The responsible one.
The family mediator.
The solid friend.
Back home, those descriptors stuck to me like static cling. Back in America, I found myself caught in the middle of family arguments, sidetracked by selfish people, sleep-deprived and starving for serenity.
I came to Australia after living within 90 minutes of my family and most of my friends my entire life. I was terrified not only that something would happen while I was away and I wouldn’t be able to help fix it, but that my family and friends would actually forget about me without my physical presence.
The first few months in Sydney, I continued to try to be the person I was at home, calling frequently, making sure everything was OK with everyone, worrying that I was missing something. I tried to make sure I stayed in everyone’s lives, not just close friends, but all my friends, needing that huge circle I’d created for myself. Who was I without all these friends, even though some, I knew, were fair-weather?
Then I began realizing much of my concern for others masked my own selfish fear.
It emerged as a fear of being alone, of who I was without all I’d always known. It was all my reliance on other’s affirmations, how I judged my worth by how many invites sat on my social calendar, how many times I came to the rescue of family or friends. My total view of self remained tethered to the roles I played back home.
Slowly, mercifully, my white-knuckled grip of who I was in America started to slip. Maybe it started with the emails and messages from friends saying how happy I looked in my new home. Maybe it was my mom telling me it was OK if I only called every couple of weeks, not every week. Maybe it’s when my best friend accepted I wouldn’t make it to her wedding. Their envy, their pride, their acceptance of what I was doing -- maybe it was all that. Or perhaps it was the realization they liked me and loved me even this far away.
Somewhere in the midst of those things, I started becoming me without them. Everyone was surviving, myself included, without the close proximity, the constant moderation and advice. Distance and different time zones probably decided much of when this change started, but I also began giving myself permission to explore Australia and how I fit in it. I gave myself permission to stop fretting over everyone else’s well-being and focus on my own.
Staying planted in Australia allowed me to begin defining myself by my own terms, not the ones chosen by those closest to me. Traveling and living in another country coax you to flex your wings, try on new costumes, play different parts. If I had continued feeling guilty about not fulfilling the “role” from my old American life in my new Australian one, I would have lost the chance to see what else I could be. I’m sure some people can figure out who they are closer to home, but I could not. I needed to be this far away to set up boundaries, to make sure I wasn’t only loved and liked for being a reliable stone, to do other things that revolved around myself, not others.
I continue to redefine myself. I know, at least, those old descriptors no longer fit like they used to. I am a little less careful and a little more carefree, less the mediator and more the meditator. No longer bolted to the ground, I move like the wind.
About the Author
Lauren Fritsky moved to Australia in January 2010, intent on staying just a year. Nearly 18 months later, she continues to live in Sydney with the American boyfriend she met Down Under and work as a freelance writer and editor for various web sites. She has traveled around Australia and visited China, New Zealand, Italy, France, the U.K., Ireland, Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean. Read her blog at The Life That Broke and follow her on Twitter.