Scotland with a Stranger: Preface

To write this book, I relied heavily on my private journals, blog posts, text messages, photographs, and videos. I recalled all the events and conversations from my memory as accurately as I could. All the names and identifying characteristics of the individuals portrayed have been changed to preserve anonymity. I omitted a few events leading up to and during the trip that had no impact on the substance of the story.

I have strived to tell this story as accurately and as truthfully as I can.

A Fair Warning

There are some pretty heavy topics in here, and a bit of profanity. If that offends you, then you will want to read something else.

Chapter One

Who goes to Scotland for two weeks with a stranger they met over the internet?

I did.

I remember the very first message; I was part of a women’s photography group on Facebook, and I was nearing the end of my photography career. It was an uncertain time, and I was trying to figure out what was next for me professionally. This coated my life in fear that was nearly paralyzing, like a boat floating in the ocean, no longer tethered to the career that had been my identity. The last three years after my divorce had been punishing in nearly every measurable way, and I was completely depleted.

At the time, I was working exclusively from home, rarely leaving the house because, when I am depressed, I tend to hunker down and hide. I was sad and lost, and nothing seemed to make sense anymore, stuck in the soul sucking social media career I never wanted but which seemed to want me. The daily grind of it and the comparison factor left the sour taste of dissatisfaction in my mouth when I looked at the smoking wreckage of my life. Social media is the devil, camouflaged as connection. Showing us the greatest hits reels of people’s lives, which we compare against our personal struggles, making us feel insignificant, unworthy, and less than. I was stuck in this land of fraud and make believe, unable to find an exit.

Every day was the same, stretched out before me, looking bleak and barren, and I just existed in the most basic ways, only fulfilling the basic needs for myself and my children. That day, I posted a photo in the group of the five-figure engagement ring I had just returned to the wrong man, needing some encouragement from strangers because my life was so isolating. And then I heard the Facebook messenger notification ding, and there it was. A message from a stranger named Erika.

I read your post. I have this idea I want to do. I know the mountains of Scotland. When I had to take my life back, I took off for Scotland and hiked and hiked and found myself again on the mountains. It was amazing.

I want to take a group of women there. Not like a workshop. But more just for self-healing. There is something special about Scotland. And don’t worry, I know how to do it cheap.

I pray a lot, and when I was there last time, I knew I was supposed to do this.

I will just lead you. When I was there last time, I knew this was something I was called to do. I know the country. I know what you are going through, and I know the need to regain your sense of self. This is a God thing.

A God thing. The magic words. It hit my heart hard. I was raised Catholic, and it stuck, especially the guilt. I didn’t identify as Catholic anymore, but I definitely believed in God, and nothing would ever change that. I have always had a wide-eyed optimistic ‘Pollyanna’ quality, always thinking things will get better, even when knee deep in disaster. I should have been a boxer. My ability to recover, knockout after knockout, was so strong, like one of those weighted superhero punching bags that take a pounding and then pop right back up again, over and over and over.

Hiking, healing, the trip of a lifetime… These words resonated in the deepest recesses of my heart. Being a self-help junkie since nearly birth, my library was filled with inspirational books, my favorites being those of journey and self-discovery stories like “Wild” and “Eat Pray Love.” Those stories planted a seed in me that yearned for an experience like this, and the idea that I might actually have one in real life was thrilling.

It called to my soul in a way that there was nothing else I could say except yes. It just felt like it was the exact thing I needed, at the exact, right moment I needed it.

The messages flew back and forth furiously for a few minutes. Erika would plan everything. I would just need to show up and be transformed.

The people there are so happy.

Happiness and joy like you have never experienced before.

The landscape is so beautiful.

The mountains and waterfalls are amazing.

When I got to the summit, I cried.

