|Posted by Alyssa on February 8, 2016 at 5:25 PM|
I’ve been struggling with my re-entry into the States. And I’ve struggled to put those struggles into words. So I’m going to write you a letter modeled after one I read on this fantastic blog. I didn’t just want to post a link to her blog because I wanted it to be personal—I wanted it to be directly from me, edited to fit me personally—but if you read hers you might find that much of it is similar because she helped put words to my struggle. Thank you, Ruthie.
Dear Friends and Family,
I have changed; I am not the same as I used to be and I’m still trying to figure out who that is. Am I an American who’s finally home? Am I a missionary who can’t wait to get back to the field? Am I happy to be home? Am I sad? Can I be all of these things? Who am I anymore? One of my biggest struggles right now is with my identity and it might take me a long time to figure out who I am (like months… or years).
Home is a word that no longer refers to a single solitary place. You can never know how much I missed you. Homesickness became a way of life and I had to learn to live with the devastation of all I was missing back home. But I don’t want you to misunderstand, I loved where I was at—what I was doing, the people I lived and worked alongside—LOVED it. I experienced intense moments of complete contentment—one of the only times I’ve ever cried out of pure joy and satisfaction—driving on the road to an outreach in the Transkei. I can’t explain the complication of feelings that come with a heart that desperately wants to exist simultaneously in two very different places.
Rediscovering life in the States is harder than discovering life abroad. This may be an odd and confusing statement but for reasons I don’t fully understand, it’s completely true. I’ve gotten used to the way of life, job, and family I had while living in South Africa and losing all of that hasn’t been easy. I’ve lost friendships, purpose, routine. I’m grieving. (Wow, that’s weird to say.) It’s true; I’m grieving the life I had but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be here, with you, it’s just…complicated. I don’t expect you to understand (how can I when I don’t fully understand myself). All I want is for you to listen, it might not make sense to you but I am a verbal processor so your simple act of listening can help me process in a huge way. All of these feelings are awkward and I don’t want to hurt you so chances are I’m not going to come right out and share my struggles but don’t feel like you can’t ask. I may not know what to say or I might start crying but the simple fact that you cared enough to ask will make a huge difference.
Energy eludes me. These days I struggle to stay energized. My sleep is still off, I’m emotional, I’m unmotivated, I’m confused, and I’m just exhausted…like all the time. Everything takes more energy than it used to. This could be due to a million reasons but the important thing to know is that it’s happening and I’m struggling to embrace it and not hate myself for being so unproductive. Little decisions seem to befuddle my brain. I forget what I’m doing easily and sometimes I feel like I can’t even lift my eyes to watch yet another episode of Criminal Minds. Everything in my life has shifted—everything—and I’m not even sure where it has all gone. I feel like I’m walking around in the dark with no directions and no matter how badly I want to keep going to find some light all I want to do is lay down on the cold, hard cement and take a nap…a really long nap. What I’m saying is that I don’t have energy right now for much, and that is okay. Sometimes I won’t be able to have multiple meetings in one day…or one week but my energy level does not match my love for you. If I’m overwhelmed I’m not overwhelmed by you but by this whole new situation I’m trying to figure out. Be patient with me; I love you.
Life for me is now a paradox. I love being home; I desperately want to be back in South Africa. Living in South Africa was fantastic; living in South Africa was extremely hard. Unlike when we were kids, as adults we now realize that not all situations and circumstances are all good or all bad. There is moderation to everything and with that can come muddled feelings. You can help me find the balance between my paradoxes. Ask questions but please make sure your questions are balanced across the good and bad scale. I want to share the victories AND the defeats and I want to be careful not to distort my memory of this time in my life. I apologize now if this makes life with me a challenge but knowing you’re with me in the challenge will help fight my feelings of loneliness.
Yes, I’m lonely. In many ways, you don’t know me anymore. That’s not an entirely bad thing and it’s certainly not your fault. It’s reality and that reality often finds me feeling alone. You may know some of my stories, you may have seen some changes in me, but the only people who truly know what this year has been like for me—the things I’ve experienced, the ways I’ve grown, the places I’ve been—are all halfway around the world…and only awake for about six of the same hours I am. I feel like I’m the only one of my kind—outnumbered and misunderstood.
This is all normal. I’ve learned that these things I’m feeling aren’t necessarily special to just me. Many people in re-entry find themselves struggling with anxiety, depression, even some symptoms of PTSD. I know, sounds a bit far-fetched but it’s all completely normal. This doesn’t mean something happened in the field, or that you or I are doing something wrong. Living overseas is highly stressful and it’s near impossible to avoid the effects it can have on our mental, emotional, and physical heath. I won’t struggle with these feelings forever but don’t be surprised if it’s a long and messy journey.
I’m maddingly confused! (Yes, I may have just invented that word but it fits, right?) My identity has been challenged and confused and I don’t even know where to begin. Some of the old me still remains (my love for soul touching music and good popcorn) but some new parts have been added as well (confidence in my abilities and an intense love of the beach). I’m not who I was when I last lived in the States but I’m not who I was when I lived in South Africa either…and I’m going to need time to make sense of it all. I may change my mind from day to day or hour to hour. I don’t know what I want! I don’t know which church I will attend, or if I should get involved or take a break. One day I might want to talk about my experiences and the next I may want to talk about anything but or nothing at all. Please be patient as I figure out (again) who I am. Speak into my life—the things you see that I do well, my passions. This will help me figure out who I am and what I’m supposed to do. I have to figure this out on my own but I need you to help get me there. Encourage me to do new things and invite me in on your own new endeavors.
You mean so much to me, you really do. You can never know (I can never really know) how much your prayers and support aided me in my ministry this past year. Without you it would not have been possible. (Yes, God can do all things but He chooses not to do it alone. He chooses to use us and He chose to use you in my life and in my ministry this past year.) Dankie, enkosi, thank you for the part you shared in all that took place this past year and for your friendship and patience as I learn what it means to be me again. Thank you for not letting me walk this journey alone.