Four and a half years ago I spent sixteen days in the Belizean rain forest. I’m not talking hotels and taxis, here, I’m talking about living in a tent on a few-acres of clearing in the middle of the jungle. I’m talking three yards from uncut wilderness. I’m talking unknown creatures sniffing at my tent in the middle of the night and having to duck around snakes and giant spiders.
Originally I had planned to be there for six months, so it’s a little embarrassing to admit I was only there for just over two weeks. People often ask me why I came back so early—a fair question, I have to admit, considering how big of a deal I made the whole thing. And I give them a standard answer I’ve perfected over the past four and a half years. However, there’s that one question that I never get asked, but probably should:
Why did I go in the first place?
I suppose people don’t ever ask me this because they think they can guess the reasons (or already know it in part). They think I was just looking to travel, or for an adventure, or maybe to just get away from all the noise of the city. All of which could be said to be true, but none entirely.
A couple of things sparked off the entire adventure, really. The first being a bad breakup. Okay, to be fair, it really started with a decent breakup, which escalated into a bad breakup. I’m talking shouting and crying and pleas of, “Do you just want me to die?! Do you?!” Plus, she was kind of upset too.
I was distraught. It was a two year relationship—the longest I’d ever had by a longshot. I was in love with the woman, but she was no longer in love with me. And that’s hard to deal with*. All of this was weighing heavy on me everywhere. I moped around. A lot. I watched Yes Man. A lot. I didn’t do much of anything. A lot.
The one thing I did do was show up to work. I was the unofficial assistant manager of the small business and thus had a responsibility to come in every day. The job, however, was high stress, disgusting, and not getting any better. It all accumulated in an argument with a coworker which resulted in me walking out forever.
Yes, just like a bad finding-oneself-through-adventure movie, I lost my girlfriend and my job. And what comes after losing your girlfriend of two years and your job of the same two years?
Mental breakdown, obviously.
When I was in high school I had a plan. A plan A, that is, because plan B’s are for people who aren’t dedicated! (Or so I thought, until my plan A completely fell through.) Part of my plan was to move out of America. I could see how it was falling apart and the injustices here. I wanted to travel and make another place my home—somewhere in which I could live among the locals and be one with them.
My first (and only, really) choice was Ireland. Either big city Dublin or a much, much smaller village no one had ever heard of. I also knew that that kind of move takes a lot of money and prep time, which is why I gave myself a deadline: By the age of twenty-three, I had to be out of the country.
This was in the back of my head five years later, freshly dumped, jobless, and sobbing at the kitchen table—making all my roommates feel very awkward. I needed something new, I told myself. In truth, I probably just needed to get away from the old.
With the help of my friends and family, I made plans to finally break away from my home country and to explore the world. It just so happened that, instead of the cliffs and green hills of Ireland, I found a farm looking for some help in the damp and untamed wilds of Belize.
The couple who owned the farm were friendly when I talked to them via e-mail and Skype. I was sure about this place. I knew I could stay there for months, maybe even years! And so I began to prepare myself.
I cashed in on some mutual funds I had; I got a new, part-time job to earn as much cash as I could; I asked for camping gear for Christmas; I even sold my car for a ridiculously low price—after all, I wouldn’t need it anymore†.
Midway through January, about six months from my twenty-third birthday, I got on a plane for the first time in my life. One layover later, I was cruising over this beautiful, exotic, and new country. It was full of promise. It meant a fresh start.
But that’s not really what it was. My leaving America and attempting to settle into a whole new place wasn’t truly a fresh start. It was an escape. It was me running away. I was running away from a broken heart and unsure future. I was running away from the fact that I hadn’t become the person I’d always wanted to be.
I was running away from my failures, hoping to make a new name for myself as an adventurer. I would come home with grand stories of fending off jaguars and discovering ancient Mayan relics. My friends and family would marvel at me, eyes filled with jealousy, hands clasped together beneath their chins, begging for another story.
I’m not that strong, though. I wouldn’t come home to a parade in my honor. I would come slinking home, my tail between my legs, not wanting to admit that all I had acquired was yet another failure to put on my long-running list.
No one said “I told you so,” though. No one smirked behind my back‡ or rolled their eyes at me. None of my friends or family laughed me out of the room. Instead, they hugged me and expressed their surprise at seeing me so soon. They would ask why I returned and I would give them my answer—or otherwise say I didn’t want to talk about it.
Then they asked all about my trip, as if it had merely been any ordinary vacation. And I told them all about my would-be adventures, never quite admitting that I had run away from not only my broken heart and myself, but also them as well.
Eventually, I was able to admit to myself why I had left. That’s something I learned from my sixteen days in the Belizean rain forest—to admit the truth about myself to the one person who it matters most to: Myself.
And no matter the reason I left or came back, I was back—and damn happy about it.