A Girl Gone: Chapter II

What Happened? Since You Asked…

I started this blog when I was living out of my car. It was 2010 and I had just called off my wedding and left to travel across the U.S. and around the world with no itinerary or plans to return. I remember those early days with such awe and clarity. It was deep into August and the air was thick with humidity. I always drove with the windows down, the wind making my hair wild. I had traded in all of my wedding jewelry for a handful of gaudy rings full of rhinestones, chunky necklaces, and fake flowers to tuck behind my ears. I was turning 30 in a few months, but I felt younger than I had in over a decade.

I worked online, had no apartment to take care of, no place to be, no relationship to manage. I was a girl gone and it was the first time in my life I remember feeling truly free. During the first months, I lived in a cabin in the Smokey Mountains, traveled through New Orleans with a federal marshal, drove across Costa Rica in an old Jeep, and lived with a house of farmers in Florida. I went to Australia, Bali, then Thailand, and Vietnam between October 2010 and March 2011.

Though I was uncertain of my destinations, I was certain of my choice—to live in pure detachment. I dismissed old notions of time, and thrived on the promise of unending experiences, the idea that I could keep going, move faster and lose myself in each moment. Even in darker periods of fear, loneliness or solitude, spare nights in cheap hotel rooms off the interstate or on foreign lands—I always held onto this idea, the lustful vision of freedom.

But, something wasn’t right.

It wasn’t long before I felt the cracks in my plan. In the first months abroad, I had a difficult time moving from place to place, and even more, person to person. I felt my experiences slipping through my fingers like sand, or time, never really amounting into something I could feel or hold onto. I wanted every moment to mean something, but they didn’t add up that way. I remember cold winter nights in Northern Vietnam, sick in a hotel room alone, when I would have given anything to be held by someone I loved. Still, I never wanted to give up this plan or the journey, and so, I pressed on.

For a little over a month, I stayed in Turkey with other women ex-pats. I felt grounded again, like I gained footing by simply staying put and having these connections that lasted longer than a few nights. All of this time, I did what I had set out to do—I traveled and I wrote. I wrote about the people I had met and how those encounters had changed and shaped me along the way. I still believed if I moved fast enough, and collected enough of these experiences and stories, I would change, and be different, and so, I kept writing, and, I kept moving.

Maybe if I just moved faster…

I had been deep in the caves of Eastern Turkey, bouncing around Greek islands, stuck in an airport in Moscow, drove across Ireland, went camping in Scotland & Northern England and by the time I got to London, one aspect of my life had grown increasingly heavy. I was drinking more and the alcohol was making me distracted, anxious, even depressed. I started to have panic attacks. I needed booze, sometimes to sleep, sometimes to blackout, at least a few times a week. While traveling it was never hard to convince people to drink with me, especially in the UK and Europe. It was also easy to dismiss as part of my lifestyle: “I’m traveling–and, so what?”

Around this time, I met some hitchhikers in Malaga and followed them by ferry to Morocco. When they were gone, I found myself alone in Marrakesh, alone and desperate for a next move. I bought a cheap flight and got a hotel room in Barcelona on a whim and drank a few bottles of wine while I tried to figure out next steps. A woman I had met in Bangkok kindly let me stay in her apartment for the next weeks, even though I was in no state to care for someone else’s things. While she was in Paris for the weekend, I threw a party with some of the locals, trashing her place and feeling so guilty that I left before I even cleaned up the mess.

I never wrote about my alcohol or drug abuse, because I was too scared to appear weak, or vulnerable or like I had a problem. If I was honest, it had been going on long before I started traveling, long before I was even engaged, long before I ever left home for the first time. I had struggled with alcohol since I was 15, but was always looking for that way out, the next move that would fix me. I was prone to impetuous decisions, crying with strangers, and some legitimately dangerous encounters, like when I got breast implants in Bangkok, blacked out drinking snake whiskey on a train with members of the Vietnamese mafia, or casually hanging out with that American dude who was wanted for kidnapping.

I started to fear that maybe I had been wrong about myself, wrong about my desires to live off the grid, wrong about my beliefs that I didn’t need attachments—to people or place. Desperate to find some peace and a home in the world, I decided to return to the U.S. and get some stability in San Francisco. During this time, I wrote about trying to adjust when I came home: moving in with a bartender, getting into multiple car accidents, a foray into burlesque dancing, and another stab at sobriety after a particularly ouch-y bottom.

