Thursday, March 13, 2014

Honoring the Dark Side of the Moon

"Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better take things as they come along with patience and equanimity." --Carl Jung

With only a few weeks left in India, I have been in a reflective mood as we wrap up our time in this leg of the journey. I have been so caught up in living, so caught up in the hustle of each day, finding time to reflect on how far I have come has been nonexistent. We focus on how far we still have to go and forget to appreciate how far we've come. We are constantly evolving and growing, a beautiful masterpiece of change and resilience. Chronicling discoveries, thoughts and emotions is the best means of evidencing change because we are able to read specific accounts of a particular time in life.
I decided to read back through some of my old writing and I came across my "Rambling Narrative of the Misadventures of Nicole" blog that I wrote solely for myself, thinking that I would never post it on my website. In my Rambling, I face the Dark Side of my India trip, a very private part of myself that I hid from my friends, family, and readers. I hid it because I wasn't sure if I could overcome it, wasn't sure if it was going to swallow me and wasn't sure if I could bear revealing my shadow to others. Now that I have conquered these personal demons, looking back at this stage in my life, I think it's important to lay bare both sides of my journey. 

December, 2013

When people ask me how I'm liking India, if I've been 'charmed by Her majestic ways' yet, I feel like my answer might disappoint them as I'm usually the first person to have an optimistic response, neatly wrapping up bad experiences with the silver lining of the lesson learned. I typically like to focus on the little boy who showed me his school field trip pictures to Goa over tea while practicing his English or the kind, old man who invited us over to his home for lunch and said he saw God in each of us or the boy who handmade us bracelets with our names on them or the time I danced in an Indian wedding or the time we had the whole neighborhood playing Cornhole in the street or the time I danced in a traditional Indian Garba in the streets of the neighborhood. But to only focus on the positive experiences and situations discounts the entire trip as one can't experience only one side, the positive, without experiencing the negative. In fear of sounding politically incorrect or culturally insensitive, I feel like I can't explain that I truthfully don't yet know how I feel about India because my trip has been far from luxurious or easy, with obstacles and hard life lessons constantly thrown my way. It's difficult to make one assessment about an entire country when I've only gotten to experience a tiny sliver of the culture.

