Holding onto the past takes on a whole new meaning as an expat.
Our home, families and friends become etched into our minds as if frozen in time.
This gives an illogical yet inevitable illusion, of being able to, at some point, return. Yet, while we can once again geographically relocate, the place as we knew it no longer remains. Because what we pine is a period of time; a former feeling, phase and, unfortunately now, a fantasy.
It was on my last visit to England at my grandparents’ house where I considered how we can cling onto the past more tightly as an expat. My sister and I took my daughter upstairs to play with the same toys in the same room we had done so frequently in our infancy. It was the first time as adults we’d done this. After all there had been no need in the absence of a hyperactive child who now, after already having played extensively outside needed a distraction to stop her from going wild.
As we pulled out the familiar teddies, dolls and plastic figurines while reminiscing, I looked around and inhaled the view while trying to imagine how the place and memories would feel had I have stayed.
My eyes stopped on the signed picture still up on the wall of Simply Red singer, Mick Hucknall. A childhood friend of my Uncle Paul, he was a frequent visitor to our grandparents house and our own house was also back to back with his dads. And so his songs somewhat played the soundtrack to our childhood.
Immediately I hummed his song; ‘Holding Back the Years’ in my head. It seemed so aptly aligned with the weight of confusing emotions that accompany me on the journey I now tread; a part of my past; paused, packed away and carried everyday.
But when we hold on to the past we hold ourselves back;
We can idealise our image of home in our head. Alternatively, we view things worse than they were. Or we might jump between the two, sometimes simultaneously, which is of course the place resided by those of us undecided. This manifests as excessive comparisons of circumstances, culture and country. Yet holding on tight to either belief can cause unnecessary grief as our now shifted perspective prevents us from being accurately reflective. As we’re unlikely to ever again experience the place as we once did. So rather than branding one place as bad or better, acknowledging, accepting and appreciating the benefits of both abodes brings a level of peace and gratitude we have two perfect places we’re fortunate enough to call home.
Memories of the way we interacted with our families and friends at home can create a deep sense of loss that those times are now lost. Subsequent steps forward, such as settling, can feel like a betrayal; as if we’re somehow stepping further away. Yet its driven by a skewed view that everything is just as we knew. Its important to remember even had we stayed, their lives and ours would have changed anyway. And while they’ll always be a pull from our families and friends at home, instead of longing for the way things were, we can embrace the way things are more easily by making our families an everyday part of our experience in alternative ways.
Our prior selves
Quite often what we miss about our past life is our prior self. Largely because without uneasy expat emotions it was easier. Feelings like loneliness, longing, insecurity and guilt can sometimes feel intolerable, leaving us negative and vulnerable. In these instances it is tempting to trick our minds that before was perhaps a better time. But vulnerability is a pathway to resilience and personal progression. And it’s only when we become comfortable with being uncomfortable, rather than clinging to our prior in-the-comfort-zone personality, we allow ourselves to grow much more dramatically.
Moving countries can create a divide that runs far deeper than the ocean that lies between them. It disconnects us more definitively and distinctly from our past, creating a gulf of emotion that can leave us feeling heart wrenchingly detached.
We cling to yesteryear, a part of us longing for the way things were. It’s a notion rooted in fear; of feeling further away from our prior selves and our families. But the past is gone regardless of where we live, so holding onto this fear only holds back our years.
We must instead find a way to fully integrate our yesterday into our today.
Because just as the beautiful colours created by the sun are only seen when night and day convene, and the rainbow only appears when both rain and sun are here; we can only find inner happiness and peace when we allow our past and future to meet; in our present.
Its only here, no longer holding on, that we find release.
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