Can You Ever Go Home Again?

Orcas IslandI don’t know.

I woke up twice in the middle of the night completely disoriented, not knowing where I was and both times it took a few minutes to figure out where I was. It was weird, b/c I had something a little similar about halfway through the trip, when we had been moving around so much and slept in so many different places that as I drifted off to sleep, in that semi-lucid in between state I’d find myself momentarily thinking I was still in Calcutta or something. It happened for a few days in a row, but what happened last night was a lot stronger and felt so much more disorienting, like it really took awhile for it to register where I was and get my mind around it. Guess that could be expected for the first night sleeping at home in over three months.

I can’t get over how weird it feels to be back. I honestly feel a bit uncomfortable with it. As I was saying at the end of the last post, a lot of things are the same as when I left. Some minor things have changed, like the local supermarket has totally changed their setup, and apparently my old job is just a clusterfuck of absurdities and people quitting and all kinds of trouble. And maybe that’s good b/c it solidifies my resolution not to go back. Overall though, a lot seems the same, and it’s sort of hard to reconcile that, b/c I am not the same.

I was wondering how that would feel. Everyone told me before I left that I would come back changed. My friend Becky told me she thinks of her life in terms of before a big trip she took to Jamaica and after. It’s kind of a huge cliche, go to a foreign country, especially one like India, and come home forever changed, but it’s also so true. What’s hard to anticipate is how to integrate it all and how hard that can be.

I don’t think I ever elaborated on the tattoo I got in Calcutta. For awhile three of the girls in the group, who I bonded with early on in Varanasi in week two of the trip, were talking about getting tattoos in India. At first, though I wanted to join in, I was skeptical – when I got my first tattoo I knew for over a year what I wanted to get before I had it done, and this time I had no idea. By the time we got to Calcutta, I had a strong feeling that the theme of the trip (and by this point I knew I wasn’t coming home the same person I had been) was courage. I actually thought about getting something Durga related but decided against it. One morning while volunteering at the Mother Theresa home, doing laundry on the rooftop with the Willa and Graham, I kept thinking about it, thinking maybe I’d get “courage” in Hindi or something. I later looked it up online, and just didn’t really like any of the translations I found for different Hindi words that meant courage or something similar, the definitions were all too warlike for me, more about power and dominance and I was looking for something more inner. So another morning I was again doing laundry on the roof and thinking about it, and was thinking that I wanted a song lyric that symbolized courage, and was going over Tool lyrics in my head, mainly the song “Lateralus” for whatever reason. And then I picked up this tiny t-shirt (there were some interesting ones with all kinds of logos and sayings) to hang up to dry and looked at it and it said, “Learn to Swim” on the shirt.

It was perfect. It’s a Tool lyric that to me has everything to do with courage and finding one’s own way, the courage to swim against the current. In fact, for awhile I was going to call my book Learning to Swim, and there’s just been a lot of swimming and drowning symbolism in my life and I’ve had a lot of spiritual experiences involving swimming and water. So that’s what I got, on my left upper arm (I knew for years that’s where I’d get my second tattoo so that was a no-brainer). I got it in purple, in a style called Goddess Script, and felt good about it being on my left side, which is the side of the body that’s traditionally related to moon energy, to the subconscious, the intuitive, the heart, the inner, deeper, the feminine, and these things all symbolized the more inner courage I was trying to get at.

What was really cool was that Graham got “water” in Hindi, Willa got an anchor and “deep” in Hindi (and a spiral), Hilary got “beauty” in Hindi, and we figured out that if you put our tattoos together, it’s “Learn to swim in deep, beautiful water.” And that was completely unintentionally awesome. It was such a bonding experience.

Anyway, the point, if there is one, is that the tattoo to me sort of symbolizes some of the whole bit about feeling like I’m not the same person I was when I left the country. What was cool was that both of the trip leaders referenced my “learn to swim” as we were leaving. Karen mentioned it in my “exit interview” thingy that I was writing about yesterday, and both of the leaders wrote us each cards and Andrew referenced it in my card. It just feels like the symbolic phrase signifying the inner changes.

