I’ve been thinking lately about the desire to “escape”. You know, the thought you have when life gets tough, change is swirling all around you, worst-case scenarios fill your mind, and you think, if only I could escape to a tropical island for a month and come back to all of these situations resolved.
I came across a journal entry I wrote towards the end of my time living in Ecuador. An entry about this exact topic:
I thought my year of volunteering and traveling would be all highs: all fun, all smiles, all the time. I believed I would come to Ecuador and never have any of the problems I had at home. I thought I could escape the inevitable emotions that come with daily living. I convinced myself I would never feel the longing for more, the yearning for my life to be different than what it is. I assumed I would escape the pressure I imposed on myself to conform to the “do more, produce more, and achieve more” mindset of the American rat race. I truly thought I would never feel insecure, lonely, depressed, or frustrated. And I believed for sure all of my eating and body issues would vanish the moment I stepped foot on South American soil.
But these were illusions constructed in the shadows of my mind. I thought I could leave behind all of my troubles and problems, that they somewhere wouldn’t follow me if I traveled far, far away. But, I came to learn that this was a delusional fantasy.
No matter where you go, there you are.
It only took a year in Ecuador to learn this simple, yet profound lesson. No matter where I go, I take myself with me. I take my baggage, the way I think, my beliefs, and the manner in which I deal with life.
Being in Ecuador didn’t change the fact that I struggled with my weight and body, that I tended towards perfectionism and am critical in nature, or that I still turned to food when I wanted comfort and support. It didn’t change the fact that I often compared myself to others I met, that I sometimes wished I could just “be normal”, or that I thought I “should” go back to living a 9-5 life.
I thought I would always be happy here, that my travels and adventures would be nothing but joy, adventure, and fun. Yes, I’ve certainly had those experiences of ecstasy. Standing in an open field with snow-capped mountains in the background, thinking…man, this is amazing. Sitting on a bus, gazing at the magnificent scenery of Peru. Being on a crowded bus in Quito with the locals unloading their produce. I’ve had moments of incredible joy, moments I’ve looked at the sky and just thought, thank you, God, for this amazing experience.
But I’ve also had moments of sheer frustration and sadness. When I struggled so desperately fighting my weight, my negative body image, and the desire to binge eat, that I felt my recovery was backsliding. When I felt so lonely and homesick that I wondered how I would get through the day. When I felt lost and confused, not knowing which direction I wanted to go in my life. Times when I wondered….what am I doing here? What am I doing with my life? And times when I’ve felt so sad that I just wanted to go home to receive a hug from someone I loved. Moments that I thought I wouldn’t have when I went to Ecuador.
But such is life. We can’t escape emotions, worries, stresses, and obstacles. Life isn’t only the good; life comes with tough times, tough moments, and even tougher experiences. But it also comes with moments of joy, contentment, and happiness.
Being in Ecuador didn’t change the essential part of myself. Who I am at my core. No matter where I go, where I travel, I am still me. And I take my issues with me. If I could remember and truly know, deep within, that life is full of both ups and downs. There is a middle ground. I can observe all of the moments, good and bad, and know that within there is a place of peace, of contentment. Knowing that these moments will come. And they will also go. They will pass through my life like a breeze. And I can keep these moments in my heart, knowing that although I don’t want the joyous ones to pass, another moment will come again.
What a profound lesson to have learned while being abroad. I occasionally catch myself wondering if going to Ecuador was “worth it”, considering I blew through almost $20,000 in savings. I think about how awesome that money would be right now… and then I remember some of the life lessons I learned. That “escaping” never resolves anything. That being able to understand that leaving my city and home won’t bring a magical resolution to any of my problems. That all of life is a constant cycle of ups and downs, and I can remind yourself this too shall pass. I don’t need to DO anything. I don’t need to escape. I know there is a middle ground.
So, next time you’re thinking about escaping somewhere as the answer to troubling situations, remind yourself of this $20,000 lesson: no matter where you go, there you are 🙂
Have you used traveling or moving as an escape? What did you learn from your experience? Share in the comments below, I’d love to hear!