An Expat's Transition Home: One Year.
One year ago, we stood outside the school building in Bercy, Haiti, holding hands with friends and staff as they prayed over us for our travel back to the States and the next season of our lives. Tears rolled down all of our cheeks as the reality set in that we were leaving Haiti. Sure, we were so excited to see family and friends in the States. We were ready for hot showers and sleeping with blankets at night, grocery stores and entertainment. But, even though the past year had been full of danger and uncertainty, that was home. Our hearts ached to leave. It was not lost on us the pure privileged that it was to be able to travel.
Arriving back in the States was a whirlwind. After traveling for 18 hours, we finally arrived to our new home, exhausted. And the following day, we were saying goodbye for the last time to my grandpa. I am so thankful that I was able to be home for his funeral.
Change is hard. Giving yourself grace and allowing yourself to feel what you need to feel is harder. I found myself secluding myself more and more...staying in bed or hiding in my house to avoid awkward interactions with well meaning, good-hearted people. But I could only put on my smile for so many hours before someone might see the cracks and realize that I really wasn't ok. So back to my bedroom I went.
In July, Craig and I had the opportunity to travel to California for a debrief and week of intensive counseling. This week was LONG and HARD. There were lots of tears, and lots of memories made. I'm thankful that we had that time, but to be honest, on our way home...I had MORE guilt because now I knew what I was "supposed to do," and I still couldn't make myself do it. So, I closed off even more.
After returning from California, I realized I needed to take a good look at who I was and who I wanted to be. Moving back almost 20 years later to the same town where I grew up comes with its own difficulties. So many people remembered me as the 17 year old girl who left for college back in 2001. That full of energy, happy, silly teenager. But guess what? I'm not that same girl. The things that I experienced in Haiti have changed me forever. Yes, many good things - but so many things that I never talk about because people wouldn't really want to hear. Hard things. Things that still make me cry and get angry if I let myself think of them. But I'm in the States...with family and friends, with unlimited resources and options...shouldn't I be happy??
I realized that saying "no" to things, although against my norm, was healthy. Doing things to keep myself busy was only prolonging dealing with the real issues. I started talking with a therapist once a week, and then monthly. I've tried counseling in the past...I hated it. It was so uncomfortable and I felt like I was always expected to fill the silence. But, many encouraged me to try again and so I did. Honestly...it helped. For a while. Then the bills started stacking up from an unexpected surgery and it was easy for me to just let this "unneeded" thing go. I know it was my easy out...an excuse to save money, but to be honest...I needed a break. That break turned into four months...and I still haven't gone back.
Now that we've been back for a year, there are so many expectations that I have that are not a reality. There are things that trigger all four of us. The kids still see certain vehicles on the streets and they remember our middle of the night trip to the airport dodging burning barricades and hiding on the floor in case anyone shot through the windows. There is a spot near our house with many curves and hills and every time we go through there, Morgan says her stomach hurts because she remembers driving around curves and over hills in Haiti and almost running into dump trucks passing in our lane. My expectation was that our kids wouldn't have this lasting anxiety and fear.
Loneliness. This is something, especially right now, that a lot of people struggle with. I thought moving back to the States meant friendships and connection with new groups. But just this week, I found myself sitting on the bathroom floor with tears running down my face feeling so lonely. Why is it so hard to make lasting, deep friendships? Why is it so hard for me to be myself? Where does the fear come from that if they really knew me, they wouldn't like me? Why do we allow ourselves to believe these lies?
Then, out of the blue...a friend sent a message, "Hey Renee, Craig, Morgan and Jaron. We were talking about you this morning and the fun times we had together. I hope you all are healthy and well! We love you and miss you guys!" God heard my cry and answered in love through some amazing friends.
**I do want to say, we have been blessed by the number of people who have welcomed us and accepted us into their lives and community. It is the lies that tell us that we don't have friends or people who care about us. Relationships go both ways. If you're doing something and someone pops into your mind - I challenge you to send a quick text or give a quick call just to let them know you're thinking of them. It goes A LONG way!**
For those of you who are getting ready to, or have just moved back from living overseas, give yourself grace. I read the books, took the advice, met with mentors, prepared as best we could for our transition. It takes time. I knew that it would. But to be honest, there is no amount of time that is going to make you feel "comfortable" again. You won't go back to that "normal," before life overseas feeling. It's not a matter of time. You have changed and that is not a bad thing. Others have not experienced the same things you have. Have grace for them. They are not trying to be insensitive to things that now have deeper meaning to you. Continue to be thankful for the opportunity you've had to see things from a new perspective and try to educate people in love and grace.
When we arrived at our new home, it was ready and waiting for us. So many people poured so much love into preparing it for us. One gift that still hangs on our wall that I see everyday has given me the wisdom that I need to keep moving forward:
"Inhale confidence. Exhale doubt."
One day at a time. I've got this.