If it weren’t for the bedbugs, I would’ve never gone to Bali.
I thought about that as I stood in the immigration line after a grueling, fairly inebriated 33 hour flight. I was tired but I had made it and I had a ‘holy shit’ moment. Me? I’m here? How did I get here? How did this small town girl wind up solo in Bali?
Well, it all started with a song and a book (of course).
I saw the preview for the movie version of Eat, Pray, Love 7 years ago. The trailer used that incredible track by Florence and the Machine, ‘Dog Days are Over’ and I loved the song so much I read the book. Those familiar with her memoir know that Bali was the last stop on Elizabeth Gilbert’s healing journey after going through a terrible divorce and subsequent traumatic relationship.
When I read it the first time, my heart stirred and ached. Something in her story spoke to me. I thought it was just a travel bug hitting me. I hadn’t seen much of the world at that time in my life and I so desperately longed to, but my ex was fairly dead set against it. We couldn’t afford it and he’d already ‘done his traveling’ before I came along. A few years later, I was married and miserable. I had my own ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ awakening where I too looked at the life I had and suddenly realized it wasn’t the life I wanted. It broke me to realize that. There were so many reasons why I didn’t see it sooner … why I so very much wanted it to work between me and my ex. But the moment it became clear to me that my deep unhappiness and that deep stirring in my soul was actually pointing towards a new life on my own, I knew I had to leave that relationship. I read Eat, Pray, Love a second time and this time it took on a much deeper meaning.
Jump forward a bit and March of this year was a GD doozy. I found myself still grieving over a traumatic and publicly humiliating breakup, banned from a bar (that’s an interesting story for another day) and had just found out that I had bed bugs*. Bed. Bugs. Something I’d LITERALLY had nightmares about my whole life.
I had to get rid of almost every piece of furniture I owned. While my place was being treated, I stayed with a good friend who was gracious enough to take me in. Which meant I was both heartbroken AND homeless. Then, to make a dark month even darker, I had a terrible fallout with someone who was becoming a close friend. (That’s another sad, but interesting tale that involves a lovely bail bondswoman by the name of Liz. Yep.)
I had never felt more alone. More lost. It honestly felt like God or the universe gave me the supreme spanking of all time. I’d grown so much since leaving Jay and thought my life was headed in one direction to find that everything I’d been working towards taken away. Literally. Like all my shit was literally gone. As I look back on it now, I see it less as a punishment and more like a redirecting of my path. Towards good things and away from harmful things. But it certainly didn’t feel that way at the time.
When I got rid of my furniture, I decided to take some money out of my savings to pay for new furniture and pay down some debt. Then there was a spark of inspiration. Traveling to a foreign country solo had always been on the top of my ‘If only I were brave enough’ bucket list. It always felt like something I could never really do though … I’m notoriously bad with directions and I get lost constantly. Plus, I hadn’t traveled out of the country since high school.
But heartbreak is one hell of a motivator. Something in me knew I needed a refresh, a moment in time separated from all the trauma of the past year .. hell, from the trauma of the last SEVERAL years. A reset. So before I could chicken out, I did some research, found the most economical time to go and bought a ticket to Bali in September.
I didn’t even have a passport.
A solo trip might not seem all that brave or amazing to someone else, maybe someone who’s traveled a lot or at least trusts their own ability to get along in a completely foreign place. But for me? A shy, small town girl with severe anxiety who lived in constant fear of looking foolish, who could get lost going down the GD street where she lived … this trip symbolized all my growth, from the person I USED to be or the person I thought I HAD to be (or the person I was doomed to be bc of my past), to the person who was forcing herself to change. A girl who was trying with all the might she could muster to face down her demons, her fears and say nope, you don’t get to determine the quality of my life anymore. I’m gonna do all the things and even if it feels uncomfortable at first, I’m going to brave it until it doesn’t.
It’s funny when you reflect on your path and all the steps, right or wrong, you took to get to this exact moment in time. That’s what hit me as I waited in patiently in that terribly long Indonesian immigration line for my very first stamp in my passport. It took a song and a book. Then a divorce. Then heartbreak. And pain. Then … bed bugs. But my god, that made the journey all the more richer.
Life is a beautiful and often tragic mess. Sometimes we bring the mess on ourselves, sometimes the mess is brought to us, but all of it is shaping us. And the bed bugs? Yeah, that was terrifying but honestly, I needed to get rid of a lot of old things I’d been holding onto. The mattress I’d shared with my ex. The couch I’d spent a lot of nights on with the man who broke my heart. As well as the image of me as a shy, scared girl who couldn’t hack it on my own.
The bed bugs, awful as they were, were also a gift. Let the past go. Let go.
And so I did.
*NOTE: How did I get the bed bugs, you might be wondering? To be completely honest, I’m not sure. But my suspicion is from a guy I briefly dated who also worked in homeless shelters. They can travel on BAGS and SHOES as well as a number of things. Horrifying. Who really knows though?