If you've ever felt that expat life isn't all it's cut out to be, then read this heartwarming guest post by my friend Caitlin Padgett. I'm deeply honoured to share it with you and incredibly appreciative to Caitlin for talking so candidly about a very dark time in her life.
If this story sounds all too familiar then I urge you to seek help, Caitlin's details are below.
My partner and I live in a cute little ecological adobe home that we built ourselves, in Southern Mexico. I have successfully launched an online business that I am totally passionate about and is a true representation of my innate gifts and talents. I have lots of time for swimming, socializing and salsa dancing - my other passions. And I recently gave birth to the most beautiful baby girl.
Every day I count my blessings. Yet this dream life didn’t magically appear. It has taken perseverance and work to get here.
Almost exactly 5 years ago I was headed down a very, very different path…
I was living in Cambodia.
Though I had what I thought at the time was much coveted and hard-earned dream job working as a consultant for several international organizations and foundations, I was miserable doing the work. In fact, I would sit my computer in the evening with a bottle of wine just to get through my reports.
I was heartbroken, going through a divorce. I felt deeply isolated living in a culture where, despite 3 classes a week, I just couldn’t grasp the language. Not only that, I couldn’t “tone it down” enough to pass for what was considered culturally appropriate. I was also too loud, too forward and when I danced at weddings, I moved my hips way too much.
In short, I couldn’t be me. And it was killing me inside. To fill the well of loneliness - I partied and popped pills. A LOT. I have always loved to dance but while living in Cambodia it became a desperate attempt to truly lose myself in the music. And in other people.
Unless I had drank enough to pass out (which I couldn’t do every night since I was still trying to function and show up to work more or less every day), overwhelming anxiety and insomnia would overcome me in the evening. I was taking a pharmaceutical combination of sedatives and sleeping pills similar to the ones Heath Ledger was taking when he died.
My health was rapidly deteriorating.
I was smoking more than I ever had in my life, and my skin was plagued with acne...
In short, I was a mess.
You might be wondering how I got myself from there, to the life of ease and fulfilment I have created for myself now.
I’ve identified 7 strategies that really helped, and I hope they serve you if you find yourself in a similar situation.
1) Find your people.
Living in a foreign country can be incredibly isolating, and as I learned, it can also be easy to fall in with a crowd that doesn’t exactly bring out the healthiest side of you. Not bad people per se, but ones that perpetuate unhealthy behaviours.
I’ve read that you are more likely to be influenced by the 5 people you spend the most time with.
So look around you. Are the people you see most often living the life you aspire to live?
I didn’t have 5 people in Cambodia. But I found a few. People who were living the life that I wanted. One couple probably saved my life when they allowed me to live in their guest house for a few months. They were a fun, outgoing pair with 3 kids and lots of love in their lives. The husband was a doctor and the wife was studying both fashion and nursing, two of her passions.
I knew that ultimately - I wanted a life more like theirs than the one I was living - and they gave me hope it was possible.
Since I didn’t have that many people to inspire the “best in me” in my immediate surroundings, I also looked for inspiration online.
2) Allow yourself to dream, and then take action.
As expats, we are lucky to be living in the age of the internet, because it immediately expands our horizons and allows us to connect with others beyond our immediate surroundings.
Since I wasn’t happy in the job I had at the time, I allowed myself to dream online… Whose newsletters or blogs sparked something in heart? Who was living a life that lit me up reading about it? I looked for real, authentic-looking happiness and deep personal fulfillment, not people who were simply “making it” online.
On a whim, I submitted a video to win a scholarship to Marie Forleo’s live event in NYC. I won, and I travelled to New York to participate in one of the most energizing conferences I’d ever been to (and I’ve been to a lot). This experience opened my eyes to the world of women entrepreneurs, following their passions and creating their dream businesses. I knew I wanted to be a part of this somehow. A year later, I took Marie’s online course B-school, which is where I recently met Jacqui. The online community of entrepreneurs has now grown to over 14,000 in Marie’s program alone.
I wouldn’t have had this introduction if I hadn’t first given myself permission to dream, and then put myself out there. By taking action, I created a chain-reaction of positive events in my favour.
3) Find learning, growth and healing opportunities.
I now had access to role models… women who were living “location independent” lifestyles while running their businesses online. They seemed happy and fulfilled, pursuing their dreams.
