We broke up in the summer and had a yearlong trip to Southeast Asia planned in the fall. We shared a home filled with plants and a Siamese fighting fish named Haiku. We already had maps drawn and tickets on our bedside tables, but this breakup was unforeseen—and permanent. Faced with the fear of traveling on our own, we boarded the plane to Bangkok together. With vaccines pumping through our veins and passports in our pockets, we could only hope for the best.
Within a week, we parted ways—the strain of inhabiting such intimate space together was too much. Like a dark blanket covering my eyes, I was suddenly blinded by the gripping fear of navigating this journey on my own. So I did the only thing that seemed easy: I drank myself completely numb. I set up camp in a small bungalow on the beach in the coastal town of Krabi in southern Thailand. I wandered the roads during the day and spent my evenings alone, looking hopelessly across the sea.
Quickly, I noticed myself slipping into anxiety, delusion, and a reliance on alcohol. Weeks passed and I realized that I couldn't summon enough courage to stave off the bottle for a night, let alone pack my things and see the rest of the continent. With every passing day I felt a growing fear of anything new. Even the thought of eating at a new restaurant left me paralyzed. The anxiety that plagued my childhood reared its head again, and the only way I seemed to be able to placate it was to drown it in beer and Thai whiskey.
I recognized that my nightly drinking was my way of escaping my anxious thoughts, but at least I was familiar with this solitude. I was alone, but I knew that if others saw my feet moving with enough purpose, I would at least be safe from their shame too.
This false sense of security could only last so long. One morning, after weeks of repeating the same vicious cycle, I woke from a terrible dream. Looking down, ants were crawling all over my body, pacing themselves rhythmically to the undulations of my breathing. I shot out of bed, frantically shaking myself clean. Throwing my sheets into the corner of the room, I retreated to the bathroom in disgust.
I looked at my sunken and hungover face in the mirror with desperation. I wasn't disgusted with the insect invasion. I was digusted with myself. I knew two things then: I needed help and I was incapable of providing it myself. I began to bawl, and I hit the floor, my knees scraping the cold tile floor. In those minutes that felt like an eternity, I begged to feel whole again, I pleaded for help, and I surrendered completely.
The Breaking Point
When I woke, the air was humid and sticky. Christmas was a week away and I had decided that I would spend the holiday on an island in the Gulf of Thailand before taking off to Cambodia. When I arrived at the ferry terminal, I heard laughter from a big group of travelers. I listened to their colorful accents and wondered how such a diverse group could have formed. I wanted this infectious dynamic of theirs. I wanted to know what it felt like to laugh again.
About to retreat back to the book in my hands, my eyes settled on a bulging red backpack on the ground in front of one of them. It was the exact backpack that I was carrying, a rare model sold at a specific Canadian store.
Instantly, my fear to speak dissolved. This glaring red bag called me forward, urging me to talk. I said hello to the backpack’s owner, and by the time we got off the ferry a couple hours later, we realized we were not only both from Canada, but from the same small city on the West Coast. In fact, we had been working a block apart for years, completely unknown to each other. That next week with them, I laughed and played in the ocean. I danced on the beach and brought in the New Year under a full moon. I had started to heal again.
The climb was incredible and challenging. Blisters formed, broke down, and formed again. Even in my sturdy footwear, I began to feel the smallest of pebbles poking into the soles of my feet. Rather than rest, I kept pushing myself forward—the beautiful changing landscape kept me motivated and curious to see what was behind the next corner. With each step of increased elevation, the sweltering equatorial heat shifted and cooled.
As I sat there looking out onto what felt like an entire universe of my own pain and struggle, I felt nothing but peace. I saw the anxiety that controlled me, and its inevitable defeat. For the first time in my life, I could see the clouds below me and feel the warm rising sun on my back. I knew that fear would likely always be a part of my story, but I also knew that I was capable of conquering it when I had the resolve to ask for help. I managed not to let alcohol be an escape any longer, and I healed from the breakup that shattered my heart and my psyche.
I have been to the top of the world and even if it was just for a moment, I was king of it all.