It was after the birth of my first son and the book was peaking in popularity. My newly formed book club, consisting of sleep-deprived mothers who needed to get out of the house, picked it for our inaugural read.
We all loved Eat. How could you not with its overflowing plates of pasta and the pure pleasure that is Italy? I had studied in Rome myself and felt transported to a less tethered time and place away from the monotony of new motherhood where nothing seemed to be about self-indulgence. But as I read the rest of the book in snippets while my son napped in my arms and for five minutes at night before I would pass out from exhaustion, I distinctly remember not forming a connection.
Pray? Who has time?
Love? Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s great.
My fellow book clubbers and I poured each other bigger and bigger glasses of wine muttering, “Must be nice to travel all over the world,” and the conversation quickly turned away from the book and towards the practicalities of motherhood: who was sleeping, who was eating, and how often. We could barely swing one night out of the house much less life in three different countries.
I quickly filed Eat Pray Love away under “things that are interesting but don’t really apply to me” and went on with my life.
About five years later, I found myself on the bathroom floor.
What is it about the bathroom floor that makes it the perfect place to face ourselves? Maybe because it’s cold, hard, private, and as about as low as you can go? With my forehead pressed against a tile wall, I said out loud to myself:
“Things can not go on like this.”
From the bathroom floor, it became clear that I needed a complete overhaul. Stress, anxiety, insomnia, and deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy had eroded my body and my mind. My digestive system was in ruins, my self-worth shattered, my priorities all wrong. It would take more than a pause to realign myself, more than a little vacation to rest up.
(If you haven’t read Eat Pray Love or seen the movie, it’s on the bathroom floor that Liz the author reached rock bottom.)
I was at the beginning of something and soon found myself on a pilgrimage to rediscover myself and God and love. I didn’t have the opportunity to travel like in Eat Pray Love. My journey consisted of me, my local library, and an internet connection. I had no desire to leave my marriage or my now two sons behind, I just needed to figure out what the hell I was doing here, in this world, with this life.
I picked up Eat Pray Love again one afternoon at the library. It sat dormant on my night stand for a few weeks. And just before its due date arrived, I decided to give it another chance. I stayed up late into the night reading and found myself nodding, crying, and nodding some more as Liz went through the same journey I was going through.
Reading Eat Pray Love for the second time, I recognized that I had been trapped in a rescue fantasy, willing to throw myself on the back of the closest prince’s horse and ride away to my happy ending. But most of the time, the prince was nothing more than a well-disguised distraction, a replacement for dealing with my real self and my own truth.
I had spent the better part of my life tracking the right prince who I believed would hold all of the answers.
I thought kissing boys and getting them to like me was the answer.
I thought having my dad in my life was the answer.
I thought getting into the perfect college was the answer.
I thought getting out of my hometown was the answer.
I thought drinking the right shots and trying the right drugs were the answer.
I thought designer handbags were the answer.
I thought promotions and corporate credit cards were the answer.
I thought marriage was the answer.
I thought having a family was the answer.
I thought home ownership and renovation was the answer.
I thought boot camp and losing ten pounds must be the answer.
I tried them all.
But none of these princes were up for the rescue. Each attempt had the same outcome: a temporary feeling of elation, a buzz that quickly faded into a cloud of panic and emptiness. Once that cloud settled in, I was off to find the next prince. I was putting all of my energy and resources into doing everything right but the results were still wrong, wrong, wrong. So I tried harder. And eventually, no matter what I did, I couldn’t shake the panic or the emptiness.
Enter the bathroom floor.
I had conveniently been ignoring the most likely place to find rescue–myself. Once I climbed on that prince’s horse, I spent two years learning to listen to the quiet voice inside of me that already had all the answers.
I stopped searching, seeking, groping, and projecting. I started accepting. And breathing. The importance of simply breathing is totally underestimated. I opened up my heart and my mind to the possibility, no, the certainty, of myself.
I made a promise very similar to the one that Liz makes herself: “I love you. I will never leave you, I will always take care of you.” I kept that promise taking care of myself in ways that I never believed I deserved. It took practice. But with patience, I transformed into the woman, wife, mother, and friend I had been searching for.
Finally, I could see what I couldn’t see before. Eat Pray Love isn’t a book about life in three different locations, it is the story of a rescue mission. I could see it, because I had also been through it.
As Liz says, “I was the administrator of my own rescue.”
It was more than I had ever believed possible. And yet, I did it. I can walk into a room and know that being myself is what the world wants from me, not some second rate facade or construction. I took my shame, anger, and fear into my heart instead of fighting against them. I found peace with my past, future, and present. And I’m head over heels in love with the messy, imperfect human that I am meant to be.
It was a full on rescue mission, even if it didn’t happen over multiple continents.
And I finally get it.
This essay was submitted to an anthology celebrating the 10th anniversary of Eat Pray Love. It didn’t get picked but I wanted to share it with you here.