I’ve always tried to keep my posts here as positive and helpful as possible, but especially throughout the past year of travel, I’ve realized that doesn’t feel fully genuine and honest, and that’s the reason I haven’t been able to write.
I receive messages almost every day from friends, family, and people I’ve connected with on social media who follow along with my Instagram posts and Facebook updates; from wildlife sanctuaries in Australia, the beaches of Hawaii and New Caledonia, treehouses in jungles in Mexico, and most recently, the architecture and stunning shorelines of Europe.
When they see the photos I’ve so carefully composed and doused in bright, dreamy hues, they see a carefree, happy, beautiful life. I get questions about how it’s possible to “live the dream” like I am, and I never know what the right response is, especially because it all started with a nightmare.
My two years at university were a roller coaster, to say the least. When I started school in California, I quickly found myself spending my freshman year fighting against the flawed system that is Title IX, trying to win a case after a situation of sexual battery. I did win, but it didn’t feel worth it. A couple of months later, the scoliosis I had dealt with since I was in junior high became more severe and I ended up losing feeling and use of my legs for days on end. I was in a wheelchair for months, ended up needing a major spinal surgery, and went part-time while trying to recover. Luckily, I was incredibly loved and supported through it all by my fantastic best friends and roommates, and as the end of my second year approached, things finally felt like they were looking up.
Even though I still struggled with anxiety, ignoring the little voice in the back of my head had become a habit, formed by the fear of letting past trauma keep me from a happy future. I wanted to move forward, and I thought that when I met him, that was finally happening.
I remember one of the first nights in his apartment curled up next to him. He mused about how much one could learn from looking at another person’s hands. “Like your hands, for example”, he said, intertwining his fingers between mine. “You don’t have nail polish on. It looks better. Shows how effortless your beauty really is. But I have to keep trying to get you to open your hands. They’re always curled up, like you’re always ready to protect yourself,” he paused. “You don’t have to protect yourself from me.”
That wasn’t true.
For nearly six months I pushed down the sense that something was very wrong. I let his words build me up, and just as easily tear me down. I desperately held onto my memories of longing stares and slow dances in the living room. To keep the good moments from outweighing the bad, I would do whatever he wanted. I ignored the reality of the situation, and didn’t want to even let the words abuse or sexual assault cross my mind.
He ended things the day I finally said no. After months of being used, there wasn’t any of me left for him to hurt. I was empty, a shell, with no sense of who I was and no sense of self-worth. I left school and went to stay with my dad and sister in Canada, to deal with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and decided to dedicate as much time as I needed to rebuild myself from the ground up, regain a sense of independence, and to get back in touch with my intuition. I started making decisions based on my gut feeling, and my year around the world began.
I was determined to prove to myself that I was still strong and independent, and was no longer the girl who had let herself be broken by a boy. This started with tackling the four-day drive from Orange County, California to Edmonton, Alberta on my own. I also took three solo trips; two to Hawaii, and one to Mexico (which you can read about in my last post).
Right around my 21st birthday, I was offered a job as an au pair in Queensland, Australia. I’d be looking after a four-year old boy named Cruze and living with him, his three older brothers, and his mum, Mel.
I could dedicate an entire blog just to those kids, and I can’t wait to share more about my time as an au pair. With that being said, I do need to talk about the role model I gained, the most confident and assertive woman I have ever met. Seeing Mel and the confidence she had, I finally learned to build confidence of my own. Those four months were filled countless moments of pure joy, laughter, and road trips to the Gold Coast and Byron Bay, singing at the top of our lungs for the whole drive. When my parents would call from home, they would say that I had never looked or sounded so happy.
Coming home to Canada, I felt like I had finally regained the ability to say no that I had lost in the months before. I flew to Switzerland for my next job abroad as a live-in English tutor, where my newfound courage and sense of self-worth was immediately put to the test upon landing finding myself in an uncomfortable and unwelcome new situation. My first reaction was to blame myself, blame the language barrier and try to justify her words by telling myself that I was overreacting. I realized I was falling into the old habits I had worked so hard to unlearn, and decided confront her and leave.
It was my first time standing up for myself and for what I believe in, and even thinking about that conversation makes me shake with the nerves and fear I felt in that moment. Even though I was terrified walking out the door, suitcase in hand, leaving with nowhere to go, I had also never felt so brave.
Traveling on my own didn’t mean I had to face this alone, though. Stranded in Switzerland, I posted what had happened and asked for help from Girls Love Travel, a community of nearly 700 thousand women from all over the world connected by this group on Facebook. The response was immediate, and the support I received was overwhelming. I connected with an incredible woman named Julie, a complete stranger who opened her heart and her home to me for the night while I connected with distant relatives and planned my trip to meet them in Germany. At the same time, I began receiving messages of support and offers of other jobs in Europe from the thousands of women who had seen my story.
I thought about getting on the next plane home, I knew that it would be so much easier. But I also knew that would’ve felt like giving up what could have been an amazing opportunity to spend a few months in Europe, and I am so glad I decided to stay. I took two hostel jobs, and spent the past month in Budapest working. That brings me here, to a seaside town in Portugal, where I’m working at a surf camp and hostel until I go back to North America to see my family.
Things have been so much better. I’ve met the best people, grown in so many different ways, and most recently, I’ve been starting to have a better relationship with myself, my health, and my body. When I look in the mirror today, I see a young woman learning that she is worthy of occupying space, speaking out, being loved and loving herself. It took a long time to get to this place, and I know there’s still a way to go. I still see bits and pieces of who I was before: a broken girl with no sense of who she was, afraid to create an identity for herself because she was afraid it would never be good enough. I know that I’ve tried too hard to prove to myself that I’m independent, and it’s caused me to push good things and good people away in an attempt to guard my heart, but I’m working on learning to trust people again.
After you’re sexually assaulted, it feels like you’ll never be able to shake the dirty, ugly feeling you’re left with. That’s why I try to look for and create beauty in the world around me when I travel, and I’ve used my Instagram as a way to look back on some of the most beautiful moments that life has to offer. I want to keep using my Instagram the same way, but my goal for my writing is that my blog will become a space that helps people, whether that help is through the travel advice I’ve always given here, or in seeing that you aren’t alone in what you may be struggling with. I want to create content based in both positivity and honesty, and share these amazing people and places and their stories with you. I know real life isn’t always picturesque, but there is more good in the world than you may think, and I plan to show you some of it. I hope you’ll stick around as things here get a little more real and personal, and if you connected with anything in this post, please know that you can reach out to me, I’d love to support you in any way I can.
Thank you so so much,