I’ve always used social media as an escape from my reality, my bad home life - at both my parent's homes. I always post positive things, things that make me feel better about myself, about what I’m doing - a place where I can escape and see only the positives in my life. I soon grew interested in marketing, then blogging, my website and so on, and I found a way to distract myself from dealing with my reality.
It wasn't until I was 21, after I had taken out two restraining orders on various boyfriends, after I had predominantly dated adult children of alcoholics (ACoA), that I realized their way of communicating wasn't normal, but was abuse – the same I had suffered throughout my life. I cut ties with my dad in late 2013, but continued living with my mom. At this point I was 23, and I still didn't feel independent or capable of moving out of this environment because I didn’t have the strong foundation on which to stand that (hopefully) most people do.
I dated another ACoA for nearly 2 years before knowing this term, these personality traits, this pattern. I told my mom about ACoAs, and she connected the dots about her own past. However, while she was admitting her own problems and sought help for healing, our relationship still wasn't very good.
That's when, in late 2016, I started working on a new portfolio of projects and applied to graduate school. Determined to take part in every opportunity (I have a touch of FOMO, to be honest), I went on a trip with Taglit Birthright Israel - and two months later I applied to the Masa Israel Teaching Fellowship. Once I was accepted into both this program and into Syracuse (the same day, crazy), I started to tell myself I had to finish all my projects before I left. And, if you know my capacity for work, you can imagine how long this list of 'projects' extended.
In April of this year, my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and I put projects on hold as I helped her. She had surgery, then radiation, and we spent more time together. She went to support group meetings, and I worked on my projects as I concentrated on packing for Israel, for Syracuse, and for "officially moving out." She was finally validating her past, then my past, and allowing me to heal alongside her. However, so occupied with various projects, I watched our relationship transform from a distance.
The instant I got on the plane for Israel I had a lump in my stomach, and it hit me - I was officially moving out by flying across the world, just when my mom and I developed a solid, positive relationship as mother and daughter. I instantly regretted how I spent my time this past year, and I sat there for 10 hours trying not to cry, trying not to admit these thoughts as my reality.
Well, when you're exhausted and your defenses are down, and you've had days without work, without internet, without distracting yourself with a-million-and-one projects - everything you've been controlling comes to the surface.
We moved into our apartments in Rishon LeZion, Israel the first Sunday in September and I was basically catatonic. I kept telling people the sole thing I was worried about in this program was sleep; my sleep issues have been getting worse as I get older, and I can spend two hours lying in bed, my mind recounting horrible childhood traumas until I pass out from mental exhaustion.
The second day I broke down and told the program director my theory: I moved around so much growing up that I didn't think it gave me a good foundation for handling this experience. I wasn't sure if I was here for the right reasons ("FOMO" being one of them), and I was going to have trouble sleeping; my bedroom is in the hall, and the room's sliding door doesn't even close all the way. I didn't know if I could handle it, and I told my roommates.
Later that day I spoke to my mom and, by that point, admitted to myself that my sleep problems are a symptom PTSD I've never dealt with, that I instead clouded with projects, symptoms subdued by years of being told it's me, not them - invalidated feelings fogging my reality - and it finally hit me. I spoke with our "maderich" or counselor about my PTSD, my family background and newfound relationship with my mom, and he shared his perspective. We talked about therapy, and I wasn’t sure if this was something I could handle here, or if I would return home to accomplish what lay ahead. I said with a laugh, "I don’t know, sometimes you have to move across the world to discover you needed to be home."
"Sometimes you have to move across the world to discover you need to be home."
I talked with a bunch of people in the program about my PTSD, using the phrase "when your defenses are down, everything comes up." I was surprised at the number of people on the trip who also suffer from, or have suffered from, PTSD. Talking about it made me feel better for a period of time, and then I hit another low.
I saw a therapist early the next week, and her first big question was: "Are you sure you want to be here, and not with your mom right now?" It was funny hearing someone ask me this point-blank. She said I had valid reasons for wanting to return home - I was going to grad school in less than a year, my mom has been sick, and our relationship is finally solid. While my mom keeps saying, "Ten months is like a year abroad in school; you’re coming back," in reality, I wasn't coming back to her. Then, another realization crept up on me - when I was fourteen my grandma died, and I've always regretted the way I spent my time when I was with her – on the computer. I used to rationalize my regret by telling myself it wasn't for nothing; my work is on the computer, it paved the way. But that excuse was no help, and I never wanted to make that mistake again. Now here I am, aware of this pattern on the verge of repeat, with the power to change things in my life and transform relationships.
I vacillated for a week and talked to my fellow fellows. One girl pointed out, "Either way, you'll be missing out on something; a year solidifying your new relationship with your mom, which you told me you've never had, or this experience in Israel. Which could you do without?" Realistically, I can always go back to Israel. But we keep getting older, and this time with my mom will only happen once.
I spoke to my roommate, one who had lost her mom to cancer when she was younger. I told her that our school classroom observation made me think about my childhood and relationship with my mom. She brought up the idea of 'connections' and I said, "That's a really good point: connections. I think I need to solidify the mother-daughter connection with my own mom before I can make a connection with another kid."
So here I am, without all of the digital (with the exception of this post, of course), instead with my emotions and the reality in front of me. I've been living at such a fast pace my whole life that I whip past so many opportunities that are right in front of me.
Sometimes you have to move across the world to discover you need to be home...