There are many reasons why I moved to Thailand: to see the world, to immerse myself in a different culture, to make a difference, to find a passion…
And there is one reason I have yet to admit to anyone:
I came to Thailand to break my old habits.
My life back in the United States was repetitive yet lethargic. I sat at my cubicle for eight hours a day, and then I exhaustedly sat my ass on the couch while I caught up on episodes of Girls and Games of Thrones. Day after day I longingly watched Daenerys Targaryen rule her army with poise and structure, while on the other side of the television, I couldn’t grasp control of my own life. The only thing I was completely sure of was how to systematically eat ice cream out of a carton – first off the inside of the lid, and then around the edges until finally digging my way into the middle. On the weekends, I found myself drinking to oblivion in an effort to drown away the stress of the weekdays. I defended my actions with the excuse, “I am in my twenties! I should be partying and living it up while I can, even though I don’t always remember it.”
At that time, I had no clue that following this routine would lead me into an unhealthy, unhappy hole in the ground that I couldn’t climb out of. It was so easy to look at my life from the outside – I had a great job, I had an abundance of close friends, and I was (for the most part) a healthy human being. But one day, something inside of me went off like a ticking bomb that finally blasted. For the first time in a long time, I looked at my life from the inside. I took a long, hard look in the mirror and asked myself, “Where am I?”
Did I think I would have a good, well-paying job out of college? Yes. Did I think I would be living in Hoboken, partying like an animal every weekend? Yes. Did I think I would be happy doing it? Absolutely. My desire for monetary success and social escalation brought me to this exact moment, an inexplicable point of confusion.
I wasn’t happy, because I hadn’t really listened to myself when I made the choice to live my life that way. I hadn’t considered the stress, the weight, the unhealthy life that comes along with the so-called “successes” mentioned above. I was not ready to give up all of my effort to the mundane cubicle life, because the more I thought about change, the more I craved it.
And then I made an impulsive, incredible adjustment to my life, thinking Thailand would be my “fix.” All while making a difference in the lives of Thai children and gaining cultural experience, I would somehow find a way to eat healthier, rid myself of all stresses, and start meditating. Hell, I even said to myself, “It’s nice there – I’ll have the motivation to go running every day!”
If you haven’t already guessed it – that is certainly not the case. In no way did I think this move would be easy, but I did think I would have left my old habits behind with the “old me,” whoever that was. Adjusting to a new country and culture is a difficult change on its own, even harder when you add a new and unfamiliar job into the mix. It is very difficult to find good food in Sawi that isn’t fried or 70% rice noodle, it is so hot and humid that I can’t step 10 feet out of my apartment building without collecting armpit sweat, and I am so busy teaching and preparing lesson plans for my students that I have had almost no time to think about making the changes I’ve desired for myself.
This thought flew across my mind last night, as I had just finished some shrimp tom yum instant noodles and half a sleeve of Oreos while preparing today’s lesson plans. I thought about how earlier that day, one of my Thai co-teachers poked me in the belly and called me fat, because they have no filter here. I thought about how Leo, a brand of Thai beer, ran through my veins this weekend as I escaped Sawi for a glimpse of civilization. And then I thought about a passage I had recently read in my book:
“Unfortunately, we try to deal with the most of our problems by heading for the door, by trying to leave our immediate situation by any means we can. But our real problem- the deep down ache of the heart – doesn’t go anywhere. It travels with us. This deep-down problem is confusion.”
– Buddhism Plain and Simple, by Steve Hagen
My natural curiosity for Thai culture and Buddhism brought me to this book, which I may or may not quote repeatedly in my posts. In this excerpt, Hagen was trying to explain how dukkha, or “suffering” arises in our lives, one of them being the reason above. In summary – real problems are inescapable when you are unsure of how to reverse them, and this is when I realized:
I almost always run for the door.
Let me be clear, escaping my old habits is only one of the reasons why I am in Thailand, so in no way is my lack of success in this department urging me to quit. In fact, it only makes me want to try harder. Today, I woke up with a different attitude, because I finally realized that this particular problem was, no doubt in my mind, a very wrong reason to pack up and move across the world. I realized that if I want to make these changes in my life, I would have to look deep into my heart and understand where these desires are coming from. Therefore…
I am in my twenties, and I want to feel alive.
I want to “live it up” in a way that I can truly enjoy it. I want to thank God, whoever he is, for bringing me to this unfamiliar place, where I am blessed with an experience of a lifetime. I want to wake up every morning and be excited for my freezing cold shower, because I am lucky enough to have running water. I want to feel good, vibrant, present, and happy.
Only now am I realizing that true change comes from within, not from a simple change in lifestyle. Yes, I have moved across the world in an attempt to live meaningfully and with purpose. But no matter where I am in the world, I will always be Victoria, and only I can make the changes I wish to see in myself.
Old habits, be gone!