My last blog looked at the honeymoon phase of re-entry. We talked about how to make the most of that time after re-entry when you are feeling buoyant and have some energy. But what happens once those feelings of excitement wear off? When life in your home country is no longer very appealing; when it sinks in that this really is home now and you’re not about to get on a plane and leave it all behind; as you hit the dip of (reverse) culture shock? In other words, what happens after the honeymoon is over, and how do you navigate through the next phase?
I’m going to put this in very simplistic terms, as it’s a massive topic, some of which I have covered in other blogposts, but hopefully it will give you some pointers.
Make a home
It may sound silly, but one way to feel more settled is to settle! Make a home for yourself where you are, whether you’re in rented accommodation for a while, staying with others or in your own home. The more home-like you can make your base, the more settled you will feel. Unpack the boxes, sort the clutter, get rid of all that junk you thought you absolutely needed to hold onto for when you came back, make that photo book. It’s amazing how much of a difference it can make to your emotional life if you unpack. Your home environment matters. See more in my blog “unpacking the boxes.”
- What can you do this week to make your living space more of a home?
Start building your new life
This is easier said than done, and obviously takes time. But the more intentional you can be about putting structure and routine into your life, the better. It can be effort-full and tiring at a time when you have less energy, but nobody else can do this for you. People on the whole (especially in the West where life has become so full) are unlikely to reach out to you and invite you into their lives. You are going to have to take some initiative in getting out there and making contacts. At the school gate, exercise classes, reading groups – whatever it takes, get out and find some people to connect with!
- Make a list of all the things you would like to do and all the places where you could meet some people and choose one to act on this week
Allow yourself to experience the emotional roller-coaster
When you leave a country that has been your home, a bereavement happens. You lose your identity, role, status, friends and favourite places all in one short plane ride. Your emotions are likely to be a bit all over the place for a while. At times you will feel fine and at others you may feel like a wreck. It’s all ok. The important thing is to allow yourself to feel it and find a healthy way to express it somewhere or with someone. It’s normal to feel sad, tired, angry, empty, excited, hurt, confused, in fact the whole range of emotions. Sometimes all in the space of a few minutes! Be gentle with yourself through it all!
- Journal or talk to a friend about how you have been feeling about your re-entry this week
- Use a re-entry journal like Cate Brubaker’s Re-entry Roadmap or Melissa Chaplin’s Returning Well to help you process your emotions.
Look after yourself
Of course if you’re on an emotional roller-coaster, then you are going to need some TLC (tender loving care) too. Sometimes others can do this for us, and if you have friends in your life who can provide this for you, then great. Most people have to learn to help themselves in this category too – others don’t always understand or know what we need, so learning to care for ourselves is important.
Finding things that bring you life during this journey is important, whether it’s going out for a coffee with a friend, playing sport, reading, getting a pedicure, having a bath, going for a run – you know what the things are for you. Or perhaps you don’t because you have forgotten what you used to do… Find some things that nurture you which give you the care you need to help you through the particularly hard / lonely bits of re-entry.
- Write a list of ten things that bring you life, make you feel relaxed or help you feel good about yourself. Which one could you do for yourself today?
Find others to share with
Many people don’t understand the experience of re-entry, simply because they haven’t done it themselves and can’t imagine what it feels like. That doesn’t mean nobody can, but that those most likely to understand have probably lived overseas themselves. So find others near or far who have done re-entry – someone in your church, someone else who also left the same host nation as you, someone in an Internations group. Even if you Skype with someone very occasionally, being heard by someone who “gets” where you are is such a relief.
Some of the people who listened to me weren’t in fact repats, but seemed to get it anyway – so it’s one of those times when you have to share a bit and gauge the reaction before going further. Working out how to tell your story in short snippets is then very useful.
- Who do you know who has been through re-entry? Or who you could try talking to , to see if they understand? When will you contact them?
Reach out for help
Above all, if you feel yourself sinking, reach out sooner rather than later. There’s no harm in saying “help” and then a couple of days later finding yourself in a better place again. But if you sink into depression it’s much harder to find a way out once there. Your local doctor, pastor, friends, family, a coach, counsellor or therapist.. there are many people to turn to. Don’t do it on your own – you don’t have to.
You may not need paid help, you may manage to surf the ups and downs just fine. But if you do need help, don’t hesitate to ask, even if only for advice. Plenty of people do.
- Do you need to reach out to someone? If so, who, or who could you ask?
After the honeymoon…
As I said, this is a very simplistic view of what you can do and there will be many things I have missed out on this occasion. But hopefully it has given you some ideas to start with. Feel free to comment below on other things you have found helpful after the honeymoon period was over. And get in touch if I can help.
18th September 2018
Check out the new re-entry e-book, Arriving Well: Stories of Identity, Belonging and Rediscovering Home after living abroad. It is an anthology of re-entry stories with added hints, tips and reflections to help you with your re-entry. Available on your local version Amazon.