Reflections of an Expat (Five-Year Mark)

It’s been five years since I made the biggest and most life-alerting decision of my life. This decision would change my life forever…in so many ways I never thought possible.

I officially became an expat in Summer of 2011 when I moved from Miami, Florida to Lebanon (Middle East). Somehow, deep down, I always knew I’d end up living in Lebanon…I just didn’t know how or when. So when I was presented with the opportunity, I just knew I had to take it. It was my destiny. Come to think of it, it was one of the most defining moments of my life, at 24 years old. I made the decision alone, with no outside influence, so I knew it’s what I really wanted.

THE HONEYMOON PHASE

At first everything was new and exciting. Nothing was certain. I woke up every morning to a life that I had chosen for myself. I was free. A fresh start and the greatest adventure I could ever think of. I was walking distance from the beach, where I spent pensive afternoons watching the sunset. I walked the streets until I could navigate them with my eyes closed. I jogged along the seaside and explored all the sites and sounds I could find. Lebanon was my playground and I wasn’t going to let anyone or anything stop me from experiencing this new feeling of freedom and zeal for life. Then I fell in love.

LOVE & GAIN

I met someone and we became serious and things started to change. I was no longer living for me, but for both of us. I started thinking of a future with both of us in it, together, and focusing my energy on the ups and downs of being in a serious relationship.

The more serious we became, the more I was included in his family and their social events. I was no longer just a tourist, visiting and enjoying the beauty of the country, I was becoming a part of it. As much as I wanted to fit in my new home, I wanted to keep my identity: an American living in Lebanon. I grew up in America, with a different mentality, customs and values. I think differently, and act differently. This sets me apart from everyone else and I wanted to keep it that way. I wasn’t about to let “societal rules” dictate what I should do or when or how. It was my life and I was going to live it MY way. Of course, that brought problems…as expected.

All of a sudden I felt like I was constantly being watched, judged, and criticized. I had tried so hard to be perfect while still retaining my own identity, and yet, I wasn’t good enough. What did they want? What could I possibly have done differently? Everyone liked me…why couldn’t they like me too? What was I doing wrong?

I had grown up being the perfect, well raised and well educated girl that any guy would be proud to introduce to their parents. I was the epitome of polite and refined and well put together. My mom’s friends wanted their sons to marry me just so they could show me off to their social circles. So what was wrong here?  I couldn’t understand it, no matter how hard I tried or how much I analyzed.

I started developing low self-esteem and feeling like I just wasn’t ever going to be good enough. And worst of all, I went from not caring what other people thought of me, to caring too much.

Socializing is an almost insurmountable obstacle if you’re anything like me. You try being thrown into a room full of people speaking in languages you don’t understand. At first, I tried to make small talk, but quickly realized it was easier to stay quiet. I would go sit next to someone and strike up a conversation, only to be met with one word answers, bored facial expressions or the cold shoulder. I soon stopped bothering to make an effort to fit in. My phone became my outlet, my only friend st the party, my sidekick. I found solace in the fact that at least my phone understood me. I figured it was easier to be alone. At least I wouldnt be disappointed anymore. I was wrong.

The negative thoughts and doubts consumed me on a daily basis. Everywhere I looked, I knew I was being judged and laughed at. I was being watched like a hawk, eyes everywhere just waiting for me to do something wrong so they could talk about it. The feelings of freedom and started to fade into feelings of hurt and disappointment.

I started gaining weight, eating my feelings. I was so unhappy I thought that food was my only solace when things went wrong. Food was my shoulder to cry on. Food was my comfort. Food was my friend.

I was lost in my own delusions of loneliness and isolation. In reality, I did have friends, and my family and the love of my life were all right there beside me the whole time, but I would push them away and keep everyone at a distance. It was easier to avoid people rather than show I wasn’t as perfect as people thought.  I receded into my shell, inside which no one could enter unless I let them.

