Yesterday I returned home from my four month long journey to self improvement. I boarded the MAX train with my dismantled bike in a box that was way to small for it, and my giant duffel bag filled with most of the gear I biked with halfway across the country, and I sat there contemplating the sameness of everything around me. I didn’t feel any different. Nothing felt different. The realization of how easily things seemed to return to normal was both amazing and mildly dejecting. I had just completed a life changing journey, but it didn’t feel like anything had really changed at all. When I started this journey I had some pretty specific expectations of change that I now realize were completely unrealistic. I had imagined that I would be a size 6, completely muscular and svelte as fuck. I had fantasized about meeting “the one” and falling deeply and passionately in love, and maybe moving to a new city to start over. I thought that I would have a wildly different personality and come out more mature and adult with a completely new outlook on my life. Some of these things happened to a degree, but the reality of the changes that I experienced are nowhere near what I had built up in my mind before beginning this trip in May.
During my bicycling adventure, life was constantly changing and evolving. Every single day brought something and someone new into my life. I was exercising anywhere between five and ten hours a day, and I didn’t really have the time to stop and contemplate the changes that were happening in me until I would sit down with my iPad every once in a while and write about it on my blog. This blog became a source of introspection and helped me to hone in on the lessons that I learned along the way. After my bike tour of Vancouver Island, I wrote about how I decided to embark on this bike trip so that I could become worthy of the life that I wish to live, and that statement is so much more relevant than I originally believed. Since I boarded the plane home to Portland, I have been struggling about what to write about Iceland. I wrote the entire thing before I realized it was complete shit. Sure it was well written, and it was a great recap of the events I experienced and the people I met, but it didn’t truly portray the authentic lesson that I learned while I was there, which turned out to be the most important one. So now I sit here enjoying a latte, and writing my final blog post with one last lesson to share.
When I got to Boston I went to try on clothes with the full expectation that I had dropped at least a few pant sizes. I practically skipped into the dressing room in my excitement to see how amazing I would look in the clothes I had picked out. But I struggled to even get the pants past my thighs and the shirts clung around my stomach that was still flabby and protruding since I continued to enjoy copious amounts of beer throughout my travels. I immediately burst into tears. It was so defeating and discouraging that I had just biked 1300 miles and was still so overweight. I didn’t understand how that could even be possible. Seriously guys, what the fuck? My heart sank like a stone, and I felt worthless. In my emotional state, I convinced myself that I was somehow a failure simply because I wasn’t thin like I had the expectation I would be and I spiraled into self loathing.
A week later, I arrived in Iceland and I was completely enthralled by the beauty of the country. (There are no words for how truly spectacular that place is and I want to go back so bad.) After I spent my first couple of days with the wonderful family of the girl I met on the flight there, I got settled into a hostel right smack dab in the center of downtown Reykjavik. I really wanted to go out that night to have my first Icelandic beer, so I got a little dressed up, and went downstairs to the bar that comprised the entire main floor of my hostel. I immediately met some folks from the states who invited me to their table. We ended up bar hopping for a few hours until we ended up at a club/bar hybrid. While I was talking to a girl I met sitting next to me, one of the men I had been hanging out with comes up to me and asks, “who are you here with again?” I responded in confusion, “Umm…you guys.” He said, “No you’re not. Beat it.” My mouth went agape and my eyes widened in surprise. “Excuse me?” I asked. “Go. You should leave.” Wow. never in my life had I ever been treated with such douchebaggery. I should have said fuck off dude. I’m staying put, but instead, for some reason that is completely beyond me, I LISTENED TO HIM. I grabbed my purse, and hauled ass out the door with tears in my eyes, completely allowing this piece of shit human being to make me feel absolutely horrible about myself. I seriously cried myself to sleep convinced that I was clearly worthless, and it must have been because I was still overweight. I told myself in my mind that there’s no way he would have treated me like that if I was skinny, as if he would suddenly not be a fuck face if my outward appearance was somehow more appealing.