Getting sober was painful. It always had been. I got sober once when I was 22 and relapsed after a year. Now I was 31 and trying it again, but getting sober always felt like waiting for a train that never showed up. I had anxiety and still took shots of Nyquil to get to sleep. Coming back to the U.S. and trying to stay in one place, I was completely restless. The minutes, hours, and days grew longer and it wasn’t long before I hit my sober-wall. I remember the conversations in my head always went the same, “If being sober hurts this much, then I would rather be drunk.” Within six months I relapsed, which I also wrote about here. At the time, I wouldn’t have called it a relapse: I simply wanted to drink again and that was what I decided to do. It isn’t an accident that I have yet to use the word “alcoholic” because even though all of this, I never believed I was one.

The summer of 2012, I went back to living in my car, spent time driving along the Pacific Coast- up to Portland, along the California coast, Utah, and Arizona. I saw a psychic in Sedona who told me, “Your spirit animal is clear—it’s a horse, but a dark horse, like you have too much freedom.” She said, “I have never seen anything like this before—so much freedom, but so much darkness.” I knew what she meant, but I didn’t know how to fix it. She also said that I would have a decision to make about my life, and that I would know what to do when it arose.

Two weeks later I was offered an apartment in Berlin. I put my car and everything I owned in storage and left, again with no plans. Perhaps it was fate or just the willing of the mind, but a few weeks after landing, I met the man I would marry. Less than two months later, I flew back to the U.S. and sold everything, tied up some loose ends, and prepared to start a new life in Berlin. After years of not living anywhere, I was going to give “staying put” a chance, even though, I had no idea what this meant.

About the blog: I didn’t know what to do with Wayward Betty, whose primary direction and motivation hinged on freedom, and being single and detached, and on the road, always. Not only was I not her anymore, I didn’t want to be her, and there was some shame in that. The day I called off my wedding and took off, I had prided myself on being forever detached, alone, self-sufficient, without people or place. Even though I was well into my thirties, I was somehow ashamed of my need to be loved and my desire to stay put, as though, I couldn’t live up to the heroine I had created in my own mind.

There was also part of me, that wrongly believed, without this backdrop of a foreign and exotic lifestyle, my experiences and ideas weren’t interesting enough to write about. It was my belief that WWB had lost, and so I quit writing the blog and penned The End. During a particularly fractured period of my life, I decided that I hated all of my writing and took WWB offline.

And like that, Wayward Betty disappeared.

Nearly five years later, I am still in Berlin. I got married, had a baby, conceded to my alcoholism and got sober. There were all the therapies (Grinberg Method, acupuncturists, life coaches, spiritual advisers, shrinks), as well as meditation and mindfulness training and 12-stepping, but I would say I have learned the most rewarding and difficult lesson of my life: how to stay put. For me, staying put didn’t just mean, living traditionally or staying for my husband or my child, it meant staying put for me. It meant learning not to run from myself.

After a few years, I feel like I finally have some perspective on what happened while I was “homeless” and traveling. For the last months, I have been wanting to develop a new platform to explore my new life and to share some of my experiences. I was going to start a new blog, as though a new blog title and theme would make me someone different or sever me from my past, but, I know it can’t and that in many ways, it is even more important to recognize where I have been, to see where I am going.

It was a bit devastating to discover that after this time, all of my previous WWB blog content was gone. According to Dreamhost, the content was never backed-up and I was unable to restore Wayward Betty as it existed from 2010-2013. After a weekend of panic and scanning old computers and hard drives, I found this amazing internet archive service called Wayback Machine and was able to restore the majority of the content, though, sadly, not all of it. Also, gone for good were also the reader comments and interactions between 2011-2013. It was definitely a learning lesson for me about learning to SAVE CONTENT, but more about my own fears, the creative process, and learning to let go of earlier versions of myself, as well as prior artistic works we must accept as imperfect.

This is the short version. If you used to read my blog, I invite you to read me again. I will post more about my recovery, living abroad, my practices in meditation, travel, mindfulness and motherhood, and everything else in life that is still interesting to me—as always, love, people, the world.

I know I have changed, but so much has. And, don’t we all. In the end, that is the good stuff.

Kate Leismer

Author, ex-pat, mother, traveler, artist

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