I am trapped in a foreign country. I could leave Germany and return to the U.S. alone, but then I would be abandoning my children. Or I could take them with me, but…international kidnapping. This little life situation is the consequence of some decisions I made back in 2012. In was traveling around the world as a freelance writer and everything was free, detached, I loved living out of a suitcase. Arriving in Berlin that summer, I was 30 and single and I thought, “I should get on a dating app.”
I met my ex-husband in Germany on OkCupid, moved in with him a month later, and we were married within a year. I can list the many mistakes I made on that journey (the influence of drugs and alcohol, moving in too soon, rushing an engagement), but it really doesn’t matter at this point. It happened. I got married, had two kids, and was divorced before my youngest was 2.
I can say that the instant my daughter was born in a German hospital I knew these hurried life decisions were going to me more consequential and impactful that I first realized. Going clubbing in a foreign country while traveling is a lot different than giving birth or trying to raise your family in one. Not only was I isolated, disconnected from my own family at this time, but I also felt disconnected in a foreign culture. The language difficulties alone proved logistically and emotionally challenging, particularly as we endured a health crisis with my daughter.
All of this to say is that, living abroad was romantic and first, but could also be a bureaucratic and psychological nightmare when facing real life issues. I was also trying to get sober and eventually navigating a divorce, but the truth that continued to haunt me is that, I would no longer have a choice about where to raise my children, or live the next 18 years of my life. My last Visa actually expired the day my son turned 18, which was both a deadline and also a countdown.
There are many ways that navigating a foreign culture and language day-to--day can be daunting. Sometimes I don’t want to translate my mail or the emails from the school. When a German guy rear-ended me last week, my instinct was just to pull away, simply to avoid a linguistic encounter. If I think too much about the hardships, it really does feel too much sometimes.
I share this story because, it sucks sometimes. It feels like a cruel punishment for decisions that had meant to serve a life of freedom and romance. In my narrative work, I look at what stories we are telling ourselves. The story I just told is obviously true and there is a reality to my situation.
However, if I stand back, there is also a very different version of this story.
I really like Berlin, for its very liberal and artistic qualities. Compared to New York and San Francisco, it’s actually quite affordable. I have a great support system here in recovery and in the artistic community. I love the unique experiences and challenges that come with living abroad and the diverse people I continue to meet from all over the world. I actually speak a foreign language. The greatest asset I have is that my ex-husband shares custody with me so that I actually do have parenting support. I know that leaving the country and actually being a single mom in the U.S. would actually be a greater hardship, so the reality is that, no I wouldn't really choose to leave.
When I circulate the “I am trapped” narrative, it really does make me feel worse, its also not a full picture of my situation. My practice of shifting the narrative isn't simply toxic positivity and ignoring the hardship, because it is real, but there is a choice, in trying to see the other reality, the alternative story, which makes me feel a lot more power, volition, and courage in my life.
I also noticed that my “trapped” narrative only comes up when I am feeling bad about myself or some particular circumstance (a fight with my ex). It’s actually a perfect narrative for my mind to go to when things feel hard. It also has the added punch of making me sink into regrets and shame around my past decisions.
Whether you are doing manifesting work, trying to get ahead in your career, struggling in a relationship or overcoming a difficult life situation, pay attention to the very core stories you believe and share about your life.
What stories about your life hurting you or holding you back?
What does the story say about how you see yourself?
What does telling this story reinforce about your negative beliefs?
And most importantly, what other stories are you ignoring? Are there more empowering and self-enhancing versions of your truth?
You can listen to the podcast on this topic here: