For many people, moving to a different country is an opportunity to start afresh. It’s the beginning of a brand new life. With everything new – home, job, colleagues, friends, city – there is plenty of room to redesign one’s lifestyle, relationships, and image. This chance to wipe the slate clean sounds exciting and promising, especially for those who have been through a rough time and want to run away from everything and everyone.
Maybe this scene sounds familiar. There you are, in your hotel or temporary apartment, putting down your suitcase, your carry-on luggage, your handbag. All seems in order, until you notice an old suitcase, that old suitcase covered in tags and stickers that seems to be following you everywhere. The same one you took care to leave in the attic before leaving. The “I am leaving all this behind” suitcase.
That is what I call the invisible luggage. We all carry with us some of this unwanted baggage. It is filled with our past experiences. It contains rumpled, unhappy memories, past sufferings, forgotten quarrels, and bottled resentments. A song, a word, an image, or a person – just about anything can bring back those painful memories at any given time, making adjusting to a new environment harder than it is already.
Invisible luggage affects our moods and our actions, turning sweet into bitter all over again. There is joy and there is pain in our lives. We can’t choose what we take with us, because ultimately it is a combination of both joy and pain that defines who we are.
But does this mean we have to keep suffering and let the past affect the present and future? Absolutely not.
Everyone knows that if there is one thing we can’t change, it is the past. Life is a one-way journey and we can’t relive situations to say what we should have said, do what we wish we had done, or bring back loved ones who have passed away.
We can change the effect of painful feelings and the stronghold they have over us. We can learn how to control them so that they are no longer hurtful. While we wish we could, we cannot simply select them and press delete; it doesn’t work like that. But we can archive them. We can close them and put them high on a shelf, like a book we have decided not to read.
How do you archive feelings? You talk. Or write.
Talking to a trusted person who is willing to listen and support you is the most difficult but the most rewarding action you can take to change your life. Women are experts in confessional meetings over coffee. It is their way of “airing” frustrations, anger, but also concern and sadness. What we hide in our invisible luggage is usually of a very private nature and not to be shared with just anyone; find someone you can really trust, whether it is an old friend, a sister or a mentor.
When we can’t bring ourselves to speak, keeping a journal or writing imaginary letters is often the most practical way of getting things off our chests and a good way to start reorganising our feelings.
It sounds easy. Indeed it is not. The simple task of finding words that are appropriate to describe how we feel can become challenging – it forces us to identify and define our emotions, to organise what is a bundle of mixed and complex feelings. And some of those feelings may be shame, denial, or may be simply too painful to be brought to life.
Both writing and talking can be very cathartic experiences and therefore difficult to face. As a rule, the harder it is to express how we feel or think, the higher the need to get control over those feelings.
Each one of us will live this journey in a different way for the simple fact that we are all different and our experiences are unique. Some of you will do with a chat with an old friend, some others may need more support and seek professional help.
Whatever it takes, remember that you can move on and that the big move is not complete until you have emptied and sorted all your suitcases, because it is very hard to thrive when something is weighing you down.
-Luciana de Michiele of emotioncounselling.com
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[title subtitle=”This article originally appeared in Wanderlust’s October-November 2014 issue”]