Ten years ago, I went to Chicago to celebrate a special moment in my life. Never would I have guessed that, in the span of 48 hours, I would end up in the emergency room, at Precinct 32 of the Chicago Police Department and in a world I was neither ready nor willing to enter. But life has a funny way of catching us off guard and catch me off guard it did. I found myself a new person in a new world that I was afraid to navigate.
Trauma can affect your life in a powerful way. Initially, I acted out. Raging against perceived threats and becoming a person I did not recognize. This latest for years, resulting in the end of my marriage. But, after the fire died down, and the flames turned to embers, a new effect took hold. I began to isolate myself.
I put on weight, separated from people and stopped going out. (Going out either meant danger from others or reckless behavior on my part.) And so I settled into a life that was safe from all of that. Safe, but also silent and sad and isolating.
It was on my 40th birthday, after six years of therapy, multiple setbacks and multiple advances that I rose from those proverbial ashes and decided that it was time to take my life back. And take it back I did.
Travel became one of the biggest healing forces in my journey toward wellness. On my 40th birthday, feeling ready to face my fears, I booked my first international flight to London, England. And I was going on my own. No one to hold my hand, no one to protect me. Just me versus the world. It was a vital step in taking back the power that was grabbed from me ten years ago.
So, I went. And I felt a power so palpable that I became alive for the first time in a decade. I proved to myself that I could do it. Sure, I was nervous. Sure I was anxious that I might not be able to navigate my way through this new experience. But I took that step. And that step changed everything.
In conjunction with taking this step, I found the love of my life: travel. I also met a lovely man, a man who will forever hold a place in my heart. We fell for each other hard and even talked of making our relationship a long-term one. But, once back in America, I realized (and he did too) that our romance was only meant to be a whirlwind one.
I still had some growing to do- growing into the independent, brave and strong woman I needed to be.
My second independent journey was to Scotland. It was on this trip that I started to really come into my own. There was no romance to muddy the waters, just me and the unbearable beauty of Scotland. And it was magnificent. I felt myself becoming stronger. I felt myself shedding the weight of the past and embracing the beauty of this complex life. I felt myself truly happy and free and filled with hope. Standing on the top of a ben in the highlands of Scotland, I felt reborn.
Over the next several years, I boarded countless flights to the UK. I walked through the streets of London alone at night. I sat in a pub in a remote village in Grantchester, soaking in the simple silence of country life. I biked through Cambridge and Oxford feeling the palpable presence of so much history surrounding me. I toured castles and cathedrals and catacombs. I did so alone, with no fear, and healed myself.
Last summer, I flew into the Czech Republic. I spent six lovely days in Prague, soaking in the culture of the medieval city. I struck up conversations with locals, with no fear or distrust in my heart. I met up with a British ex-pat living in Prague and he showed me around his lovely city with a kind heart and grace. A friend from London flew in and we ventured out into the countryside, visiting the lovely village of Cesky Krumlov. Although I was grateful for the companionship, I will admit that I was less relieved than I thought I might be.
In my mind, I anticipated that I would be more relaxed when traveling with someone else. I would be able to let my guard down, stay out into the wee hours of the night and not have to worry too much about drinking and keeping control of my faculties. (As a woman, always be on guard. A hard lesson I had to learn decades ago.) But, for the first time, I was not feeling my usual sense of relief at not being on my own. I was yearning for the feeling of independence I felt when traveling solo in Prague.
But, maybe it wasn’t independence I was feeling? Maybe it was trust. I was beginning to trust again. Trust men. Trust that this world is not an evil place. But a world filled with beauty and magic and love.
It was a powerful feeling.
Coming back on my flight into JFK, I decided to test this feeling in New York City. Would I still feel it there? I met up with a fellow travel-addict and friend, Koen for dinner that night. (You can read his blog about his epic Trans-Siberian adventure here.) But, for most of my stay, I was on my own. And, the feeling remained.
I walked the streets of New York for two full days and nights. I soaked in the sounds of the city. I watched an intense chess match in Bryant Park. I walked through Highline Park, listening as a family of four in front of me met the city for the first time. I blogged in a French bistro as the morning turned to noon. I sat in a bar at midnight, having a grilled cheese sandwich and wine, watching the college kids from NYU letting off some steam. I wandered to the 9/11 Memorial and reminded myself what a brief, beautiful and important life this is.
And now, as I sense the approach of a two week break in December, I plan for the next adventure. Will it be the Christmas Markets in Germany? A visit to a medieval village in Vilnius? A stay on a canal boat in Amsterdam? Or an Irish holiday filled with pubs and cobblestoned lanes? No matter what I choose, this wonderful world awaits. And I am ready.