to tell. To sum it up, I think it’s evident that my trip was great, being that it started off as a 2-week trip with myself being a first-time backpacker and winding up becoming three months long. However, there is a one story about myself I’d like to share for those of you who ever feel lost, broken or not yourself.
One night while in a small town in Costa Rica, I lay awake under the stars sipping on a beer with a damaged girl, who was never sober, purple streaks running through her hair and a cigarette lit between her lips as she tells me her deepest secrets. I didn’t mind. “That’s the thing about people like us, she says, “we’re all running from something. We’re nomadic, we can’t find home anywhere we go because we find homes in people, we lose ourselves and try to find it somewhere else. We are trying to find ourselves, so we run away thinking that’s where we will. So, what are you running from?”
I guess I was running from everything, at least that’s what I said.
But really, I was running away from the one person I needed so badly to find…me.
Three days until I go back home to New York, I fidget with my copy of Wuthering Heights I’ve read countless times as I lay in a hammock under a mango tree in a jungle in Costa Rica. Was it true? Were we all just running from something? I guess I was. It was the first time since I’ve left I had some down time to stop and think about all I’ve experienced in such a short time and it was so close to coming to an end. The anxiety builds up and I find myself wanting a cigarette, so I nibble on the little bit of nails I have, staring off, thinking. After talking and debating with the friends I made, I decided to make the call. How would I word it? “Sorry mom, dad…I’m canceling my flight and I don’t know when I’ll be home?” The idea of going home made my head spin. Don’t get my wrong, I have a great life and family…but there was always something broken in me. My past was finally feeling like a distant memory that couldn’t catch up. Besides, there was so much still to experience, see, and learn. I couldn’t possibly leave just yet. So, just like how the trip started, I acted impulsively and canceled my flight, called my parents and let go of the maps, the what ifs and the insecurities and finally broke free.
It was so incredible, really…to feel so yourself. When you let go of all the things that weigh you down, insecurities, stress, heartbreaks (the list goes on) you’re ready to let yourself become who you’ve been fighting to be. I was in a third-world country without the stresses of daily life, the demands on what I should look like or who I should be. I just was able to be, to feel, to experience, to say yes to things I wouldn’t dare to back home. All of these scary things were no longer scary, but exciting. Every next day was another amazing day. Yes, granted I was in a foreign place, traveling…and every backpacker will vouch and say “believe me, backpacking is hard and it’s not always fun.” THAT IS TRUE. I’ve had really bad days. For example, I was robbed of my phone, while I was sleeping and someone broke into my dorm room. I was nearly kidnapped and forced to buy cocaine and I’ve had to go to court in Nicaragua and testify (not knowing any Spanish at the time) that yes, little old me, American girl was robbed of her precious iPhone, what a pity. Losing my phone sucked, yes. I lost pictures and memories I can’t get back, but honestly I wasn’t that upset. It was scary, yes. But it didn’t make me want to run home. In fact, I was just happy nothing seriously bad happened. And all of my good days were so good that they outweighed the bad ones. Here I was, in a foreign country that suffers from poverty, hunger, basic resources and things we think we need and expect me to feel sorry for myself? No way. I did so much more than get my phone robbed. I hiked mountains, I jumped off cliffs, took mud baths in natural hot springs and I kayaked in volcano craters and learned to surf. I practiced yoga and mindfulness, I learned basic Spanish. I volunteered and built teepees, made friends and lovers. I wasn’t afraid of being myself, of speaking on exactly what I was feeling, saying what I mean and being in touch with my surroundings. I was living in the fullest sense. I was on top of the world. Essentially, it’s not because I was in LALA Land or just having the time of my life- it all boils down to one thing…the point I’m summing up to make. I was happy. And I was finally at a place where I felt I knew who I was and I may not know who I wanted to be, but I knew that it was finally okay and things will unfold the way they’re supposed to…. without my careful planning. I was waking up refreshed and going to bed peacefully. I was more myself than I’ve ever been. I looked in the mirror at my new reflection. It was so freeing to not have to wake up and decipher through clothes and makeup until I felt good enough. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone or be someone I’m not or abide by what society expected of me. You should’ve seen the way my hair adapted to its new surrounding. Golden yellow curls flowed down my back in the most messy, beautiful waves I ever seen my hair be. My hair was a reflection of me, messy and all over the place, but glowing like never before. I finally felt at peace with my life, myself and all the messes I left back home. Getting over deaths of loved ones, breakups, stresses about school and work, everything seemed to be lifted from my shoulders and let go of. I was finally free. I was finally truly me.
When I got back home, I kept up that positive influence running through my veins and keeping me going, until one day…it just stopped. Life, real life I guess…came back and trampled me. Schoolwork was piling up, work was becoming repetitive and boring, friends no longer seemed relatable; I just felt lost. More lost than when I left, more lost than when I first arrived in Central America, more lost within myself. Nothing seemed to be going my way and slowly but surely I started losing my way, myself again. I look in the mirror and see a stranger. I don’t see the confident, carefree and self-secured girl, the one that threw away the insecurities and doubts along with her map – the girl I was in that foreign place. In fact, I feel foreign here. A year later, I find myself in a place where I thought I finally had it all figured out…everything was falling into place, but yet only fell apart. I saw myself slowly falling back into the same routine. I made sure my hair was always perfectly straight as if I went to get a blowout, my makeup was always done and fresh. My outfits took hours to pick out. I started stressing about school and work, getting all dressed up, full faced makeup, partying on the weekend, just to feel numb when I wanted to feel something. I wanted to feel honest, accepted; happy, loved…I wanted to feel alive. But instead, I drowned out my feelings and let the emptiness swallow me. I was tired all the time, lying in bed hoping to somehow find that place I was in just a year before. So, I started to erase the fear, the doubt and the everyday feelings that keep me and everyone else from being exactly who they want to be, who we’re supposed to be.
I realized it doesn’t mean I have to run in order to find myself. I’ve been here all along. I just need to find my way back.
How did I start?
I started paying better attention in school and not drifting off in the what ifs of where I could be by now,
I started being present and active at work, I started working out at the local gym.
I started to accept all my friends for their greatest and worst qualities,
I talked through my issues,
I told the boy I love, that I’m in love with him.
I stopped caring about my timeline, biological clock or anyone’s opinion of me.
I stopped worrying about who to be or who will love me or why things happen.
I started to just let things be, let things happen, or not.
I started to believe again, that would all of these things and possible outcomes; not having anything planned out- would pan out the way they should. I decided that I was going to be honest and nice accept my pace in life and accept the people I love.
It was things I needed to start, things I needed to stop.
But all it took was for me to make my mind up about myself.
I decided I’m okay with whatever happens next.
And I’m not just going to be okay, I’m going to be happy.
It started with a simple decision.
Today, I decided to wear my hair natural, letting my golden yellow curls flow down my back in the most messy, beautiful waves, and I smiled.