Sunday, June 10, 2012

Post-Europe Reflections

I'll never be able to put into words what my trip to Europe did for me. I will never be able to recount all the times I laughed until I cried, and all the times I cried until I laughed hysterically. I wrote in a journal every day and wrote down all the details I could remember, but there is no way to relive a trip that is this huge, this transformative. People have been asking me the past five weeks how my trip was, and I have a different answer every single time. This adventure was crazy, terrifying, insane, fun, exciting, and a million other adjectives. But above all else, I tell people that it was life-changing, transformative, and the bravest thing I have ever done. When I left for the trip, I had one word I was hoping I would experience. I was hoping that above all the fun, all the adventure, all the hardship, and all the insanity of it all, I would feel like the trip was refining.

And now that I've had 5 weeks to come back to the shambles of my old life, start up avenues of a new one, and analyze myself after this trip, I am happy to say that refinement was exactly what I got.

We all have parts of ourselves that we do not like, are uncomfortable with, or do not know how to deal with. For me, that was my anxiety. Unless you have anxiety, there is no way for you to understand just how hard it is to deal with, or how broken-hearted it feels to let it control your life. I can't count how many times I had let my anxiety get the best of me before this trip. There are so many things I've missed out on because I was afraid, but not anymore.

I have always considered myself to be an adventurous person. My innate personality longs to travel, to see the world, to meet new people, and to have as many adventures as I possibly can. My laugh is contagious, and I love to have fun. I always knew that adventure was a part of me, but there was this huge obstacle in the way, keeping me from seeing and experiencing that side of myself. I wanted to be adventurous, and somewhere inside me, I knew I was meant to live an adventuresome life. But anxiety wasn't just this external obstacle I could move out of the way; it was a part of ME.

Getting rid of a dominant part of a personality is difficult. I'd let fear and anxiety run my life for so long that I almost lost sight of that wild, adventurous, world traveler I wanted to be. It was such a huge part of me that I thought I could never get rid of it. I figured that travel was for people who are braver than me, people with more experience than me, people who could fly on a plane from Arizona to Utah without blacking out in flight. And none of those described me. I was intensely drawn to people who were more adventurous than I was, and all of my favorite quotes are about adventure and exploration. I couldn't understand why God would give me this innate wanderlust and soul-bending need to explore and discover, but also curse me with this crippling fear and anxiety of travel, flying, and the unknown.

I'm sure there will be a lot of trials in my life, but I think the one main one was fear and anxiety. I had to first accept that they were a part of me, no matter how much I hated them. Then I had to master coping techniques and learn how to live with them. Once I was solid in my coping skills, I had to sneak up on my fears (and therefore myself) and do the very thing that scared me the most, and I couldn't think about it for one second before I took the leap. That's what Europe was. I quit my job, packed a suitcase, boarded a plane, and flew across the myself. And didn't look back once.

And that was just the beginning of the hard parts. I thought that once I took the leap, the rest would be easy. As it turns out, showing up in another hemisphere with absolutely no agenda, no schedule, no plans, and no reservations isn't easy. I was stretched past every capacity and comfort zone I had ever known. I lost sight of who I was and what I was doing many times, but I knew I'd hate myself if I came home early, so I persisted. I now know that the reason I lost sight of my goals for the trip and of myself was because I was changing. I asked for refinement, and that is exactly what I got.

I'm now braver than I ever thought I could be. I mean, I flew across the world by myself and spent five weeks in Europe, completely unplanned. There were a few nights when we didn't know where we were going to sleep. I wandered around foreign cities, lost, with no map. I learned to accept, expect, and even love the unknown. I was transformed, and I was refined. It's an adventure I will remember the rest of my life, because it was the trip that broke me from the chains of fear and anxiety that held me back for so many years. Now that I've done this, I can do anything. Watch out, world!

"I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world." - M.a. Radmacher

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