The next morning I awoke to an epic hangover. I was throwing up and the world wouldn’t stop spinning. I forced myself out of bed because it was a beautiful day and I really wanted to explore the city on foot. Using all of my effort to move zombie-like through the streets of Reykjavik, I willed myself to walk pretty much the entire city. (And I’m glad I did. It was incredible). When my hangover never went away, I decided I should head back to the hostel for a nap to try to sleep away the persistent nausea and pounding of my head. I had lain in bed for an hour before I finally started to drift off to sleep. Just as I began entering that half sleep dream state, a new occupant of my dorm began struggling to open the door. I kept hearing the beep of the key card being slid into the door lock followed by the violent shaking of the door knob. After a few minutes of persistent noisey struggle, I got out of bed, irritated and tired, my head still throbbing, and opened the door.
On the other side were two men, one an incredibly old Icelandic man who spoke almost zero English, and a younger man in his thirties, attractive, and toting a backpack that was almost as tall as he was. I moaned a less than warm greeting, and then stumbled back to bed. The younger man chose the top bunk above me, and proceeded to set up his sleeping bag and organize his things. After about 10 minutes he told me he was going to the store and asked me if I would like him to pick anything up for me. “Uhh…no, I’m good. Thanks,” I responded, confounded by his friendliness and consideration for a complete stranger. When he returned from the store, I was in better spirits because my hangover had finally begun to subside. We got into conversation and we told each other about our travels. He told me his name was Fabian and that he was from Germany, as well the fact that he had been backpacking across Canada for the past year and a half. I was completely amazed by him and his experiences and was eager to know more about him. We had a few more encounters throughout the evening, talking to other travelers in the hostel kitchen.
The next morning (technically afternoon since I was still struggling to adjust to Iceland time), I awoke to him peaking over at me from the top bunk. I grunted in exhaustion, and he grunted back in agreement. After I lay there for a little while longer, resistant to the idea of getting out of bed, he thrust open the curtains and hollered in a slightly musical tone and an adorable German accent, “Isabelle! Wake up!” I’m pretty sure I responded with something like, “Ughh…Why do you hate me??” or something along those lines. I finally rolled out of bed and he invited me to go for a walk with him around the city. I agreed, my eyes still heavy from exhaustion, and still slightly irritated (but also somewhat flattered) by his strange and unsolicited concern for my sleeping habits. We continued to hang out over the next day, walking around the city taking pictures of the surroundings. I began to really enjoy his company and conversation, and started developing a bit of a crush. He had noticed during our encounters in the kitchen previously that I tend to eat a lot, and it’s not always the healthiest option. Maybe it was just due to the lingering effects of my sped up metabolism as a result of my bike ride, but I was seriously starving all the time. So, as we were walking up the stairs of a different hostel so he could get information on staying there at a later date, I made a statement about how hungry I was, and he said “Okay, but you are only allowed to eat a salad.” I stopped in my tracks as the offensiveness of those words punched me in the gut. “Umm..that was really rude.” I told him. Due to my monstrously warped belief that I was fat and worthless, I really did not take that statement very well. I mean, the guy is seriously handsome, and I was already feeling a bit that he was out of my league, so this really didn’t help things. I walked next to him down the street hanging my head in sorrow. I finally decided that I wasn’t going to let anyone make me feel that way, so I confronted him about his tactlessness. He assured me that he didn’t mean it that way at all, and apologized for his lack of tact. I incidentally learned how to say “that was tactless” in German. (It’s Das war taktlos).
