"Eat, Pray, Love" brought Elizabeth Gilbert the kind of fame most authors only dream of.
The 2006 memoir followed Gilbert as she soul-searched her way around the world in the emotional aftermath of a difficult divorce. The book sold more than 10 million copies and was later turned into a hit movie starring Julia Roberts in 2010. And it all began with Gilbert getting on a plane to Italy 16 years ago this week.
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"Sixteen years ago today — on September 3, 2004 — I got on a plane to Italy, to begin the journey that would eventually become EAT PRAY LOVE," she wrote in the caption on Instagram. "This is what I looked like, just a few months before I left for Italy."
"I was 33 years old. I had been in a state of depression, anxiety, and shame for nearly three years," she continued. "I felt like a failure because I’d blown up my marriage and didn’t want to have kids. (What kind of woman can’t keep a husband and doesn’t want children? #failure) And I was now lovesick (literally: SICK AND SUFFERING) over an emotionally unavailable man, who held me in such contempt that he couldn’t even make eye contact with me."
Gilbert recalled being so depressed that she was unable to eat and said her body at that time was "in constant pain."
"It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that I never stopped crying," she wrote. "Look at my posture: I could barely hold up my own body weight."
She also recalled that before stepping onto that plane, she'd spent her life trying to make everyone around her happy while neglecting her own needs.
"Until that point in my life, I had been guided by only two forces: People Pleasing, and Addictive Impulse," she wrote. "Which meant that I constantly wavered between abandoning myself by trying to be GOOD, and abandoning myself by acting out for immediate gratification.
"This is what self-abandonment looks like. This is what a woman looks like when she does not take care of herself, honor herself, cherish herself, or know how to get quiet enough to connect to Intuition and Source (rather than impulse and need.)."
Looking back, Gilbert said her faith coupled with her belief in her writing — and her desire to learn Italian — inspired her to pitch the idea of "Eat, Pray, Love" to her editor.
"I wrote an email to my editor, who had already published three of my books," she shared in the caption. "The letter was no more than a page long. I told him what I wanted to do. Where I wanted to travel, and why. I told him that I wanted to write a memoir, even though I had never written about myself before."
Though Gilbert's idea for a memoir seemed like a long shot, her editor agreed she was embarking on a journey well worth taking — and he believed it was one others would want to read about.
"I don’t remember exactly what I said in that letter, but I remember what he said: 'Do it. Go.'" she wrote. "And on September 3, 2004, I did it. I went."