Am I Leaving or Going?

Combining the power of intention with the setting of direction.

Before I found drugs, before I found alcohol, before I found any other means of escape from uncomfortable reality, I learned how to leave: first into imagination, then to other places in the world.

Leaving offered a very clear kind of escape: If I am not here, I am not having this experience, and I am not this person. People elsewhere don’t know this person, so they will respond to whoever I become when I get there, so I have some control over how I’m perceived – and therefore who I “am.” And since, at home and in my normal reality, I thought I was boring, or nobody, or just plain insufficient, becoming that “somewhere else” person had a lot of appeal. At any rate, I told myself, whatever is happening to me here might not happen to me there. So let’s leave.

Summer camp was the ultimate example. I knew how to be charming, fun and interesting; I just didn’t get a chance to do it in my family or at school, where I seem to have been pre-assigned a role and persona that was none of those things. But at camp I was cool, and life was interesting. People wanted to hang out with me. I wanted to hang out with me! I was the kid who cried when camp was over and I had to go home.

So, at the time, I made a simple calculation: “home” is not good, but “away” is. And if “here” becomes not good, then “there” would be better, or at least different. So I got hooked on travel. In fact, when I found booze, my reaction to it was that drinking was just like leaving, only I didn’t have to go anywhere. It seemed a much more efficient form of escape, until it started creating its own problems.

But my basic calculation held: The answer to problems was to leave.

I had to go through all the addiction, and then some recovery, to realize that running off didn’t solve problems, and that I wasn’t going to learn or grow if I kept leaving all the time. At some point, I needed to stick around, look at the stuff, and work through it. And I’ve done some of that.

And yet I leave. All the time. I have never been very good at long-term close friendships, never been good at all at intimate relationships, never had great discipline or determination, never stuck with a career — all because when it gets weird, I get going.

Now I’m about to do it again. In just a few weeks, I am leaving to go live in Spain. And I’ve spent no small amount of time thinking about why. Specifically: Am I just leaving again, or am I going someplace? Because there’s a difference.

I have wanted to live in Europe for at least 10 years, when I started going there regularly for work. I like the lifestyle, the value system, the variety of cultures, the cities, the countryside, the Alps, all sorts of things. I also want to plunge myself into the deep end of a different culture; I’ve spent my whole life with people who look and sound like me, and there’s limited growth available there. So I very much think – and am trying to set the intention – that I am moving to Spain and a new life, rather than running off from the US and this life.

Another way to say that is it’s more about the pull of Europe than the push of America – although I confess that for this left-leaning intellectual infused with European ideas, lately America has been pushing pretty damn hard. I feel like I’ve worked at the same company for years, been thinking about maybe an early retirement, and now a bunch of assholes bought the place. So I think it’s time to go.

I could torture myself about that – should I stay and fight? – or I can just figure I’m too old for all that, and I was never a fighter anyway. Would you say that a largely non-political German who pulled up stakes in about 1932 made the wrong call?

In the end, like so many things, I think this is about framing and intention. If I stay focused on the life I want to build in Spain, and all the challenges and opportunities that come with it, then that’s what it will be about. If I think about areas of my life that aren’t satisfying and tell myself all will be fine when I get out of here … well, then, things might go sideways.

I don’t think we completely create our own realities, but I do think we contribute to the process. If I can remember that I am looking for growth and adventure, and that both of those come with a cost that I am willing to pay, then that is the destination I will tend to go to.