But I also look really different. I’ve never really had short hair, and when it’s been semi-short I’ve never liked it, but it looks different this time, and I do like it, and it’s way shorter than ever before, and still pink. It really changes the way I look big time. And I think I carry myself differently too. Actually my sense of my body has probably changed more than my appearance. I was sick a lot as a kid, and always had the feeling I had a pretty weak constitution, below par immune system, susceptible to being blown about by the wind. Well, I was in the land of foreign diseases (one person in our group got e. coli and another got giardia) and was remarkably not sick. I think I was actually the least sick of anyone in the group, which I never in a million years would’ve suspected. And I never really felt jetlag. Even though my sleep schedule’s been off and I felt tired from traveling, I really never felt anything yesterday and got up at a normal hour today. I never got carsick or even close to it, and trust me when I say we were on some carsick inducing bus/train/especially jeep rides (we also pretty much never wore seatbelts as most vehicles in India don’t have them) and was just totally fine, even thoroughly enjoying the bumps and sharp turns and rockin’ and rollin’. And I had zero trouble with the high altitude of Ladakh, and never felt lightheaded when we were on the really high passes or any of that. I knew the moment I stepped off the plane in Leh that I’d have no problem with the altitude (I’d been worried). Overall, I felt like I was a lot stronger than I give myself credit for, which expanded things for me in a way.

It’s definitely more inner change, which is almost harder to integrate. I just don’t feel the same inside, and coming back here, I’m afraid of losing that, of getting small, shrinking back, because things here do feel smaller. I do feel more courageous, more outspoken, less willing to take shit. I felt at times in the group that I drifted away in some ways from the ones I felt closest to, which felt sad at times, but I also think rather than a separation it was more me finding my own way and following my own path and following it. I think that’s important, and something I was really looking for. Authenticity was another big goal for me, and I feel like I clearly made progress on that. I did a lot of journalling on the trip, and I feel like I covered some major ground and was in a really good place and able to see some things and have a lot of insights and realizations that were tremendously meaningful.

I thought a lot about myself in relationships, how though I’ve been single a lot, there’s always somebody that I’m super into or someone I’m getting over, and I always have these intense crushes (at one point I went back to starting when I was like thirteen and went chronologically through my life and basically realized there was no time without this sort of intense feeling for an ever-changing someone else) and focus all my energy, practically live my life with someone else at the center, and usually that other person is like, the most unlikely person in whatever situation I’m in (including famous people and fictional characters, hahaha, I’m only sort of joking) so it’s pretty much always unrequited, almost like on some unconscious level I’m seeking validation or love in places or people that won’t or can’t give it, so perpetuating a cycle of feeling rejected and unlovable and all kinds of bullshit. And in the meanwhile, always throwing my energy away. It’s an incredibly unhealthy pattern and I realized that what I constantly seek for in others, I really have to find within. It’s obvious, and it’s something I’ve always known and thought about, but never really embraced, b/c it’s easy to keep overlooking that when you’re feeding yourself a constant stream of crushes on unavailable people and giving all your energy to trying to make them love you. That was the big picture, and I also had a lot of supporting realizations and observations about myself in love.

All that said, I have to say I do miss seeing lots of gorgeous exotic looking foreign men.

I also had a lot of insights and clarity about other areas of my life, and observations about how I operate and what I do and don’t want to continue doing. I had a lot of ceremonial letting go of different things (my group knows I’m a big fan of ceremonial fire). A big unspoken goal of the trip was to re-awaken my spiritual side, which had felt a bit dead for some time. I felt beyond cynical, almost like I had an allergy to the idea of, and even the word spirituality for awhile there. I wasn’t writing. I was avoiding everything, wouldn’t even journal, didn’t want to be alone with myself ever and my thoughts and had no belief in anything. This was all so unlike me, for my whole life no matter what I was going through, even when I was young, I always felt like I had an eye towards the spiritual (albeit in an earth-nature-sky-water loving way, and never a religious way), towards depth, towards self-awareness, personal growth, communing with the unseen, mystery, and all of that. So being without that made me feel a bit dead inside, but I couldn’t seem to get out of the rut. That quickly changed in India, and part of that is because of Willa, who embodies spirituality and has so much wisdom. I found myself having profound experiences on rooftops under moonlight, or having spiritual revelations while rushing through the streets of Calcutta and felt that side of me re-awakened. I was writing like a madwoman during most of the trip, was seeking out and spending time in solitude, sometimes in nature, or just outside by myself on rooftops and felt a connection that had felt lost forever. It was amazing.

