Before we flew over the sea to Germany, we met up with a friend in Denny’s for breakfast in Connecticut. He was road-tripping to the Midwest from D.C. and we happened to be on the way.
As I dug into my scramble, we told him about our plans. We’d probably live in Germany for at least a few years and if we liked it, longer. And wouldn’t it be awesome to buy a VW van/camper and road-trip around Europe? What a fun way to see the continent, right?
He laughed and said, “Try not to be too much of an American expat cliché while you’re over there.”
Sante and I smiled and reminded him there was a good reason it was a cliché: It was a great way to travel. It appealed to the adventurers in us. And the folks who’d done it before had fond memories and told great stories.
There was a time when I couldn’t have handled that comment so easily. I would’ve gotten defensive and maybe I would’ve gone as far as changing my plans and ideas. You see, I hated the idea of being typical.
The very thought that someone else was at all like me was something I rejected. I was by myself. Peerless. And for some reason I liked this idea, even if it was very lonely.
What’s interesting about this belief is that it kept me from making a lot of progress in my self-awareness. It cut off my ability to accurately assess my life and what I needed in order to make positive changes for myself.
For instance, did you know that one in four girls are sexually abused when they’re young? You’d think that a statistic like that would make me more likely to believe that I was, but I sat in denial of this fact until only a few years ago.
How could I be one of those people? I was special. The irony of this is that if I hadn’t had this odd belief, I would’ve been able to progress in my therapy much more quickly.
When I opened up to a few friends about my situation, they weren’t surprised at all. They listed things that were tell-tale signs:
- I struggled with debilitating depression.
- I’d been addicted to more than one substance.
- I moved far away from my childhood home.
- My self-esteem was low despite the fact that I’d proven myself to be talented and intelligent.
- Some of my adult relationships involved physical and sexual abuse.
I would get mad at myself for all of these things, and then convince myself that they weren’t common. Like even though I had textbook symptoms, that wasn’t possibly the case with me.
Everything was a special situation. My depression was just a sadness that flaired up occasionally (or often) for more than a decade. Those relationships weren’t really abusive because I got out of them right away. They didn’t count. I was not a statistic.
If I would have taken the attitude I did with our friend at Denny’s about clichés, I would’ve been able to see things for what they really were. And I would’ve been able to get help so much more quickly.
But I’ve always liked to do things the hard way. Instead I waded through things backwards, learning to choose better relationships through some blind luck, prayer and self-help books. Determining to manage my depression with therapy, exercise and St. John’s Wort. Opting to quit drinking for hundreds of days at a time.
I’m not saying any of these things were bad. In fact, I’m thrilled I learned all the skills I did. I feel like it makes me all the more compassionate to other humans and gives me a unique perspective on life.
But it would have been nice to accept all of this from the beginning and know that it’s OK to have rage against your family for not protecting you, to have rage against your God for putting you on the planet in the first place.
It would’ve been great to not deny that part of myself for so long simply because, “Oh please, you’re mad at your dad now? Could you be any more of an after-school special?”
There are great resources out there. Books, people, websites, blogs. All of these come from those who not only have come before me but are much like me.
And once I embraced the fact that yes, I have had a typical experience and I can learn from others and not muck around figuring it all out by myself, life started to make a lot more sense and I started feeling better.
Just because my experience is typical of so many doesn’t make me typical. I know this the way I know that my adventures through Europe aren’t going to be standard.
I’m pretty sure no one else will be visiting libraries and cemeteries in every city while eating gluten-free and dairy-free meals on the search for the perfect swimming hole all while blogging about it. And if they are, well then I want to meet them because we should definitely be sharing notes.
I’ve got a new blog post over at Think Simple Now about avoiding procrastination. You could read it now and let me know what you think, or, y’know, check it out later
Tags: child sexual abuse, clichés, depression, expat travel, fear of being cliche, fear of being common, germany, i don't want to be typical, life, self-improvement, sexual abuse, travel, typical, vw van