Transitions

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Last night I had a nightmare that my passport had been stolen in Loas and because it is such a difficult place, I couldn’t come home to America.

I keep having flashbacks. I keep remembering small things I’d forgotten in this swift transition from a third world country back to big city America.

Walking down the sidewalk in downtown Portland, I still think to myself how clean it is, how well laid out. I stop at crosswalks. I don’t run at full speed across the street between scooters and small cars.

I miss scooters.

The months I spent overseas are so small in the larger scheme of things. But… I’ve put off getting a hair cut because I love knowing that the last person to cut my hair was a man in Bangkok who didn’t speak much English but treated my head like a Bonzai.

It’s a strange and alienating feeling.

This morning in the shower I opened my mouth to the warm rush and drank from it. I can’t ever shake that fear of the water in Laos. Wondering if I was poisoning myself or my husband by rinsing vegetables in tap water…

I randomly remember so many things from life in Loas. I’m realizing that I basically came “home” and tried to turn off one valve while opening another.

Life doesn’t work like that.

So what do I do? I try to let myself think about what happened, how difficult and rewarding it was, I try to allow the managerie of feelings to have the space they need.

But, I still just want to shout at people around me that they are SO lucky! They can drink the water in the shower! They have a  light at each crosswalk the vehicles follow that allows them to cross safely. Oh how I want to tell the lovely people around me how many things we can be grateful for!

All the while, most of my energy is spent trying to acclimate. Even now I feel out of place and awkward. It’s not easy. Portland is amazing, don’t get me wrong I love it here, but SE Asia to Portland is jarring and I’m realizing more and more all these weeks later that I have to find a way to work through these feelings.

Transitions in life are like this, don’t you think? Some small, some leaps over canyons but none are easy.

What has been your most difficult transition and how did you work through it?

 

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healing

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On a day like today
(But not today)
I will wake up
My legs will take me
Where I want to be
My arms will hold
What needs to be held
On that day like today
(But not this day)
I will not worry
Lament or bemoan
My thoughts will blossom
And spread their seeds
My heart will open
Letting go at last

– Just Me Actually

Bravery

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Brave. That’s what she called me.

Me? Brave? But I’m afraid of everything.

Fear is like my shadow. My heart races while my thoughts spin and I sigh. Oh it’s just you again. My fears come in all shapes and sizes but behind those masks are one and the same.  Anxiety, depression, stress…all coming from that deep elemental place where fear reigns.

When I look back though, when I play the movie of the last few years, I watch myself experiencing constant fear and moving toward it. I haven’t let it stand in my way. There I am moving from place to place almost never finding my comfort zone. And that’s me living halfway around the world in a strange new country. If I saw anyone else doing these things, surely I would describe them as very brave. Especially if I had insight into how deeply fearful they were to begin with.

And so I’m left with this: I am Brave.

Bravery is not being fearless. It is being overwhelmed by fear and not backing down. We can only be brave when we are afraid.

So, embrace your fear. Look it right in the eye and thank it for making you a warrior.

 

I’m Alive

 

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….but the past doesn’t work like that.

Our previous selves, the ghosts of who we’ve been, remain inside and form vital portions of who we are now. I’ve withstood a challenging year because of my past. As much as I’d love to close one door, barricade it with rocks and set monsters as guards, I know I have to let it all come with me.

I’m busy conquering a new fire swamp. It began with the car break in and robbery, but that has become a footnote. I’m working and exploring and getting a feel for this new home.

I’m finding my rhythm.

My expectations and well laid plans fall away as I stride forward into the unknown.

It may be hard for me on many levels, but damn I do feel alive.

 

(Poem by the exquisite Mary Oliver)

 

 

Surviving

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I usually resist writing when I feel distraught. Today I feel like it might take over if I don’t get it out so here I go..

A week ago my car was broken into and my belongings stolen out of the backseat. I’d just pulled into Portland and parked downtown near my new place of work. My suitcase and duffel bag were gone when I came out two hours later. I didn’t think to worry as it was the middle of the day and so many people were around. I was also too excited to see my best friend and my new place of work.

When I saw the broken window and realized what had happened I felt sick. I cried. Hard. As each item that I’d lost registered, a new stream of tears would flow. My passport, sentimental jewelry and my favorite clothes just gone. All of my toiletries from bobby pins to glasses most likely in a dumpster somewhere.

