I am currently detoxing from travel. It’s not entirely intentional; although my finances are in shambles. My most recent adventures have forced me to confront parts of myself that are-well, scary.
At the beginning of this year, I found myself in an unusual predicament. I was back in my apartment in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil where I returned with strong intentions to stay and plant roots when suddenly, I broke down. Completely alone in a not-so-foreign anymore place, I found myself in the middle of a depressive episode.
It had been about six years since my last one. I was entering my second year of college and doing entirely too much. I was working two jobs and juggling an internship on top of a full-time class schedule. I started crying at work one day, and it continued for about two weeks. My boss and mentor told me to see a therapist and the therapist diagnosed me with depression and anxiety. I was on a generic Zoloft for about six months before deciding that I didn’t need the extra help anymore. At the time I was working at a sleep-away camp, where we ate smores, slept under the stars and had pool parties when the campers were away. I tossed my unfinished bottle of pills into the grass one morning and hadn’t looked back since.
all of this “success” couldn’t save me from myself
I was relatively sane and normal afterward. I became well-traveled, learned Spanish in Ecuador and Portuguese in Brazil; I graduated college and celebrated in Cancun, Mexico; I became a semi self-sustained freelance journalist and self-published author. But all of this “success” couldn’t save me from myself. My mother saw my wanderlust as a desire to “run away.” She didn’t seem to understand my genuine interest in exploring similar but different cultures, learn new languages and landscapes. My travel was all a method of escape in her eyes. And now that I’m figuratively docked on the bay after spending the better part of the year on an extended road trip. I’m beginning to question my motives.
Earlier this year when I was in the midst of my depressive episode, I reached out to a good friend and spiritualist. Completely alone, in a way that I have never experienced, I reached out to her through Skype. We had a session that started with her asking if I was a victim of sexual abuse. It was like a dam had cracked. I cried for a week straight. Read books about childhood sexual abuse, incest, and repressed trauma. I couldn’t eat or sleep. Showering was an ordeal. I was completely alone in my apartment for a week straight physically re-experiencing all my repressed trauma. It came up like vomit. My gag reflexes always ready to eject the bad memories from my body. Unfortunately, there was nothing to throw up because I wasn’t eating. There was no one around, so I wasn’t bathing. Had it not been for the constant communication I was having with my sister, I might not have made it through the week.
My English students were on summer break, and miraculously all of my pitches were denied so for the first week of the year I literally had nothing do and nowhere to be. It’s almost as if I had left home and traveled to another country just to experience extreme solitude. That’s an aspect of travel that I don’t see talked about enough but is oddly a major reason why we travel in the first place. To find and experience “space.” To be in solitude, even if we don’t like what comes up in the emptiness. And what we do with what has risen to the surface changes the entire tone of the trip. When people ask me why I travel now, I can look back and see that in these last three years of exploring South America, Brazil specifically, I was looking for space. Unbeknownst to myself, I needed to be physically far from home to see that horrible thing had, in fact, happened to me when I was a child.
I’m not sure how my family would have reacted to me, had I broken down while still living in my childhood home. Maybe they would have had me committed, or maybe it would have created a domino effect in which everyone was forced to face their familial trauma. Life will be long if I’m lucky, and the way my mental health is set up, it’s quite possible that I’ll experience another episode while I’m back home for a while. I pray it won’t be as dramatic or painful as the first time. I can’t simplify my travels as the way that I was introduced to myself as a sexual abuse survivor because it was so much more than that. And I am so much more than another survivor of sexual abuse. But it would be a huge oversight if I weren’t able to see how much the trauma propelled me to travel in the first place. Some people can come to such conclusions for themselves in their hometowns. But for me, it took some mileage between the site of trauma and myself for the pain to surface. It made my sexual abuse story a bit more magical, and dare I say colorful. And for that, I’m grateful.