A Girl Gone: Chapter II

What Happened? Since You Asked…

I started this blog when I was living out of my car. 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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 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.

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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