And reality strikes

I consider myself to be a rather resilient, adaptable person. I’ve lived in other countries for periods of a year before where the native language was NOT English, where I knew few people, if any. I think this is why I hadn’t stopped to recall the specifics of those experiences or think of what this massive change in my life would look like on a day to day basis. I’ve been here for two weeks as of yesterday, and that’s when reality sucker punched me in the gut.

It bore a clever disguise of a typical homework assignment which I didn’t blink an eye at initially. We were to audio tape a 15 minute conversation with someone with a given topic, select a 5 minute section, write a transcription, and bring it to class so we could all go over it. A girl I had started getting to know at the interview and then again at orientation had agreed to help me with mine since I knew few people here. Everything was going fine until she bailed on me yesterday. At first, I laughed about it. I have a handful of very good friends – it’s just that none of them happen to be here. As the minutes passed on, and I scrambled to try to think of a way to resolve my situation, though, I found myself confronting the fact that I felt very much alone.

As in life where juggling a variety of different stressors seems to resemble a game of Jenga, this was the one that sent the whole tower collapsing. I hadn’t really ever thought of how alone I was, how many changes to my life the move with which I was now faced in such a concrete way had created. In talking with a friend, I realized that the only things that have remained constant throughout this process are the fact that it’s my stuff in my apartment and my cat is here. Literally everything else is different. Furthermore, I have been deprived of my usual stress outlets – my kickboxing and karate classes. For me, those classes are not about violence or working out aggression. They are my means of focusing 100% on what I am doing in that moment and letting the rest of the world fall away. That break from thinking about the many other things going on in my life plus the exercise factor help me to calm down, and view my situation from a refreshed and different perspective.

I had a dream that an ex was in last night. This ex embodies many life and love lessons I learned through a great deal of pain and difficulty. Four to six years off and on that culminated in me successfully and permanently extricating him from my life (after a couple tries). We had beyond an intense connection. I identified numerous lives we’d shared previously. No one has hurt me the way he did, I have vowed that no one will ever hurt me that much again, but I have also probably never been as close to anyone as I was him. He has shown up in a couple dreams over the past few weeks, but last night’s dream had the greatest impact. Through the combination of just letting the dream float around in my subconscious and a discussion in class that acted as a trigger, I determined its significance. The discussion in class today was regarding how much we take for granted little things that are familiar to us. I recalled living in France as a student and taking a day trip to Germany with my roommate and another girl (none of us really spoke German), how difficult and completely exhausting it was on numerous levels, and how relieved we felt to get back into France where we could communicate, where we lived, where we were surrounded by things we knew. During some much-needed tub time this evening, I realized that I feel that way here. And then the connection was made that pulled together my dream, my feelings that this homework assignment provoked, and today’s class discussion. Shortly following that, a somewhat scary thought hit me: if my ex miraculously (and it really would be a miracle) showed up on my doorstep this evening, despite everything I’ve been through with him, I would probably welcome the sight simply because it is familiar. Because it is known.

And now I am faced with the question of, how do I adapt to a totally new environment? I know I can because I’ve done it before, but, unfortunately, I can’t remember how I did it – how I managed to get through the days until I was comfortably adjusted to my new circumstances. I am one of those people who has a few close friends – not many friends that aren’t close. And I don’t make those close friends quickly, either. Yes, I’ll figure it out. Yes, it will get better and “work out” in the end. But what am I to do until then?

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Mirrors and unexpected reflections

One of the main things that has been emphasized in all my courses so far is multiculturalism. When I first heard the word, my thoughts went to how I defined culture at the time (mostly based on racial/ethnic background and the corresponding traditions belonging to those backgrounds). What I have learned, however, in my reading, studying, and classes is that culture, particularly in the counseling context, is not limited to race and ethnicity. It also consists of myriad other variables like age, gender, socioeconomic status, religious/spiritual affiliation, life experience, geographic region, dis/ability, etc. At first, the idea of being mindful of this fact seemed absurdly obvious to me – of course we’re all different, and of course we should all be treated with respect to being a unique individual but also a member of a number of different cultures. Considering myself to be a non-racist, non-prejudice person, I didn’t see myself having any difficulty with that at all.

