“I’m going to make this easy for both of us,” I said. “We’re not together anymore.”
We sat on one of the most beautiful white sand beaches I’ve ever experienced. The water was turquoise, palm trees lined the boardwalk, bikinis everywhere, the sun was perfect, not too hot, not too cold. I had the perfect morning: woke up on the beach, meditated while the sun rose over the water, did yoga on the grass. Florida was exactly what I wanted: paradise. What a great place to break up.
Being in a different city everyday had taken its toll. We were exhausted mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually. My credit card was maxed out, I was down to my last five hundred real dollars, no work prospects, living on the streets in a hot van, and constant fighting/arguing made it clear that our relationship had reached its limit. I thought I had hit rock bottom before, but this was a new record low for me. So we broke up on that beautiful beach on that beautiful day.
I needed to stay in one spot for a bit to ground and relax, so after my van partner left, I stayed in Florida by myself for a few weeks. I was supposed to have some work waiting for me. I did one Facebook post prospecting for work in Orlando where I had several contacts. Four people said YES they wanted video stuff, and two others said they were interested. But one by one, every single one of these opportunities fell through for one reason or another – bad timing, out of town, moving, budget, money problems, whatever. I’ve been doing client work since high school so work seems to follow me wherever I go, but I wasn’t used to losing so many sales. Regardless, I made the most of my newfound time and freedom by working on some exciting personal projects that I had been putting off. Not having a romantic relationship freed up so much energy. I wrote at least eight hours everyday, and I hadn’t been that prolific in years. Those few weeks in Florida were actually a very creatively fulfilling time.
But despite the creative fulfillment, I got real lonely real quick. I was so used to having somebody with me 24/7, and all of a sudden I had nobody. No van partner, no friends, no family, no clients. All I had were the Whole Foods employees, who got to know we very well (probably too well). I basically lived at Whole Foods. I woke up every morning about half an hour before the sun rose, did my morning routine in a nice courtyard on the lake, watched the sunrise, did some yoga on the lake or ran around the lake, and by 9am I was at Whole Foods writing. I didn’t stop writing until around 5pm when I had dinner from the hot food bar, then went to see a movie to wind down. I had a monthly membership that allowed me to see one movie per day for free (like Moviepass but better).
“You must live nearby somewhere,” I was asked, because I literally sat in the same exact spot in Whole Foods every single day, 7 days/wk. Yes, right around the corner actually, in a van in the parking lot! But making your home in a grocery store has its temptations. I became addicted to collagen coffees, dairy-free ice cream, those little chocolate peanut butter cups, Bulletproof bars, and saki. It was actually a really amazing lifestyle, but I didn’t have much privacy, I didn’t have anyplace to relax besides the movie theater, and I slept in a hot van at night (so hot that I would sweat through the night and wake up dehydrated). This would have been an ideal time to get an air b’n’b for a few days just to decompress, but I had no money.
I knew I was in trouble when actual homeless people started talking to me. I found myself silently judging them, like I was better. But really… How was I any different from them? I, too, had no home. I, too, had no money. I, too, had no friends. I had become one of them, and they could somehow tell. But I was so desperate for human connection that I didn’t care. Homelessness is a really strange feeling that is difficult to describe. Like I was hiding something, embarrassed for anybody to find out my secret, which distanced me from people, even though I desperately needed that connection for my mental health.
At some point it became clear to me that the reason I was so lonely was because I wasn’t comfortable spending time with myself. But why? I was constantly running between my morning routine and my writing and the movies and dinner – like I was sooooo busy – even though I had zero responsibilities. I felt like I had to be doing something just to distract myself from the heavy feeling of this blackhole in my chest. So, I asked myself… Why do I not want to spend time with myself? Do I not like myself? WHOA! That’s a loaded question. I have self-love and self-acceptance affirmations that I say to myself daily – I’m sure I must like myself. But maybe I just didn’t like myself in that moment.
Looking back, I realize that I had old friends outside Orlando – I could have reached out for help and crashed with them for a bit. I had plenty of frequent flyer miles – I could have flown somewhere else where there was work. But I wasn’t allowing myself to do that; I felt like I didn’t deserve it. I just wanted to sit in the dirty hole I dug, like I was punishing myself. I was disappointed in myself. I failed. I failed romantically, but really I failed as a friend because I wasn’t there for her when she needed somebody. I failed in finding work. I failed financially as I was running out of money. I failed in my health – I was still exercising everyday, but I was eating a ton of junk food (as junky as you could get in Whole Foods). I also started smoking and drinking again. I felt like I had failed the vanlife thing because I couldn’t afford to get to the Florida Keys like I wanted to. And I felt like I failed society – I was no longer contributing to anything except Whole Foods’ P&L. I failed in pretty much every area of my life. Coming down from the high of a nine month van adventure traveling the country with a sexy van partner, I felt like I had reached rock bottom. And eventually my bank account reflected my rock bottom. So I ran out of options. I was forced to use my miles to go back to my dad’s place in Washington with my tail between my legs. I went from beautiful beaches to frozen in Washington and I hated it. I didn’t even have enough money to get an Uber from the airport to my family’s house. I felt like a complete failure as a human being.
But there’s always a silver lining. Living in the van, I learned a TON about the true meaning of life. I got to know myself deeply – what really fulfills me as a human being. I got rid of some old programming that was no longer serving me. I saw the whole country! I saw things that I could never have imagined! I met amazing people. I fell in love. I fell in love with myself! And I experienced so many memories that will be with me on my death bed. For crying out loud, it was overwhelmingly positive. But I was exhausted. So I was happy to be finally taking a break from the vanlife, to get some R&R, process what I had been through, and hang with my family. I wasn’t super happy to be going back to Washington, but none of these benefits would have been fully realized if I hadn’t failed forward. That’s how we learn and become better versions of ourselves. I grew tremendously on this van trip, experiencing some major growing pains. But my fuel tank was on “E,” for empty. My growth muscles were sore and I needed time for them to recuperate and repair. You don’t ever really fail, you always gain something, at least wisdom.
“I wonder why progress looks so much like destruction.”
That holiday season was the most memorable of my life. I felt so much love. My aunt let me borrow her Lexus hybrid for the holidays, so I was driving in style. I didn’t have anything to do so I just relaxed and wrote and cooked American breakfasts every single day (my favorite). And I didn’t have any money so I didn’t have to worry about paying for anything. Best of all, I got to spend so much time with my family. We had two Thanksgivings and two Christmases! Because I had been traveling so much the previous five years, I never had a chance to really deepen my relationship with the kids (my cousins’ kids). That’s when I realized how blessed I am to be a Conedera. I reveled in it. When I failed, their unconditional love was there for me, and my fuel tank was full again. After the holidays, I was ready to get back on the road again. But first, I needed money. More to come…