Adjustment & the Return to "Home"

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

To keep it real, I arrived feeling so frail and broken, homeless and confused by how strangely familiar and foreign home felt. No one ever warns you about that. You expect change and culture shock when you arrive in a foreign country, but you never really expect it when you get home.

Living abroad can be so lonely and there are certain aspects that I was looking forward to dropping upon my arrival in NYC. It was almost as if I expected those struggles to just disappear once I stepped foot on American soil. Not true. Not true at all. The weight and detachment felt from existing as a chat window, voice on the phone, or email to my closest friends and family was still there weighing down on me. Even more difficult was coming back to any place... noticing that it looks the same, feels the same, smells the same, but it's you who's changed. And it's you who has to figure out how you fit in. The people you left have changed. It can be subtle or very intensely drastic, but there's still some awkward dancing taking place as you get to know each other again, figure out how you fit in each other's lives, discover if the shared inside jokes still make you laugh the same way.

At the heart of the difficulties are these unspoken expectations. Upon returning, I expected an immediate sense of home and an ability to drop my traveler's mentality for a bit. Interestingly, I found it's my traveling approach that provides me with comfort and strength to work through this. Presence is important to have, but for the first time ever, presence is what brought me such pain. It was such a harsh reality to face--7 months have passed and the world is different. Your home is just as foreign to you as a country you've never visited.

I'm incredibly thankful for Rich & his visit. After helping me haul my belongings from JFK to the Bronx, we talked about why he flew here to see me. And he explained one of the reasons was that he knew how hard it is to come home and adjust, and wanted to make sure I felt welcomed back. I took his intentions very lightly, not out of insensitivity but I just didn't understand. Now, I definitely do, and am so thankful that there's someone who understands me more intimately than myself sometimes. Someone who sees the big picture when I have a narrow purview. Someone who thinks while I feel. Someone who picks up the slack for when my efforts fall short. And I found a sense of home in that.

Going back to the unspoken expectations... I realized that I had many for myself. I expected myself to just pick up where I left off. I expected that after just two days, I'd be ready to see everyone and host a big dinner party. I expected myself to be able to adjust to the time zone immediately. I expected myself to eat the food with great ease and welcome. I expected myself to adjust instantly and seamlessly. Because I am a traveler, and that's what I've been doing for the past 7 months... arriving somewhere new and making it feel like home for however long I'm there. I think that's why I've been having my anxiety attacks... mixed expectations. I expected both home & travel and for me to be able to tell the difference and switch the modes on & off without thinking twice.

After the adventure of accompanying Rich to the airport, I felt myself crumble a little. Not because I'd miss Rich and didn't know when I was going to see him again. I'm actually not worried about he & I... I felt lost because I was left to deal with myself, just me, and on my own. Which is good. Amidst the breakdown, I prayed and realized that the answer for my painful adjustment lies in what I told myself when I first arrived in the Philippines. In that first journal entry where I wrote out the things that make me happy and grounded. The list doesn't change regardless of location and time. Sometimes I surprise myself.

I'm open to others reading about my adjustment period because I felt like I didn't have anyone to talk to, who fully understood what I was working through. So, to anyone who reads this and feels lost at home after a comeback, I feel ya.
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