All in all, I feel bigger, stronger, and like I want different things out of life than when I left, and Orcas, though distance has made my heart feel fonder for the island and the nature here is nourishing to my soul in a way it was craving, just feels too small for me. And that really is factoring into what I’m thinking as far as school. It became really clear to me that what I’m looking for when I go back to school is not just academics or a degree, but to be somewhere where my spiritual and creative artistic sides feel nurtured and supported, somewhere that really fits me, and that it’s a lot more important than the name of the school or anything like that.

Speaking of schools, I got rejected from my first choice school, which was a hard pill to swallow. As I told Nina at some point during the trip, I’m not used to academic rejection, at all. I only got turned down from one school when I applied as a senior in high school and by that point I didn’t want to go there so it didn’t really register. This did. I have to say a part of me felt relieved in a weird way, maybe just to know, or maybe it really wouldn’t have been a good match – I think that’s possible even though I had the most incredible experience there. But most of me felt sad. I only found out a few days ago, in Agra, soon after visiting the Taj. It’s a loss for sure, but sometimes, as Julia Cameron would say, gain is disguised as lost. I do trust that, that it’s probably a blessing in disguise. To add to that, my second choice school totally lost my financial aid papers (which I filed in January) and it’s now way past the deadline and aid has been distributed and I’d need a considerable amount of aid to be able to go there, so, yeah, maybe another blessing in disguise as well. At least, it feels that way, like internally even though both of these things were big disappointments, I can’t shake the feeling that they are also somehow right, and so I trust that feeling.

It leaves me with four major choices (and possibly trying to renegotiate my financial aid situation with the fifth), which all have strong pros and cons that are hard to weigh out. I know where I’m leaning, strongly, and I’m pretty sure that’s where my ultimate decision will take me, but still questioning as well, b/c it has its cons and a few months ago I did not think I’d think this way, but again, times have changed. I’m also paying attention to signs and synchronicities, and the fact that an author I love and have blogged about is teaching a class there next semester. So we’ll see, I have exactly a week to figure my shit out.

It’s just sort of hard, being back here, sorting through the piles of mail from colleges, being in the same apartment I left, in a way going through the motions of my old life, to know where the newer self fits in. I don’t want it to feel like I never went to India, which in a really surreal way I did sort of feel yesterday. It’s just so strange being back to the place I was before with everything pretty much the same. I don’t want to fall into the same patterns, go back to the spiritual deadness or other crappy habits. I’m not going back to my old job, I can’t, it would be too much self-betrayal. I don’t know who said it, but I’m thinking it’s really true that you can never go home again. I feel really out of place. A part of me doesn’t even want to stay on Orcas for the summer, but I also made a list of goals while here so maybe the integration is worth it and not something to flee from, and resting before rallying for the next big change. It just feels like this life doesn’t really fit anymore, and I don’t want it to, and that’s okay.

Currently Listening:
“Chasing Cars” – Snow Patrol – another Grey’s song that was stuck in my head a lot while in India. It randomly popped into my head during the first time I walked around Calcutta at night on my own, and was the one song that played twice while I was getting my tattoo. Graham and I were saying how this song comes up at such a crucial point in Grey’s (she’s my Grey’s buddy) and how much we wanted to be able to watch the show together. What is interesting though is we were thinking of two different storylines that are going on when this song plays (she was thinking of Meredith and Derek, I was thinking of Alex and Izzie). Speaking of Grey’s, I can’t wait to catch up, though I’ve heard rumors that things are going pretty downhill. Anyway, the song.

Chasing Cars

We’ll do it all
Everything
On our own

We don’t need
Anything
Or anyone

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me
And just forget the world?

I don’t quite know
How to say
How I feel

Those three words
Are said too much
They’re not enough

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me
And just forget the world?

Forget what we’re told
Before we get too old
Show me a garden
That’s bursting into life

Let’s waste time
Chasing cars
Around our heads

I need your grace
To remind me
To find my own

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me
And just forget the world?

Forget what we’re told
Before we get too old
Show me a garden
That’s bursting into life

All that I am
All that I ever was
Is here in your perfect eyes
They’re all I can see

I don’t know where
Confused about how as well
Just know that these things
Will never change for us at all

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me
And just forget the world?

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5 thoughts on “Can You Ever Go Home Again?