We ended up dining at a delicious asian noodle place that serves something a lot like Pho, and is somehow one of the best noodle places at which I have eaten, and in Iceland of all places. Fabian is the type of person who has endless curiosity about people and isn’t afraid to ask prying questions. Questions that some people may find far too personal, but I tend to be an open book so when he asked me about why I felt upset by his comment, it opened a very wide door of conversation. Over our bowls of noodles, I proceeded to open up to him about my extremely problematic self image issues. I told him all about how I was terrified of meeting this really rad guy I had been talking to on Facebook when I got back because I was scared that he wouldn’t find me attractive. I told him that growing up in a society that celebrates skinniness and shames fatness has made it so engrained in me that I am only worthy of love if I am thin. However, I also told him that the thing that upsets me the most, is that I could still have this incredibly warped belief after having accomplished something so amazing. I shouldn’t be so overcome with self loathing because of my appearance. I should be celebrating myself because I am capable of so much and accomplished something that I never knew I could possibly do. Later that evening as we were talking to other hostel guests in the kitchen I said in passing that I was cold. He immediately leapt from his chair and walked off, returning a few moments later with a sweater. He hands it to me, and I accept it in surprise and confusion that he was being so considerate. I guess I’m just not used to guys treating me well because I have always been so convinced that I’m not worthy of the gesture.
The following evening, Fabian’s friend from Germany, Thorsten (pronounced Torsten) flew in so that they could go on a road trip to see Iceland. I had had a similar idea myself, so I shamelessly invited myself along to share in theirs under the promise that I would rent my own car and follow them. We ended up having an incredibly wonderful time. It wildly surpassed my expectations, and I am so grateful they let me tag along on their adventure. The three of us would share breakfast and dinner with each other every day, and saw all of the incredible Icelandic landscape, sharing in the amazing experience together. It was more than I could have possibly hoped for, and the two of them became very dear to me. I grew to be very fond of Fabian, but I talked myself out of any possibility that he could possibly reciprocate my feelings, once again due to my incredibly warped belief that I wasn’t worthy of it.
One day, Fabian was riding with me in my car and we got right back into the deep conversations. We started talking once again about my deeply rooted problems with self image, and I made a statement in response to one of his prying questions that I have really come to regret. I told him (as an example of my warped belief), “You are one of the most attractive guys I’ve met, and I should have the confidence to think ‘yeah, that could totally happen,’ but I don’t.” He asked, “so, that’s not what you think?” I responded, “No, unfortunately.” I had effectively just told him that nothing could ever happen between us because I would never truly be open to the possibility that it could. Hello, self-sabotage, we meet again.
On the last night of our epic road trip adventure, the three of us soaked in the hot tub watching the northern lights. It was the absolute best way I could have imagined to conclude our trip together. The following day was both mine and Thorsten’s birthday, so we all spent the evening chatting over drinks, teasing each other and sharing in inside jokes that developed during our week together. It was such a great way to ring in my 27th year and I couldn’t imagine having spent it with anyone else. After the two of them left, I was so sad and seriously missed them so much. I still do, in fact. They became two of my favorite people and I am so glad that I met them.
This morning I woke up in my mom’s apartment in Beaverton, feeling empty and sad. I looked back on my adventure and couldn’t believe it was already all behind me. I walked over to my sister’s apartment (in the same complex) where my dad is staying and cried to him about how profoundly sad I was that it was all over. I don’t want to be back home. I told him all about Fabian and how I was so mad at myself for missing out on that possible opportunity because I didn’t believe it was possible that a man that amazing could be into me. He cut me off, saying, “Isabelle. You need to stop this belief within yourself that it has anything to do with how you look. It’s all about your energy. It’s all about how you perceive yourself and the beliefs that you perpetuate. Your belief that you are not worthy is going to sabotage you for the rest of your life if you do not change it. Look at your pattern. You fall in love with every guy who is nice to you because you need the validation so badly. If they don’t immediately feel the same, you let the illusion of rejection overcome you and you wallow in self pity, allowing it to perpetuate this warped belief that you have. It needs to stop.”
That’s when I had an epiphany. I went into this bike trip with all of the wrong expectations. I thought that it would change me into someone who was worthy. But it turns out that it wasn’t about becoming worthy, it was about realizing that I was worthy all along. It wasn’t about losing weight and showing off my hot bod, it was about loving my body for it’s amazing capabilities. It wasn’t about falling in love with a man I would meet throughout my travels that would conclude my story in some insanely romantic way, it was about falling in love with myself. A metamorphosis doesn’t have to be as drastic as a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. Sometimes the biggest metamorphosis can be something as simple as changing your belief.