My solo trip to Guatemala was my first solo trip. I had left my corporate job and was working on my own. I decided to take almost four weeks and journey to Guatemala to find myself after the end of a relationship. Solo travel after the end of a relationship turned out to be a pattern: I would go and find myself after a relationship ended. A perfect way to move on and enjoy life fully again! Traveling solo for me is extremely therapeutic. I’ve met so many amazing men and women, and I’ve seen so many things I would have never seen had I just taken a tour. Usually on these trips, I would show up with no big plan in mind. I would “go with the wind,” which felt like the most freedom I had ever had in my life.
During my first solo trip in Guatemala, I was grieving the loss of a recent relationship that was as close to abusive as I have ever experienced. The really good news is that as soon as I knew there was abuse potentially going to happen, I made a decision in that moment that this person was not for me. I truly had asked the Universe to send me a sign if I should or should not stay with him: Just days later the prelude to abuse occurred. I was actually fearful of this man, so ending the relationship took a bit of time but was a very healthy step for me.
I was free, and the land was so rich in Guatemala. During this trip, I was staying at a wonderful hostel location in San Marcos near Lake Atitlan, my favorite place in Guatemala, where I had fun and met a lot of people. There was a stone sauna, and we would all do a sweat together in a stone house and bond with everyone. Some people did not wear clothes. I loved that the level of inhibition is so different and much lower in other countries.
I connected with a very important teacher in Guatemala. Hugh, a man from Australia, and I made an instant connection. It was like I had known him forever—and he was certainly a teacher for me. The small town of San Marco was having a fair, and there was a ferris wheel we decided to ride. We were stuck at the top for awhile, and his friend yelled up to us, “That is how gringos die!” Yes, that ferris wheel was truly beyond old. I remember yelling to the operator “mas dispacio” (go slower). I was afraid. But when you travel solo, you really don’t focus on fear as much. That is part of the freedom.
Hugh would become a part of my self-healing journey. We connected so easily and deeply. I did not want him to leave, and he invited me to travel with him. I said YES. We decided to travel to a beautiful waterfall with amazing pools, Semuc Champey, Guatemala. Hugh got sick before our trip was to leave, so I went ahead riding in the back of an old truck the entire bumpy, dusty road to this magical place. I really hoped that Hugh would join me. I waited, and he finally showed up but was still very sick. Taking very good care of him and feeling so close and connected, I truly felt like his long-term girlfriend. We then decided to head to a place very near Honduras, Livingston. However, once we got there, things started to change. We met an Australian woman with whom Hugh connected, and he chose to spend the day with her. That was my cue to leave. As I was leaving the next morning on the early boat, I remember Hugh looking me in the eyes and saying to me, “I am sorry. You deserve to be treated better.” Yes, I did. Hugh taught me once again that loving myself was the most important aspect of my life at this point.
I had used my limited Spanish and booked the early boat that they over packed by probably 50 people over to Puerto Barios. I was so scared, and I literally thought to myself, “if I die now, my mom will never know what happened.” But the boat was the quickest way to get back to Lake Atitlan. Lake Atitlan had become my safe haven. I was hurting from this experience with Hugh. I took the boat, a bus and then a chicken bus—yes, there was a chicken—and then a boat all the way back that day. That was a true feat to make all of those connections! Times like these really allow you to realize your strength. This was a large part of my lesson on this journey.
I had a few days left, so I focused on taking care of me and continued my healing. One night I rented a nice room at a small hot springs in a neighboring town. I was the only one there and had an idea as I gazed up at the twinkling stars: I did a wonderful little ceremony and vowed to love and respect myself for the rest of my life. I married myself that evening. I first was married that evening in Guatemala, and I was married to me.
This vow and accompanying ceremony proved to be a turning point in my life. I knew that I was loved because I loved me. I bought myself a beautiful jade ring on that trip, which I wore as my wedding ring. I recommend this initial marriage to anyone who is single. We must truly marry ourselves first. It is such a wonderful way to acknowledge our love for ourselves. My journey had truly just begun, but I was finally looking forward to it with anticipation. I realized I had the power to make myself happy. I am forever grateful to Hugh and all he taught me.
This is an excerpt from Shannon’s new book “In Love With Me: The 7 Self-Love Strategies for Successful Relationships, Parenting and Performance”.
Shannon R. Rios Paulsen MS LMFT (www.inlovewithme.com) has spent the last 12 years learning, writing, and coaching about self-love. She is a professional life coach and a licensed marriage and family therapist. She is the author of two best-selling guided meditations: The Healing Journey Within: Meditations for Abundance and Love, Volume I (Deserving) and Volume II (Manifesting) (bit.ly/meditat3). She also wrote the best-selling book, The 7 Fatal Mistakes Divorced and Separated Parents Make: Strategies for Raising Healthy Children of Divorce and Conflict (www.healthychildrenofdivorce.com). Shannon lives in Denver, CO with her Swedish husband whom she met on one of her solo self-love journeys in Thailand.