Spirit has a funny way of diving in during those moments and with the sort of look you can imagine that says in a questioning, challenging, almost offensive if it weren’t so gentle way, “Really?” My, like most people I would think, reaction was, “Of course!” but then I participated in an exercise in class that made me take a step back and say, ‘hmmm….’ During the exercise we were given descriptions of 8 people from varying backgrounds. We were told their age, their race, their profession, various life roles they played (grandmother, widow, etc.), what language they spoke, and some other information as well. The situation was that we would be spending 6 months with these people on an island, completely isolated and cut off from the rest of the world but supplied with everything we needed. Our job was to rank them all in the order of who we would want to be with us on the island most to least. The top 5 would be our companions. In the process of going through and ranking these people, I was confronted with my supposedly non-existent prejudice. It was not targeted at race, ethnic background, or religious affiliation per se, but rather life experience. It hit me hardest when confronted with an 18 yr old female Orthodox Jew who was illiterate, pregnant, a childcare worker, and considering her 6th abortion. Now, I personally haven’t really made up my mind as to how I concretely view abortion aside from being very against it being used as a method of birth control. How could this girl who worked in childcare and claim to be Orthodox Jewish reconcile that with having so many abortions? And as we got into small groups and discussed who we had ranked where, I realized I had completely pre-judged this girl based on the small amount of information I had about her. Faced with this fact about myself in such a light that I could not rationalize, could not deny what I had done, I was left sitting there feeling a combination of surprise, disappointment, and quiet culpability. I did not feel defensive or angry at having been shown this about myself since the way it was done was a very gentle way in which I had committed to participating in the activity – it was not something thrust upon me or violently shoved in my face. At the same time, this rendered it no less powerful and intense of a reality check of sorts reminding me I have a long way to go before I can claim with integrity and veracity what I had claimed before the beginning of that class.

These experiences do not come easily or often – especially in this form where we willingly enter into it, anticipating ourselves to be found blameless, but not knowing what the outcome will be. I think most of us do our best to avoid these experiences if we can simply because some unconscious part of us has a doubt as to what we will see when that mirror is held up to our faces for us. Who will it be that is reflected back? Will the image be a pleasant one or one we don’t recognize initially as our own? And will we be gentle enough with ourselves when we do see it so as to not hate the reflection, which would be a kind of perpetuating self-defeat and only serve to enforce a vicious cycle so as to prohibit us from reaching our goal, but simply recognize it is at a certain point of development and needs to be nurtured so it can grow and become the reflection we seek to portray to the world?

Settling in…on a few levels

I have now been living in my new home for exactly a week, though I use the word ‘living’ loosely to describe the first day or two.  My move went very well, Aramis (my cat) was only mildy traumatized but is quite resilient and thus is doing just fine now and enjoying the increase in space, and I’m adjusting to life in the south.  So far, my experiences have been positive ones.  For example, the sun is very different down here.   Sunbathing at 6pm was not a possibility up in Pennsylvania, but seems a common occurrence here in Georgia.

I am one of those people that needs to complete something once they begin it (most of the time), so unpacking for me wasn’t something that I approached with a laid back attitude.   It was a task that needed to be completed as soon as possible.  I also began taking the necessary steps to prove that I am intending to stay here permanently (or for some indefinite amount of time) meaning opening a bank account, determining what actions need to be taken to get my GA driver’s license and taking them, registering to vote, etc.  It hit me around my third day or so here that I hadn’t really stopped to catch my breath, to allow myself internally to catch up with everything I’ve been doing physically.  I knew this was something I needed to take time to do or I would suffer for it.  So, I took more breaks, spent more time by the pool (in short increments), paused to take deep breaths.  I thought I was doing a lot better, so I was a bit surprised when, last night, as I took my first dip in my huge tub in preparation to bless my new home, I realized I still felt extremely scattered.  It took me a considerable amount of time to clear my thoughts and settle myself down.  The change in how I felt after I managed to do so was incredible.  I hadn’t been doing really anything to feed my spiritual self since I arrived here and consequently felt “off.”  As I walked from room to room, though, and sensed myself changing the energies around me and making this place my home, a sigh of relief washed over me and a sense of returning to myself filled my spirit.

I am an introvert, though I can play the role of extrovert pretty well for short periods of time if necessary.  I’ve known this for a long time, and consequently, I’ve realized my need for down time.  If I don’t get it, I’m miserable.  This is the first time, though, that I’ve really come to grips with the effects of not addressing my spiritual needs.  Sure, I’ve noticed differences before, but nothing as tangible as this.  It makes me think of how our needs change as we grow, and how the impact of our lack of addressing those needs intensifies in the growth process.  Spiritually, I think I have grown significantly over the past year, and perhaps I would not have come to see that if not for this experience I’ve had in the past few days.  There is meaning in this and being able to identify that fact lends to the feeling of settling in and feeling at home even more.