  1. Welcome home, little sis. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself with us before, during, and after your trip — it’s a real gift to all of us who are lucky enough to know you.Your current feelings are all totally understandable in light of everything you’ve experienced over the past three months, and it sounds to me like you’re approaching your new challenges in the most constructive and healthy way possible. Once again, I’m really proud of you.I look forward to hearing what you decide re. which college to go to — as you say, I’m sure everything will work out for the best in the grand scheme of things.It was great to hear that you did so much journaling while you were in India. That’s something you’ll treasure for the rest of your life. Maybe you can re-read a little of what you wrote each day, just so that the experience doesn’t slip away and the feelings, discoveries, and knowledge you’ve gained stay fresh.I’m thinking good thoughts for you as you transition back to a different river than the one you stepped out of three months ago.Looking forward to catching up with you by phone later this month or early next.In the meantime, congratulations! Not only did you get through your entire trip intact, but you’re better off for having taken it — just as I expected.

  2. Ah… so glad you are back – bigger, stronger, more Chrys. I’ve ‘missed’ you though followed all your adventures. Lots to digest in this post, and I will continue to read again and again. I’m here to ‘talk’ about school stuff if you need an ear. Congrats also on the tattoo – I want one, too. And I love Chasing Cars – it’s the song that led me to SP – I own every piece of music they’ve ever recorded. Peace, Linda

  3. Welcome home. Glad to hear you are back in one piece. It is a habit of mine to check, after returning from any trip, if I am in one piece.Firstly I am sorry if my comments scared you about altitude sickness in Ladhak. I didn’t mean to worry you. A lot of people cannot enjoy the place because they go unprepared.Secondly I am a big fan of you handling of the College rejection. I am sure you will make a wise choice this week.I am curious to know what script your tatoo is in. I personally am not a big fan of tatoos. I guess it will be bengali or may be devanagiri.I am very disappointed to read you are considering leaving you job and a lot more disappointed to read that it may have something to do with India. “Zindagi aag ka dariya hai, aur doob ke jaana hai”. I, as I have seen India, have never felt that our philosophy preached renunciation. Well it may sound contradictory to most things you have seen and read, but believe me it preached renunciation while living in this world. I don’t see how quitting your job can contribute to your life or spiritual quest.I hope making a life changing choice this week will change your mind in this matter.I have always thought the american college admission system quite good. Here we have a system where you go into an office with 600 others, on the specified date and are given a large matrix of seats available and about 23 seconds to make a choice. Now I am having second thoughts about the advantages of the american system, seeing how nerve-wrecking and tedious the process is.Any way, good luck.PS. If I may ask, what subjects do you wish to study?

  4. Hey Story Teller,Don’t worry, you didn’t scare me about Ladakh, it was sort of everywhere we read about the area and everyone we talked to warned us about the altitude! Apparently how a person will handle high altitudes like that doesn’t have much to do with how fit you are or anything like that, and is more about genetics, and I’ve heard/read it can be really hard to predict who will have problems and who won’t. So, we took our chances and had a blast!My tattoo is in English but the other three girls who got Hindi words have theirs in Devarangi script.I think I might have mis-expressed the job situation. For one I had left it a few months before going to India and was considering possibly going back upon my return. I quit b/c I felt discrimated against b/c of my visual impairment after management changed, and I had tried to address it a few times to no avail and kept being treated like crap. So I left in October.When I was away I heard there was a new boss (again) and thought about coming back to work after my trip. It wasn’t India the place so much as the time away to think and reflect on my life back home that made me decide not to go back to that job, for several reasons. I have been stuck and fairly consistently unhappy for awhile there (though there were a lot of great people, and a good bunch of those have quit while I was away). After getting back home, feeling pretty sure I’d rather find another job than go back to that one, I ran into co-workers, some who still work there and some who quit over the last few months, and they all seemed to be saying the same thing, which was “stay away,” and that it’s pretty unhealthy there, almost a toxic environment, and that just confirmed what I’d already been feeling.And I’m moving anyway to go to school, fairly soon, so I’ll either get a new job where I live, or move earlier and get a job near where I’ll go to school.Anyway I just hope that clears it up, that it wasn’t some feeling like I should renounce things or anything like that, just a knowing that it’s a bad situation all around and it’s probably best not to go back there. It really feels like it would be taking a huge step backwards in so many ways.

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