Ten years ago, I reached a breaking point.
I was nineteen, a sophomore in college, and one day while trudging through campus with the leftover taste of cheap liquor on my tongue, came to the realization that I had become someone else.
Looking back on it now, I’m not surprised that I took on an entirely new identity. Perhaps it was the only way I could survive without being sucked into the black hole of sorrow that pulled at my ankles with each step, coaxing me in. The fact was that it just too painful to continue with my current life, and in order to go on living, I had to become someone else. It was the logical answer. This meant to try to forget, if any part of me could. The quirky artsy girl unafraid to experiment with anything and everything, who took being called “weird” as a compliment, who wore christmas tree lights wrapped around her body and an outfit made of bubble wrap on picture day, was gone.
The relationship to that part of myself became like the closeness you feel to your favorite character in a gripping novel- you know them intimately, you have felt their pain and seen their struggles, but they aren’t real. They can’t be, because what that character went through could never happen in reality, or at least not in yours. How could it? And so my past had become a character who had died the day I stood at my brother’s side, holding back tears as I watched him slip away while my voice remained calm, assuring and cheerful, telling him stories of happy memories we had shared together. As he left this world, so did I.
The second version of myself was, of course, completely different from the first. My short wild curls grew into shoulder-length blonde hair forced stick straight with a flatiron, and my neon-bright wardrobe of every pattern and color was traded in for tight fitted jeans and tank tops, heels and short skirts. My mannerisms and speech became hyper-feminine, and I lost all connection to my love of art.
At first my new identity served me well- I quickly made new friends, kept myself busy with school during the week and parties on the weekend, and saw my boyfriend twice a month who visited me from home. Even in this new identity, there were still many times when I found myself broken down, sobbing uncontrollably for hours, unable to stop myself. Then I would take a long shower, sleep, and resume my new life once again. The problem was, there was only so much denial my subconscious could digest. Two years later, I found myself flailing in a current of never-ending cheap rum and vodka shots that came with desperate need to try to numb the unbearable pain of loss.
It was then, a day after one of the many nights of numbing intoxication, I was walking across campus feeling weary and broken, and knew something had to change. I wandered into the school travel booth, and booked a solo trip to Tokyo.
Booking that flight gave me a spark of something I hadn’t known in a very long time. A few months later, I had put in my application for transfer and was accepted to UC Santa Cruz, and was about to take off for Japan. It would be the first trip I had ever taken traveling alone, my first time visiting Asia, and my first taste of the terror and excitement of being stranded in a foreign city by yourself, knowing no-one, and having to figure it all out.
The trip was incredible in so many ways- I explored all over the country, met many international friends, and it was there that I rediscovered my curiosity and passion for life. My trip spanned from Tokyo to Kamakura, to Mt. Fuji to Kyoto. I felt the rush of the city in cozy hostels, and the peace of the mountains in lovely ryokan. And for the first time in years, I was able to figure out who I was again, and reclaim my old identity. Through the rush of travel, I was reborn.
Today, ten years later, I am leaving for a solo trip to Tokyo once again to celebrate and remember this life-changing first experience, and as a gift to myself as I reach the end of a decade of discovery, confusion, so much pain, and a million beautiful experiences, with my 30th birthday closely approaching.
I sit in the airport now writing this post, with my plane scheduled to depart in less than an hour. I’ll leave you now with this, and the promise of more to come.