I know crimes like this happen to so many people every single day. I know it’s just stuff. I tell people so often that I barely own anything anymore and really don’t place sentiment on physical belongings. But I’m sitting here now even a week later feeling like my identity was taken from me.

My friend and I taped up the hole in the window with massive amounts of duct tape over cardboard. All week long I’ve felt like when the window got replaced, I’d feel whole again. It was replaced this morning. I don’t feel any better.

The duct tape residue is still all over the car and slivers of glass remain inside. I tried for a while to remove it with oil. I held back more tears and said over and over “It’s just a car it’s just a car it’s just a car”. But I still want to cry.

I fight the thoughts telling me I’ve made a huge mistake.

I go over and over the things I’m grateful for: a place to stay with my best friend, new co-workers that bring bags of clothes and shoes and toiletries to work before they even meet me,  the way time goes by so quickly now, being the opposite of bored, enjoying nature, having the money to begin replacing my lost things. I’m lucky. I know.

So why do I still want to give up? Why do I want to sob like a little girl?

I think because I’m human. We can’t always be strong. When life keeps throwing challenge after challenge we sometimes throw down the glove and refuse to play anymore.

It can’t always be sunshine and roses.

I’m writing this here because I strive to be authentic. I don’t ever want anyone to see just the highlight reel. It’s easy to look around on social media and start to think our own life will never be as good as everyone else’s. But the truth is we all struggle somehow. We all hurt. We all go through periods we think we can’t survive.

Here I am though, surviving.

 

Zero to Sixty

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I’ve been back in the states for a week. Already it feels like my expat life was lifetimes ago. My brain so easily slipped back into the ways of American life. Driving a car, grocery shopping, speaking English to strangers, going to manicured parks and exploring shops who’s wares are not necessities.

A few days from now I’ll be starting a part time job. A few weeks after that I’ll start a second part time job. Within a very short time my life has gone from zero to sixty. In Laos I spent hours alone and without much to do to pass the time. As I look at my schedule for August I worry I won’t have enough time. I like this problem.

The challenges I faced in the last five months in Laos have left me much stronger than I realized. Admittedly, a version of me years ago wouldn’t have embraced such massive life changes and challenges happening so quickly. I would have needed time to ease into each one. I would have dipped one toe in at a time. Slowly, I’d walk in up to my waist and when finally acclimated I would carefully go in over my head.

I’m cliff diving into this one.

Does this mean I don’t have anxiety and worry I’ll be a total mess? Not at all. I know that even when I’m a mess I can still succeed.  I’m remembering that not trying at all is the true failure in life.  Whatever happens, I want to know that I didn’t let fear hold me prisoner.

Failure to Thrive

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One word has been resonating through my heart and my head every day. A word repeatedly spoken as a gift by  Onmyfeet . He ends each encouraging comment with:

Thrive

Every day I go rounds with myself. How do I make this work? How can I find ways to thrive here in Laos? What am I doing wrong? The truth is I just plain don’t feel well. It’s been weeks of using my ‘mind over matter’ approach to sickness with no improvement. It’s a scary thing to admit you’re not physically well so far from home.  I’ve blamed the extreme heat and humidity. I’ve blamed lack of sleep and dehydration. I’ve blamed lack of physical activity. I’ve blamed myself.

I’m strong. I should be able to make this work. I shouldn’t wake up every morning figuring out how I’ll slog through the day ahead. I should embrace it all and be excited. Should should should.

It’s left me torn, confused and sad.

But, a wave of relief came over me yesterday when we bought my ticket home. Does this make me a quitter? I tell myself that the finish line was a point I set myself. I had this idea I’d last a year and anything less would be a failure.

So, now I try to come to terms with leaving. I will miss so much of this life.  The future is totally unknown again and that knowledge is also difficult to deal with. I crave stability and health at this point more than anything.

In a week I’ll be on a plane home. Rob will follow a month after and we will continue our crazy beautiful mess of a journey together into the next chapter.

And we will find a place to grow and more importantly to thrive.

New beginnings await.

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My Beautiful Mess

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I’m always trying to find my balance. Every move leaves me wobbly and wondering. Did we make the right choice? Will this be okay? How can I ever know if I’m on the right path?

I suspect the answer is simple, although it doesn’t ever feel that way.

