People.com Celebrity The Woman Behind 'Wild' : Cheryl Strayed's Life in Photos See the author's personal pics of major moments in her life – and on set with Reese Witherspoon By Gabrielle Olya Published on December 5, 2014 10:00 AM Share Tweet Pin Email 01 of 06 INTO THE WILD Courtesy Cheryl Strayed Author Cheryl Strayed took this photo in 1995, two weeks before embarking on her 1,100-mile solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. At the time she was 26, newly divorced, had lost her mother and was spiraling down a dangerous path of drug use and promiscuous sex. However, "I'm grateful for everything I've lived through," she tells PEOPLE. "I think everything taught me something. I think in the end you just have to say, 'Of course I'm sorry for some things I did. Of course I wish some things hadn't happened.' But I'm also grateful for them ultimately." 02 of 06 MOTHERLY LOVE Courtesy Cheryl Strayed Strayed lost her mom Bobbi (pictured here with her in 1969) to cancer when she was 22 and her mother was only 45. "My mom loved me so well that I couldn't ultimately fail," says Strayed. "She's there all the time with me. She's in every cell of my body. My mom is the essential person in my life, and by that I mean she helped form my essence. That never dies." Bobbi is portrayed by Laura Dern in the film version of Strayed's memoir. "I would love to tell her that Laura Dern plays her," says Strayed. "That would bring her such joy." 03 of 06 FAMOUS FRIENDS Jeff Vespa/Wireimage Reese Witherspoon was Strayed's first and only choice to portray her in Wild. "Before it was published, I said, 'Hey let's see if somebody in Hollywood wants it,'" explains Strayed. "The first person I thought to send it to was Reese because I thought she'd be extraordinary in the role." Witherspoon immediately fell in love with the story, and optioned it before the book was even published. Working on the film, the two formed a friendship. "We began getting to know each other ... she just over time revealed herself to me to have all those qualities I look for in a friend: She's funny, she's irreverent, she's smart," says Strayed (who also counts Oprah Winfrey, who selected the tome for her book club, among her notable pals). 04 of 06 SO WED Courtesy Cheryl Strayed Strayed married documentarian Brian Lindstrom – whom she met nine days after completing her hike along the Pacific Crest Trail – on Aug. 7, 1999. "I really feel like I walked to my husband," she tells PEOPLE. The two met after being introduced at a dinner. "That night in my journal I wrote, 'I met a man named Brian Lindstrom. I don't know who he's going to be, but he's going to be someone to me.' And that was 19 years ago." Today, "we're best friends, we're partners, and we really are artistic collaborators," she says. "And he's really hot too!" 05 of 06 NEW BEGINNINGS Courtesy Cheryl Strayed Strayed (pictured here with son Carver, daughter Bobbi and husband Brian on a family hike in Laos in December 2012) says her life changed completely when she became a mother. "Life as I knew it ended the day my first child was born, my son Carver," the New York Times bestselling author says. "It was a different world because he was in it, and then my daughter was in it, and I was a different person. Suddenly I went from living for myself to living for my children, and the way that I love them is so profound that it altered everything." 06 of 06 BESTSELLER TO BIG SCREEN Courtesy Cheryl Strayed "The fact that [Wild] was received so well all around the world, I'll never stop being surprised about it," says Strayed (seen here with Witherspoon on the movie's set). Strayed went through another surreal experience watching Witherspoon portray her on the big screen. "I know she's acting, but she's actually going through some of the most difficult moments of my life," Strayed shares. "Some of those scenes I watched, I felt like I was having my heart broken again. Sometimes I felt like I was having my heart put back together."