Beauty. Joy. Happiness. I could use some of that. Those things had been so elusive for me for so long, I almost forgot they existed. She said we could do it all for less than $3000, so I made up my mind in seconds. I had been dying to use my passport since I got it a year and a half before. I had never been out of the country, ever, not even to Canada or Mexico, and I was ready! I was finally going to travel and do all the things I said I was going to do ‘someday.’ I was going to heal myself and reconnect with my soul on the mountaintops of Scotland. Finally, I was going to fill up my own well and figure out who I was now that I had no man in my life.

When I read her words through my cracked rose-colored glasses, I sobbed like a baby at the rightness of it all. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. I could not have been more excited and ready for an experience like this.

The next day, I wrote in my journal:

God sent me an angel in Erika. A guide, a leader, a sister. Someone who has been there. Who knows the struggle to get back to your sense of self when you have lost everything. When you don’t know who you are anymore. When you are little and lost and broken. Someone who can gently guide you back to center. Who can push you to break through the sadness and pain to the other side. That is what Erika will do for me. I just know it.

Fair warning: I must also admit I have a flair for the dramatic and over romancing things in my head. Looking back now, I was a sitting duck. I mean, “God sent me an angel?” “When the student is ready, the teacher appears?” “Reconnect with my soul on the mountaintops of Scotland?” Reading those words now makes me want to puke in my mouth a little, but at the time, I was serious. It felt so right. It was destiny.

Yes, I am in. I am all in.

I needed this so badly.

That’s how it started. A Facebook post in a group and a message from a stranger. That’s all it takes to change your life.

⭐️⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️  Should be in the circle of Anne Lamott and Elizabeth Gilbert

I’d found it hard to concentrate on reading books during quarantine until this one! With two demanding children at home, I wasn’t getting very far in any book that I picked up — until Scotland With A Stranger. I never put it down from start to finish. I completely tuned out the world so that this time when other things interrupted me, I was unaware, for example, that my name had been called several times before I heard it haha! I’d look up, mumble an answer, and get right back into the book. That’s the best kind of reading and it’d been too long since I had that!!! Scotland With A Stranger was so honest and brave, it made me both laugh and cry, and was comparable to Anne Lamott! Memoirs and biographies have always been my favorite genre. This book is right there with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love!

⭐️⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️  Not Your Regular Memoir

You would think heading off to Scotland for 2 weeks with someone you have never met would fall under a serious mid-life crisis category. But for Ninya, it led to an amazing journey of self-discovery and forgiveness. Ninya has lived a roller-coaster of a life – dealing with more things than I can imagine. She lays it all out for us – the good, the bad, the ugly, the wicked. She is a real person, telling a real story. Completely unromanticized. Her writing style will have you feeling like you are right there with her, feeling all the feels. Bonus – not only does she describe the beautiful scenery but she has an online photo album available for you to see the pictures and videos she took. Ninya is an inspiration to women everywhere and a phenomenal author. I can’t wait to read more from her.

⭐️⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️  Many Trips in One

Great, fast-paced read. Well-structured in alternating between the trip itself and the very personal events which built up to it. Plenty of humor (self-deprecating, my favorite kind), along with descriptions of Scotland that will inspire many future trips. Introspective without navel-gazing, and demonstrates journeys toward acceptance of self and peace with past disappointments. There’s something here for everyone. I’ll read this author again!

⭐️⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️  Not Just Another Memoir

There are things in life that speak to the deepest parts of our hearts; our triumphs, our failures, our hopes, our fears, our dreams, our pain.
For some it is art, for others, it is music.

For some, it will be this book.

Ninya shares, in an authentic and uncomplicated way, that she is living a life so many of us live.
The names are changed, the rooms are different colors, the smells vary in their complexity.

You will cheer her as she makes discoveries about life and self you yourself have made.
You will find hope in the lessons she has absorbed; lessons we all know intellectually, but may still be struggling to fully bring into ourselves.
You will want to hug away her pain, so much like your own.
You will want to assure her she is on a good path, she is worthy, she is strength.

She is another version of you, on paper for all to see.

She will remind you that your journey is YOUR journey, and yet it is the journey of us all.
And wherever that journey takes us, we are on a good path, we are worthy, we are strength.

Pin It on Pinterest