November 07, 2014 12:15 PM

Matthew McConaughey shares 10 moments that changed his life, from landing his first big gig, to losing his beloved father, to becoming a dad himself, and more! Subscribe now for instant access to our exclusive PEOPLE cover story.

After Matthew McConaughey shot to the top of Hollywood’s A-list with A Time to Kill in 1996, the actor, then age 27, did what few stars with a taste of fame would: He hightailed it to the Peruvian jungle. Alone.

“I was sick, literally, and of myself,” the Interstellar star writes in this week’s cover story about 10 moments that shaped his life. “Maybe it had something to do with getting my mind and body back in balance after losing my anonymity to the overnight success of my first starring role in a film called A Time to Kill and becoming famous overnight. Maybe it was Montezuma’s revenge. Both were true.”

While the actor was tempted to head back to the comforts of his California home and the trappings of newfound celebrity, he remained in the rain forest – and soon, everything changed.

“Shortly after puking for the fourth time before 9 a.m. on a rain-soaked morning at 11,000 feet in the cloud forest, I noticed the same wet, brown path I’d been hiking for weeks was suddenly glowing with blues and greens and pink colors like I had never seen before, there or anywhere. Looking closer, I noticed the colors were actually that of thousands of butterflies on the tropical floor,” he writes.

“I don’t know exactly what or how it happened but at that moment I felt like a new man. Lighter. The thought of going home and the weight on my shoulders were lifted and out loud, to no one in particular, I said, ‘I want what I can see, and all I can see is right in front of me.’ ”

McConaughey, who calls the South American adventure “magical,” writes about an array of other personal moments, from the death of his beloved father, Jim, and being in “the right bar at the right time” to land his breakout role in Dazed and Confused, to the birth of his first son, Levi, now 6.

For much more from McConaughey, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now

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