There are books that draw you in and don't let you go until you've finished them. Then there are book that grab you through the stomach like a hook and drag you places that you would prefer not to go. These books are rare - I stumble upon one only every few years. They are books that make me examine myself, my life, my past. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert was both for me. I'm far from the first person to write about it. But I have this theory that books that are going to make me think make their way to me when I'm ready to listen to them.
After a divorce and losing much of her money Gilbert schedules a year trip, planning to spend several months in Italy, India and Indonesia. The book is correspondingly divided into sections for each. Also in each section we see a different part of a complex woman, see her in stages of recovery from the grief of living a life she wasn't happy with and all the repercussions that came with ending it.
In the chapter section in Italy she spends a lot of time reflecting on past relationships. One description hit me hard. I blogged about it weeks ago on my personal blog because it shook me, because I saw a me in it that I prefer to pretend that I haven't been.
Addiction is the hallmark of every infatuation-based love story. It all begins when the object of your adoration bestows upon you a heady, hallucinogenic dose of something you never even dared to admit you wanted - an emotional speedball, perhaps, of thunderous love and roiling excitement. Soon you start craving that intense attention, with the hungry obsession of any junkie. When the drug is withheld, you promptly turn sick, crazy and depleted (not to mention resentful of the dealer who encouraged this addiction in the first place but who now refuses to pony up the good stuff anymore - despite the fact that you know he has it hidden somewhere, goddamn it, because he used to give it to you for free). Next stage finds you skinny and shaking in a corner certain only that you would sell your soul or rob your neighbors just to have that thing even one more time. Meanwhile, the object of your adoration has now become repulsed by you. He looks at you like you’re someone he’s never met before, much less someone he once loved with high passion. The irony is, you can hardly blame him. I mean, check yourself out. You’re a pathetic mess, unrecognizable even to your own eyes.
So that’s it. You have reached infatuation’s final destination - the complete and merciless devaluation of self.
What I wrote on my blog in response to that quote was the following:
I read that and got taken back to a time and a place I’d like to forget. A time when I didn’t recognize myself. When I really didn’t like the person I was with that much in the beginning and at the end liking them even less as I sat in a crumpled mess wondering how the fuck I ended up there. And then not knowing how to deal I got skinny (fine, skinnier) and drank a hell of a lot of booze. Somehow or another I came out of it. But not unscarred. And not brave. No, not all brave. I still sit huddled in the corner not daring allow anyone to get close. I hold men at a distance letting them in just enough to have fun but never enough for them to get past my barriers.
Because the thought of that scares the crap out of me. Because I know that what happened years ago was an infatuation. It was an addiction. And when it broke it nearly broke me. I’m terrified to think of what could happen if I were to find something real. I’m terrified that I would lose myself totally and not be able to bring myself back from the edge.
It took me a long time to get past that section of the book. That passage hit so close to home that I was frightened of it. I let the book sit for days because I was scared of what other layers of myself I may find exposed thanks to Gilbert's words. It didn't help that it followed cloes on the heels of a conversation with a friend who asked me if I really let people in, or if I let them see what I wanted them to see while maintaining walls and barriers. The double whammy of meant that the book sat on my bedside table for days. I did eventually pick it up and continued to read. Thankfully (for me) there were no more glimpses of myself in the literary mirror. But what there was was a marvelous story of healing and learning to love again.
My own personal experience with Eat, Pray, Love was about love and relationships and learning to trust in yourself again. That you can move past the addiction and find your way to a real love. That you can make yourself available and vulnerable without being that woman skinny and shaking in the corner looking for a hit. This book is something that I will carry with me.
But don't just take my word for it. Here's a selection of other blog reviews.
Diana at the blog Somebody Heal Me called this book "the trigger of a lifetime". Like me, she believes this book found its way to her when she needed it.
I firmly believe I picked up this book at the very moment in my life that I needed its message and was just open enough to it receive it. Her inspiring words are changing my life.
Maria at Back in Skinny Jeans sees the book as a journey inside as much as it was a physical journey.
Some critics may argue the book is a self-absorbed memoir. I'll argue so what? We all have a story to tell and if yours enriches mine, then I welcome your words with open arms. Gilbert practices what she preaches: any self-improvement practice that makes her a better person will affect others all the more. Healing, prosperity and love on the individual level also has a family, community domino effect. I couldn't agree more.
Maria wasn't the only one to mention the self-absorbed notion (aren't memoirs supposed to be self-aborbed?). Thoughts of Joy commented on it as well.
A few times throughout the book, I wanted her to stop being so self-absorbed, but when that happened I would say to myself, "Hey, it's HER memoir. I think that's allowed."
Americanmum says it was like sitting down with a friend.
Reading her story is like sitting down for coffee and having a heart-to-heart with your best girlfriend, and getting in both a good laugh and a good cry. Her book makes me want to learn the art of meditation. And travel. But mostly, it makes me want to try and be a better person. And read more books that nourish me…like this one.
Nourishing yourself...I think that pretty well sums up what the author sought out to do. She nourished herself physically in Italy, spiritually in India and emotionally in Indonesia. And she nourished readers in their own homes.
Quotation taken from the Penguin books 2006 paperback edition pages 20-21.
Contributing Editor Sassymonkey also blogs at Sassymonkey and Sassymonkey Reads and swears she's been planning to write about this book for weeks and isn't doing it because of Oprah.
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