       The biggest misconception about traveling is that a person leaves their home country to run from their problems, to 'get away' and live some sort of fantasy life, sipping cocktails out of a coconut on a white sand beach and dancing all night under a full moon. This isn't the case at all (at least for me, I can't speak for every traveller out there). When you leave your everyday comforts and distractions, all you are left with are your problems. You don't magically check your problems at the border or with your luggage when you board your flight. Your problems follow you and once you are isolated and vulnerable, they seize you and force you to reckon with them. It's especially challenging if you come, like I did, to a conservative state where the usual medication is illegal: alcohol. In your stone-cold sober state, you have nothing to distract you, nothing to protect you from yourself. Nothing to self-medicate your emotional and psychological aches and pains. No friends to distract you with laughter and good company. The demons that were buried in the depths of your subconscious resurface with a vengeance, determined to be acknowledged. Attempting to face your demons while adjusting to a completely new culture and environment tests the will of even the strongest of men and women.
I realized that not having self expression has been my undoing. Keeping all my frustrations in and bottled but letting out my gratitude and positive experiences is slowly rotting my core from the inside out. I've been trying to overcome these thoughts of anger, frustration, sadness, helplessness by myself because they aren't pretty, aren't socially acceptable and not what people want to hear about in your travels. How do you tell the very people supporting you that you just might hate your new host country and vehemently disagree with their customs, traditions and policies? How do you tell them that you are slowly suffocating, being pushed under water and you're not sure if it's because of your own thoughts and ego or if its because of your new surroundings? How do you tell them that you are slowly losing faith and losing the parts that they favor in you? How can you let a people down who have already lost hope and are banking on you to save them, to save the world? It's a lot of pressure to know that you have a mission, several missions at that, and you have been slowly losing your foothold, your grip on reality, on the love that used to keep you afloat. That image of your goal in the distance comes in and out of focus, changing form and shape and sometimes becoming lost and unable to be seen. All my perceived weaknesses come into light once my goal is questioned, once I'm not sure I am still on the right path. They howl at me, rising in strength, overtaking my senses, overtaking my rationality and holding me hostage with negative self-doubt and worry. I know this place, I know it very well. I've been here too many times to not know the landmarks and signs, indicating that I am back in a place I believed I would never visit again. How did I get so strong, so happy, so confident in my life and mission and purpose to be back here again? On the floor, curled up in a fetal position with my arms over my head, rocking back and forth? What am I doing to myself that I have gotten back here again? Is it me, is it my surroundings, is it my choices, is it my life? Why do I always seem to make it back to this place of doubt and questioning? I know that I know why but it gets old seeing these shackles of doubt again and again, forcing me to face yet another life challenge, another life hurdle to overcome. This time there is much more to lose. I'm not facing these demons in the comfort of my own home, in my soft purple down comforter with my pillow pet and my tea. This time I have no home, I barricaded the path to home by destroying my old life, destroying my credit, my livelihood, my connections with family, my lifelines. I have nowhere to go back to, I have nothing to go back to except a whole lot of pain and debt. I did this to myself with all my decisions and headstrong opinions on how I wanted to live my life. Now that life isn't living up to the expectations I had and I am struggling, India is trying to drown me in the problems I brought with me. Time feels like an enemy now, not a long lost friend I reconnected with. Time is trying to swallow me up, to make me say Uncle in a neck hold it has against me. My ego is fighting, fighting so hard to win against my spirit. I am constantly angry, flitting back and forth on the continuum of rage- from slight irritation to full blown madness. Trying to not suffocate others with my rotating bouts of anger and frustration is like playing Russian roulette; I never knew when the anger is a loaded bullet that will overcome and destroy me.
Who have I become? Who is this shell of a person I don't recognize? I remember not so long ago when I was the person that America wanted me to be. I was the Abercrombie-American Eagle-Express-Hollister-Victoria's Secret cookie cutter college graduate on her way to a big girl job, partying in Vegas on the weekends with my nails, hair, eyebrows done weekly with a spray tan and a pearly white smile. I knew when to be coy, when to be bold and ambitious, when to capture a man's attention with knowledge and wit, get my free drink and bounce. I was confident down right to arrogance, I was so sure of myself and what I wanted out of the world I couldn't be dissuaded. I had very clear cut opinions and no qualms about expressing them. I was self centered, conceited, vain. Occasionally kind and thoughtful but scrupulous for the most part. Haughty and critical. I was constantly accepting showers of praise and recognition, aiding my inflated sense of self. 
That time is gone and I am no longer her. Gone with her are many of those qualities, good and bad. I am now seeing that the confidence I had was built on a very fragile foundation of other's people's opinions and what America claimed to be successful, sexy, correct, moral. I've now walked away from America's prescribed set of ideals and customs and in doing so, I've lost sight of myself

My Dark Side has been a nasty cocktail of self-doubt, shattering a shaky foundation of depthless confidence and ultimately low self-esteem, deconstructing values and morals, facing family skeletons, deep-seeded feelings of abandonment and mistrust and overcoming the indirect trauma of working with teenage girls who were domestically sex-trafficked. It has been a long journey to get to where I am today, physically, mentally and emotionally. I've stripped away all the superficial values I thought was making me happy, stripped away ideas I don't actually believe in, stripped away influence from people with whom I do not agree, stripped away the poison in my wounds, stripped away the qualities I do not like about myself. 
I made mistakes in my haste to quit my job, sell my belongings and travel. I made mistakes in how I chose to tell my parents, how I chose to deal with my finances, how I chose to handle my emotions in the beginning of the trip. I've had to dig deep within myself and do the hard emotional and mental work I didn't want to do. But I survived it. And I've learned from it. And staying strong, leaning on others when I felt I was about to fall, and trusting that everything was happening as it should be has given me a gift I wouldn't trade for anything in the world: happiness and strength. 

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