I give the book, Eat Pray Love, so much credit for so many things I’ve undertaken in the last few years.
During 2012, it became my solace, my confidant, my bible, my comfort—the secret sanctuary where I sobbed those deep, body-hiccupping, snot-flying, eyes-screwed-shut, mouth-skinned-back-into-the-ugly-crying-skull, sobs and alternately laughed in my new-found happiness.
I carried my well-loved-abused copy everywhere I went (even when I knew I’d be unable to stop and read it), a talisman against my own fear and doubt—a validation and sacrament for the necessary hurricane of changes I was offering up to myself.
That year I broke up with my boyfriend, my church, and my God. I rewrote and redirected my life, Eat Pray Love as my companion and witness, as my poetic Sherpa.
When the book was published, I quite sullenly and self-righteously read it, only because so many were raving about it. It pissed me off—all that raving. I’m so pig-headed that I won’t admit when someone else has written a great book with great ideas—simply because they aren’t my ideas, and it’s not my book.
I rolled my eyes at everyone asking, in that excited, insistent tone of voice, if I’d read it. When I admitted to not only having not read it, but also to having no plans to ever read it, I had to listen to them launch enthusiastically into their list of reasons why I should go immediately and get a copy and begin reading it while standing in the checkout line.
I am stubborn—and stupid in my stubbornness. If you tell me I should do something, I will avoid that very thing—avoid it with instant disregard to its possible benefits to me.
I also conjured some vague, sanctimonious plan to contradict them after reading it by insisting on how boring it had been, how their approval of such an inferior book only proved how poorly-read they were. I wanted to prove that it wasn’t as good as they imagined.
I read it quickly and dispassionately and thought, “Okay, that was a good book, but I don’t know what all the fuss is about.” Then I gave it away, because I only keep books I will reread. In those books, I always write the date I bought them. This one didn’t fall into my will-read-again-in-the-future category.
Then 2012 dawned, and the shite hit the proverbial fan. The year started normally enough, what with her usual refusal to make resolutions, but early on I noticed signs of her unrest—the unwillingness to make eye contact, refusal to tell me where she’d been all night.
You know, the usual early signs of doubt and dissatisfaction.
As the there’s-a-reason-for-everything (control-freak!) person I am, I’d like to assign an agent, a specific reason, for the upheaval. I find, however, that I cannot pinpoint an exact catalyst.
I could blame the church “prom.” At the 2012 prom, while dancing with my boyfriend, my lack of attraction to him swam up from somewhere inside me. Worse, I suddenly remembered the very same thing surfacing at the 2011 prom.
I suck at tracking time—always have. So it came as an incredible, depressing shock to discover a real-time calendar marker that proved I had been dissatisfied for over a year. I was horrified at myself that I had “wasted” a year of life. How could I have allowed that to happen?! What was wrong with me that I wasn’t paying attention?
I had become a sheep, unaware—a zombie! I tentatively—and with much dread—began to look at my life, only to discover that in no area of my life was I happy. And it was a surprise to me, asleep that I had been. It would have been easy to blame the boyfriend for my general unhappiness, but I kept digging—while I whined and cried—uncertain about what to do.
Finally, I quit crying and decided it was time for action. I had reached the conclusion that I was in charge of my life, and that if I wasn’t happy, then it was my own damned fault.
I started with the boyfriend. I broke up with him in April. Afterwards, I debated my sanity. After all, he was a good man. I talked it over with girlfriends on a regular basis to stay strong. I made myself keep away from him, afraid I’d weaken and ask him to return.
Next, I broke up with my church, resigned from the council. It was going through a lot of transition, and I realized being involved with all that transition was too stressful. The come-to-Jesus meeting that finally got my attention was so tough that I think I had a heart attack. I am a veteran panic-attacker, so I knew it was not that—something that can be confused with a heart attack by panic attack novices.
While I was (outwardly) calmly arguing my stance, listening to people (not calmly!) verbally attack me, there was a sane but desperate voice in a deep, quiet part of me—monitoring the heavy pressure in my chest and the erratic, excruciatingly painful beating of my heart—praying, begging, “Please don’t let me die here. I don’t want to die in the middle of so much anger.”
I refused to show any signs of “weakness” to the verbal assailants (I’ve mentioned the stubborn thing, right?), even as I was experiencing all the painful, classic, heart attack symptoms.
Afterwards, I resigned from the council. When you’ve decided to take charge of your life and make it happier, you know very easily and quickly that life is too short to be having heart attacks—real or otherwise—at church meetings.
I could also blame the fact that I found it necessary, at some point that year, to break up with God. Yes, you read that right. I broke up with God. I was pissed off that I didn’t have the life I thought I wanted, so I officially broke up with God. I became an atheist—sort of—for a while.
It turns out we were just taking a break, but I didn’t know that at the time.
At some point early in that year, I started having a hankering for Eat Pray Love. It baffled me. I mentioned this longing to someone, and she said—in a condescending tone, “You mean you haven’t read that yet, Grace?!”
“Bloody hell,” I thought, “here we go again!”
She was one of the original ravers—one of the women who had thoroughly pissed me off years before with her snobbish attitude about the book. I explained, inwardly defensive but trying not to go there verbally, that I had already read it, but was feeling drawn to it again for some inexplicable, baffling reason. Her attitude at this vulnerable admission revealed condescension again.
As usual, my timing was off. Had I expressed this hankering those few years ago when it was in vogue to read the damned thing, I might have been accepted into their inter sanctum. I was failing again at fitting in. I was never accepted into the in-crowd in school either, much to my teenage chagrin.
My copy of Eat Pray Love is dated May 18, 2012. It is written in, beat up, squashed, tea stained, smeared; it is well loved. Its dog ears have dog ears.
I spent the summer alone, out on the deck meditating and reading—for hours at a stretch. Each time I finished, I turned immediately to the front and started over. I lost count of the re-readings. I began to skip the first, sad, part and would go meet Liz in Italy instead.
I read—moved to tears, laughter, chicken skin, longing, happiness, sadness, shame, joy…
I would stop reading and meditate over passages that caused some sort of shift in me—and would open my eyes hours later to discover the sun had set on the front side of my house, and I was sitting in darkness, a smile on my face.
With its support, I successfully changed my attitude and my entire life. I graduated off my deck and became social again. I started dancing again. I took tango lessons. I learned to salsa. I began exploring the masculine/feminine aspects of myself and began coaxing myself toward the feminine end of that spectrum.
A man that has become—second only to my daughter—the love of my life, taught me how to blues dance. And I fell in love—with him and with blues dancing. He and I are still dancing together, dancing through our amazing and fulfilling relationship and on the dance floor. We teach blues dance now.
I didn’t stop there. I am still rereading Eat Pray Love, letting it have its way with me.
It is still my comfort and solace and go-to propellant. It continues to usher me up and into my own heart when I am wondering what to do (go back to bed, Grace), when I’m frightened about what’s next, when I know I need to crack through my own restrictive seed pod and send out some roots, some new growth into happiness, into sacred moments when I, just like Liz, sink down into that still, calm hub of my heart, happy and content.
Author: Grace Cooley
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Courtesy of the author