I started to study their stories to understand what they were doing and how they got there. Around the same time, I participated in a number of dance, yoga and personal development workshops and retreats. The bond created with other women in a supportive sisterhood-type environment gave me the love and support I needed to start embarking on some significant changes. Also, these experiences “juiced me up” with vitality and sparked my femininity in a healthy way… which became essential for attracting the kind of energy I was seeking in my life.
A few of these retreats were only 2-3 days long, others were a week. I traveled from Cambodia to Mexico for one that completely changed my life, and ultimately led to my move there.
I started seeing a therapist in Cambodia. I’ll never forget our first session, as she told me to get settled in her office and left the room to bring me tea, I just started sobbing. It was only then that I realized how desperately lonely and in pain I was… I’d been trying so hard to convince everyone around me that I was alright, and to be strong for myself (so that I could survive!) that I had completely neglected the hurt parts that needed nurturing.
Finally, after studying what other women entrepreneurs were doing and how they were making a living online, I decided that I wanted to become a coach. Largely driven by my own need to heal myself, I decided to enroll in a holistic health coaching program. I knew that regardless of whether I ended up pursuing that career, the information would be invaluable to my own health.
4) Identify and nurture your desires.
The process I describe in the point above took several years. They certainly weren’t overnight realizations that led me down that path.
What learned at one of the retreats I attended was to locate the desires within me, and to honour them, no matter how “realistic” they were. I committed to a daily practice of gratitudes, brags and desires, and kept it up for a long time.
The most important is to give yourself permission to dream and to have desires. Without worrying about the how. I knew I wanted to feel free, to do work I was passionate about, that focused on positivity rather than problems, I wanted to feel whole and healthy again, I wanted a loving partner and to start a family. I wanted to dance salsa, be vivacious and extroverted, and be able to communicate authentically and feel understood and honoured by the community I was living in.
5) Cut the ties that bind.
This is a really tough one, and harder for some than others. I was already going through a divorce, though my ex and I were still very entangled in each other’s lives. We had moved to Cambodia together, and were each other’s support system.
Yet in order to fully step into the me that I so desperately wanted to be, I realized I needed to let go completely. Though necessary, it was incredibly heart-breaking. (Five years later, we are now in contact via email and friendly with each other. At the time, total separation was necessary)
I left my consulting jobs, which was also a really difficult and scary thing to do, given I had worked to hard to get to where I was and I didn’t yet know where I was going. I just knew I couldn’t keep showing up and
I made the difficult decision to leave Cambodia. The fighter/fixer spirit in me was still holding on to “making it work” but I had to realize that it wasn’t a healthy place for me to be.
6) Do the deep healing work, consistently.
I moved to Mexico 4.5 years ago. My success was not overnight. I was not all of a sudden “fixed.”
I decided to stop the pills when I arrived in Mexico, redefining my relationship to alcohol took a lot longer.
It was another couple of years of consistently applying what I was learning through my holistic health coach certification process to see significant changes in my health and mental well-being.
Yet during this time remained fiercely committed to finding joy. Even in small pleasures, like fresh flowers or fruit, taking dance classes, or going for a walk at sunset.
I knew that I different life was possible. All I had to do was keep taking small little steps, based on what felt good, how I wanted to feel, and my dreams and desires.
7) Break the silence, and get support!
I realize that some of these strategies may not be feasible for you at the moment. You may be in a relationship that you don’t want to end, or a job that you can’t leave.
The most important thing you can do is reach out. Find someone you can talk to. A therapist, a coach, a trusted friend.
You do not have to go through this alone. You are deserving of love and support. You are deserving of a fulfilling, passionate life. You are worth it.
I know how important a single conversation can be. How one step to break the silence, reach out and take action can create a chain reaction of positivity in your life.
That is why I offer free discovery sessions. If this interests you, please click here to set up a time to talk. (If you can’t find a time in here that works due to the time difference, feel free to email me at email@example.com and we’ll find a time that works)
If you think this would be helpful for someone you know, please share this info so that they can get the support they need.
Cheers to your health,
Caitlin Padgett is a Holistic Health and Lifestyle Coach whose program Evolve supports women seeking to redefine their relationship to alcohol, their bodies and their lives. Her approach is unconventional and unique to guide you to reach your health and life goals by making step-by-step changes to your relationship to alcohol, diet and lifestyle (including work-life balance, exercise, spirituality, relationships, sexuality and more).
For more information on Caitlin’s work and to download her free guide “How to have a great night out without getting wasted” go to www.caitlinpadgett.com