With new surroundings come new challenges. Every day is bursting at the seams with ups and downs. One minute finds me frustrated, hot and thinking it’s time to throw in the towel (which is drenched with sweat) and the next I’m overwhelmed with amazement at some small piece of magic.

Leaning out the window as the clouds burst one night, I was greeted with a friendly call of “sabaidee” from the man across the street. He kept pointing up at me to lure his small daughter out. She waved shyly to me and scooted back inside as fast as possible. My heart swelled.

Sitting down for a glass of wine on the quiet main street of town, the soft, low drum and chanting of monks washed over me from across the narrow street. My heart was calmed.

Riding Scout, our scooter, through a riverside neighborhood of unpaved streets, we were met with kind faces and friendly waves from the residents. My heart glowed.

This morning as we came down the steps of Mt. Phousi, two male tourists stopped us with what sounded like Japanese. At first I thought they wanted Rob to take their picture together but that wasn’t it. They each wanted to have a picture taken with Rob. He kindly agreed. My heart laughed.

The answer I feel somewhere deep down inside is that every path is the right path. I don’t believe in fate or that some things are meant to be.

Life to me is a chaotic, random and ever changing beautiful mess.

What we do with that mess is entirely up to us.

Fight or Flight

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This morning I sit gazing out over rooftops to the mountains. Today is our third morning in Luang Prabang. Our new home is a welcome change from Vientiane. I can see trees, mountains and sky! The rainy season is beginning, bringing with it cleaner air and bluer skies.

The apartment we rented for our first month is comfortable and has the view pictured above. Stunning.

We hoped for quiet. I believed I’d escaped most of the city noise.  This morning a wedding party began it’s set-up right outside our front door. It will soon be tents and tables and chairs covering the entire street. I’m in a panic. Why? Because these parties last for days and are accompanied by the loudest possible music.

So, even though we’ve only been here for a few days, we changed our Friday tickets to today and will escape to Bangkok.  It may sound extreme, but trust me you would do the same thing. The noise level and length of the Laos wedding is bad enough that the minute I saw them setting up outside the window, I started shaking with adrenaline.

Fight or flight? I choose flight.

Our apartment will wait for our return and I’ll still have my sanity (somewhat) intact.

 

 

Moving and Shaking

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Moving used to sound like torture to me. When I was a little girl I held fast to the idea that we would never move from the house I grew up in. Once I was older, I was sure I’d find my own home and stay in it forever. The thought of uprooting everything and taking it to a new place was overwhelming. I was highly attached to things and places and parting with any of it was much too sad to think about.

My first move away from my original home was to Seattle. After a few years of rain, we (yes Rob and I were an item even then) packed it all up and made the long move down to San Diego. Southern California remained my home but to the tune of about four or five different locations requiring even more moves.

When I said goodbye to California, we really scaled down our belongings for a move over the ocean to Oahu. We moved from Oahu to Montana and from Montana to Laos. There were interims and temporary living situations in between many of those larger moves.

Clearly the little girl in me had to get over moving and let go of attachments.

Now it’s time for another move, albeit a small one. This weekend Rob and I will pack up our suitcases and head to our next home in Luang Prabang.  It’s about a seven hour drive and I’m looking forward to seeing more of this country I call home. Vientiane isn’t exactly a jewel in the crown of Laos. I’m a bit worn out from the noise and the lack of nature. The city mouse in me is over it.

Luang Prabang beckons with it’s quieter setting, cleaner streets and greener surroundings. The country mouse in me will enjoy this UNESCO world heritage site for a while until it’s once again time to pull anchor.

I’ve never been to Luang Prabang. I realized this morning that the last few moves I’ve made have been to places I’ve never set foot in.  Somewhere along the way, I let go of the need to make absolutely sure everything will work out. Nothing is ever how I think it’ll be anyway. Expectations are the leading cause of major disappointments (I’m talking to you Oahu).

I do have one expectation. I expect I’ll still be just me (actually).

That saying “wherever you go, there you are” is annoying because it’s the absolute truth. Every time I move I harbor a little hope I can turn over new leaves while leaving behind the inner demons.  Once I arrive and the newness wears off, I find I’m still exactly who I was  and who I will clearly always be. Each move is another lesson in learning to accept this.

Into the great wide open….(again).