This past two weeks has really been an adventure… and a whole bunch of challenges. I took off to get some space from situations that were making me crazy, but you can’t really just walk away from anything. I’m sure there are lots of examples of how that statement is wrong, but I think most things that challenge us, just follow us until we figure them out and let them go. Like the geyser metaphor, a few entries back, I really do need to challenge myself and step away from the ring from time to time to rediscover myself and feel empowered again, or I implode. It’s just how I’m wired, and I’m finally learning to accept that. Not everyone needs that, and it’s just one more thing that I judge myself (harshly) about. I am my own worst enemy, no doubt about it… but somehow, when I get away from home, I rediscover the things I do like about myself, and that feels good.
When I was 21, I ran off to Australia because I was in love. No one I knew had ever gone there, and while it is a popular travel destination now, 27 year ago, it was not. It was my first big adventure and a huge step, leaving my family and friends behind and leaving for 3 months. I was totally on my own financially (starting my Jr. year of high school) and spending that much money, for love, was a huge risk. I worked for about a year to save the money and frankly, wasn’t sure I’d be coming back. It was exciting and scary all at the same time. In the end however, I messed the whole thing up because I wasn’t ready for that big of a leap. I hurt the person I loved badly and behaved stupidly. At the time, I felt pretty horrible for everything that happened, but now I realize how young I really was and how easy it might have been for others to have predicted that outcome. I however, was too young to see that then, and it’s been a long processing of that whole thing. The kernel of who I am now was there: leaping in to the unknown and craving the experience, the adventure… but I didn’t have the maturity to manage the experience or emotions of it all.
Since then, there have been a few of these Walk Abouts. I took off solo for the UK and Denmark for 9 wks when EL and EM were 2 and 4. THAT was a challenge! I had friends to stay with, but had none of the other things that were my safety nets at the time and was alone with two babies. I had just come out of a very serious medical crisis, ICU for weeks and nearly died. It would not be an overstatement to say that I’d had a near death experience. Prior to that, I’d spent 6 years feeling myself disappear in my husband’s Residency and the super bizarre lifestyle that required of us. We lived in a fishbowl; I was a single parent most of the time and married to a zombie the rest. I had had NO idea about what I was getting in to when I married in to it, naive doesn’t begin to cover it, and it was an easy place to lose your way. When I came out of the hospital (weighing 89 lbs and needing physical therapy to gain strength, etc again), I knew more than anything that I needed to get the hell out of dodge and figure out where Dawn went.
Those 9 weeks were thrilling: a day trip in a fisherman’s skip out to see the men catching what would be some of the last wild Atlantic Salmon, EL and EM waving and cheering; a bus trip in Denmark to a Viking’s festival, w/2 little people who were shocked to see the nude beach and thrilled to see the viking ships; isolation from my friends at home and family, not to mention my husband; and so many other examples… and I came home electrified. I felt strong and independent again. I had my wits about me and I was ready to finish our final year in the bowl and move on.
It would be a very long time until the next recharge. The, in 2005, I got the opportunity to travel to India w/my daughter, her sophomore year. It was organized and there were loads of safety nets, but it changed my life and everything about that 2 weeks was amazing. The intense emotions that I experienced, being in such a place and having the experiences I did, was incredible. What I really learned there, was that I had the ability to connect with people and that could sometimes make for magic. (Not always true at home, but abroad, it seems to work!)
Africa, in 2007 was definitely a personal challenge. I went totally alone, and aside from a 24 hr period when I met up w/my daughter, then a senior in h.s. and spending her first semester of sr year in Africa (talk about adventure!!), I was totally on my own. I hadn’t done anything like that since Australia, ’82. It challenged me on levels I had never imagined… being a minority for the first time in my life, and having to look at what that brought up for me; being in a culture and place that was entirely different from my own; being on safari and facing my anxieties, alone (in my tent at night, the sounds were so unnerving!). Again, I came home with a renewed sense of my own strengths and identity.
Then, this past year, April 2010, my 18 yo son, EM and I took off for 2 wks in India: total free fall. We booked our air fare and first night’s hotel, and then did the rest with back packs and prayers. We did not use credit cards to buy our way out of tight spots, nor did we always eat well. BUT, it was truly one of the greatest 2 wks of my life! Being with my son was so special, having to work thru’ issues together, as a team; the heat (115 for a while) and my age, with a back pack (I never asked EM to carry my stuff, I’m proud to say!); and then, just the total and utter culture and sensory experience that makes India my favorite place. There were moments when we didn’t get along, or things were not going well, that I felt so vulnerable or freaked out. But I pushed thru’ and we managed. There were moments that I felt like Queen of the world (telling a hotel that I worked for Lonely Planet, so they opened their closed pool and spa for EM and I: that swim, in that simple pool is one of the greatest memories of my life!). I kicked ass and EM and I kicked it together as well.
Being on the road for the past two weeks, figuring out where I’ll stay; trying to keep a budget and not buy my way in to comfort; sitting alone in the beauty of Yellowstone with my writing; meeting cool people and initiating contact, or spending long days in solitude; have all challenged me to look inside again and reaffirm my groove. That place where I feel good about myself and feel energized. It is sacred. I NEED it and I am blessed to be able to go out and find it… not everyone has that opportunity and I know how lucky I am. It’s so good to have the critical voice in my head silenced for a while. Or, to see that critic be a little kinder, have a little more humor when things go awry. Void of the challenges that exist in raising intelligent, free thinking kids and a strong willed husband, I can trust my own instincts again and not feel the need to defend my choices, my needs or desires. I am free falling and in the groove and it feels sublime.