It took my boyfriend eight years to propose and less than three months to tell me that he thought we had made a mistake getting married. I quickly learned that the amount of time you spend getting to know someone doesn’t correlate to the amount of time you’ll end up in a happy marriage.
Eighteen months after he uttered those shocking words, I was officially a divorcee at 32. As I stared blankly at the legally binding paperwork, I wondered why it was so much easier to begin a relationship than it was to end one.
During that year and a half between his words and the final divorce, everything changed. I operated on a robotic level to keep functioning. I didn’t tell my colleagues about the divorce for months since I didn’t want anyone to look at me differently. When I finally told my wedding planner, she cried. I hired a therapist, sold my wedding dress and moved into a new home in my hometown of San Diego complete with new roommates.
The decision to end all contact with my ex, quit my job, sell my belongings and head to South America on a one-way ticket didn’t happen overnight, though. It came to life slowly as I considered my options: stay in San Diego, or leave and never come back.
It was a terribly big decision, but something excited me about the heaviness of it all. I became obsessed with the sheer idea of walking away and completely starting over. It would be a clean slate. I didn’t have to tell people in other countries I had been through a divorce … right?
“I became obsessed with the sheer idea of walking away and completely starting over. It would be a clean slate.”
I began to loosen my grip on what my life was “supposed” to look like, because it certainly didn’t look like that anymore, and started to see things from a new perspective. I couldn’t control what my ex did or said, but I could control how I reacted. Amid the chaos, I decided it was time to change my life for the better.
I was young, single and had nothing tying me down. I didn’t own a home. I didn’t have children or any pets to care for. I was also heartbroken, directionless and confused. I went from having two incomes to one, and I didn’t even like my job anymore.
With nothing left to lose, I decided it was time to stop caring about what everyone else thought, and time to listen to my gut. When I asked myself what would make me happy, the answer came to me loud and clear: travel.
I devised a plan to make this dream a reality. I sold most of my possessions and moved back in with my parents, which saved me $1,300 per month on rent and utilities. I continued working at my corporate job and cut way back on my spending. I read books on budget travel and decided that I didn’t need much money to live off. I saved up $10,000 and decided I would travel for as long as it lasted.
It took six months of planning and saving. Two months after my divorce was finalized, I was on the road.
I quit my job and began my own Eat, Pray, Love journey with a one-way ticket to Ecuador. Part of me was running from something, but the other part was running toward something else. I just didn’t know what it was yet.
As I traveled by bus, with nothing more than a backpack, I fully immersed myself in the experience. I lived on $30 a day and traveled by land through 10 different countries, from Ecuador to Mexico. I wasn’t sure how much of my story I would share, but over those months, I began to open up more and more. At first to my new friends, then to strangers and eventually to love interests. Each time I crossed a border to somewhere new, another chapter of my life unfolded. I survived a bus shooting. I slept on a cargo ship. I summited volcanoes. The healing was raw and real.
As I journeyed on, I asked myself the same questions: Could I see myself living here? What would it be like to live in Colombia? Guatemala? Mexico? Would I like it? Would I feel safe? I still couldn’t imagine returning to my old life in San Diego. I feared running into my ex at the bar, or worse, on a dating app. (I never subscribed to one.) All I wanted was a new place to call home, far away from my past life. I had already survived one huge change; there was nothing stopping me from enduring another one.
“In choosing to take control of my life and in putting myself first, I slowly moved out of victimhood and into empowerment.”
In choosing to take control of my life and in putting myself first, I slowly moved out of victimhood and into empowerment. Saying yes to myself and taking that trip was the most freeing thing I’ve ever done. Travel was how I began to set a new foundation for myself. It was the gateway to get to know myself all over again and prove that I could do anything I wanted on my own.
When it feels like you’ve lost everything, you have nothing left to lose. There was no reason to hold myself back from starting a brand-new life. It was the perfect time to begin again, especially when it felt as if there was nothing left for me to hold onto.
During the months when I was removed from the typical American routine, I got to experience a new way of life. One where I felt safe to express myself, free from fear of judgment for taking a different path. One where I was challenged on a daily basis, whether through learning a new cultural norm or having a conversation about politics in Spanish. There was rarely a dull moment, and if there was, I was happy to spend it napping in a hammock or journaling underneath a palm tree. Who’s to say this lifestyle is wrong?
I’ve been in Mexico City for nearly a year now. I’m certain that I’ve learned more about myself experiencing life in a foreign country than I would have had I stuck to my old routine. I now appreciate life on a whole new level. I’ve learned to reflect and ask myself questions (and listen to the answers). I developed a new spiritual practice. I found a new community. In Mexico, I truly began to heal from my divorce.
“It was the perfect time to begin again, especially when it felt as if there was nothing left for me to hold onto.”
The question I get asked the most is if I saw any of this coming. I didn’t walk down the aisle wondering if I was about to make a big mistake. I chalked up any nerves I had to typical wedding day jitters. Perhaps there were red flags; I just wasn’t ready to see them yet.
I always had a dream to work and live abroad. Now, I’m living out the vision that I had for myself as a little girl.
I’ve become less afraid of running into my ex and more accepting of everything that happened between us. It turns out I had a million lessons to learn and that relationship was the mirror to reflect each one. The details of what unfolded between us during our divorce aren’t important. What matters most is what I learned and decided to do with it. I turned my pain into my purpose, and now I work to empower other women to create more meaningful lives for themselves and heal from heartbreak.
The new life I created for myself in Mexico feels more aligned than the old one I was living from ages 22 to 32 in the United States. I’ve grown into a woman with so much gratitude for that 10-year relationship and an appreciation for the unraveling and the unbecoming of who I used to be.
During our lowest moments, we get to choose: stay in victimhood, or rise above and step into our power. When everything is stripped away, where will you decide to go next?
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