But I let him in. He saw every part of me, the good, the bad and the ugly. Sometimes he even knows me better than I know myself. In him, I found my soul mate, the truest love I’ll ever know. We complement each other. Together we make the perfect team. He’s not only my teammate, but my best friend and number one fan. On a tiny rowboat, we sailed through calm and rough seas. We clung to each other in times of need and never let that boat sink, no matter how many times we thought it would. We tied the knot in July of 2015, and promised to be best friends for life. As I continued to battle my inner demons, I always knew he was on my side.

SUMMER VACATIONS

I spend every summer in the US with my mom. I arrive at the airport and I’m so excited to start vacation and enjoy every day exploring and enjoying the city and being home. I’m back to my native country, where I know the language, the customs, the people and just the way things work. I get the feeling of freedom again and it makes me think…maybe it’s just the vacation. When you’re on vacation you are supposed to be excited and looking forward to every day. When you live somewhere and work and deal with the stresses of daily life it becomes routine and loses its luster.

Every year it’s a struggle to leave my mom after vacation ends. It’s like cutting the umbilical cord all over again, year after year. It hurts like HELL.

When does it end? this feeling that squeezes my heart and suffocates my lungs? When does it stop? Feeling guilty for everything and nothing at the same time. Thinking about one (my husband/Lebanon) when I’m with the other (my mom/America)? It’s like im living a double life. One person with two homes, two sets of lives that never cross but are eternally connected through me.

Making the decision to move permanently to a country I was not born or raised in, has been a rollercoaster in itself…with ups downs and everything in between. Life lessons were learned the hard way, and repeated over and over regardless. I learned things like not to take 24/7 electricity, running water and fast speed internet for granted.

 

LOVE & HATE 

Lebanon stole my heart from the first glance. I fell in love and I fell hard. I like to think of our relationship as a love/hate. I love its beaches, mountains, valleys, history, culture snd of course, the food. But i hate everything else. The people, the politics, the judgement and criticism from people you know and people yu don’t. I used to romanticize the bad qualities and somehow found them amusing. Now I know better.

Although it is and always will be my home away from home, I have a very strange relationship with Lebanon.

No matter how much we hate it, no matter how many times we curse it, run away from it, and hate ourselves for crawling back, the fact is that the second we touch the ground, we are home. Whether or not we belong. She pulls us in like a magnet and won’t let us go. A greedy leech sucking the life out of us all. A beautiful, cunning, female form, teasing us with her voluptuous mountains and vast seas. And just when we think we have her all figured out, she turns around and we realize we really didn’t know anything at all.

GUILT & GRUDGES

Guilt has been a dark cloud in my new life from the beginning. My mom thinking I abandoned her to live my own life and make my own way. Her family and friends holding a grudge against me because of it. I left during a difficult time in my life, and I started a new life I could be proud of. I did something for myself.

I’m sorry I may have hurt people in the process, but isn’t life about making yourself happy first, then making others happy? I regret nothing. I was led by my faith and my dreams and I cannot apologize for following my heart. My heart led me to Lebanon.

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

This is what life is all about. One of the BIGGEST struggles of my new life has been trying to make everyone happy around me. I’m a people pleaser. It’s my nature to make sure everyone is happy and content around me. My husband, my families, and myself (notice how I put myself last without even noticing).

Through many trials and errors, I’ve come to the conclusion that it just cannot be done. You can’t make everyone happy. You can’t please everyone. You can’t make one side happy without disappointing the other in some way….big or small. I have to do what I think is best for myself. If one side doesn’t agree, well that’s not my problem. I have to make myself content with my decisions and find whatever it is that makes me happy.

RESOLUTIONS

This summer I had a lot of time alone to self reflect. Somehow along the road, I had fallen out of love with Lebanon. I don’t know how or when it happened, but it did. I didn’t love Lebanon anymore. I wasn’t excited to wake up in the mornings. I wasn’t excited to get to work. I just didn’t love my life anymore…the life that I had created for myself. When and how did everything go so wrong?

I had to make a choice. Continue feeling miserable or make an effort to change things around. I could either sit and wallow in all the negatives or stand up and fight for my own happiness.

I have decided to fight. I will do everything I can to fall in love with it all over again.

Here’s to a new year of life in Lebanon, learning experiences and new and exciting adventures!

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