Loneliness Part 3: Reacclimation Loneliness and Isolation: Am I Speaking Gibberish?
I step off the plane into the familiar, quaint airport in Jacksonville, FL. After a 36 hour trip I feel tired, dazed and disconnected from reality and myself. I am aware that my body is back in America, back “home”, but my heart, soul and spirit are still in Africa. Reverse culture shock hits me hard and I’m hyperaware of the transitional grief that has already begun.
My friend picks me up outside of baggage claim and the questions begin. “How was your trip? How are you feeling? You must be so glad to be back! What was your favorite part? So much has happened since you left, I can’t wait to fill you in!” My already foggy brain is pulling up all the memories, trying to appropriately respond to the questions while simultaneously battling against sleep deprivation and heavy heartedness. As I do my best to emphasize the amazing testimonies, the miracles, the spiritual intensity, the overall peace, and fulfillment, I can tell I’ve lost my friend. She does her best to stay with the stories and acknowledge my excitement and experiences, but eventually I know she is going through the polite motions: head nodding, oohing and ahhing at the right times, etc. So I deflect and ask her how she has been.
I know this won’t be the only conversation that leaves me feeling empty and isolated. It’s one of the most upsetting and yet understandable parts of reacclimating. My experience of the trip was a 10/10. My relationship with the Lord has never felt so pure, my confidence and sense of fulfillment so grounded in Him, the evidence of signs, wonder and miracles so tangible. Unless you are speaking to someone who has had a similar experience, those stories tend to go over the heads of friends and family members. Their faces go blank, their eyes glaze over, and they start to get fidgety.
People will ask you about your trip, experience, or ministry. They are typically looking for the main bullet points: the overall ministry approach you took; top 2 “wow” experiences; and the overall results. Broken down this looks like describing if you were evangelizing, building schools or churches, working with kids, etc.; talking about the miraculous or faith increasing stories; and then concluding with statistics, i.e. number of salvations etc. Try practicing your “elevator speech”, keeping it neatly condensed. With closer friends and family start with the basics and then over time share more. If you try to explain every detail, all at once, you will most likely lose them.
On the flip side, the missionary may also feel disconnected from the stories and experiences of friends and family. The first world problems and dramas you hear may feel unrelatable, irritating, or exaggerated. You may experience confusing feelings of anger or resentment, #firstworldproblems. Because of this discomfort, it can be tempting to isolate, to shut people out.
Acknowledge your feelings and work to understand them. No feeling is inherently “bad” or “wrong”, it’s what you do or don’t do that can label it positive or negative. Work to adjust your perspective. Your friend who is complaining about her slow iphone doesn’t have the raw global outlook you have. The frustration of first world entitlement and privilege is bound to cause discomfort within your spirit. Now you have a few options on how to respond to this discomfort. 1) You could confront your friend and tell her that the starving youth in Africa would be ecstatic just to hold her iphone and try to teach her a little third world perspective. 2) You could decide that your friend is too shallow and unaware to be around and decide to isolate from her. 3) You choose to take the discomfort as a reflection of what God has taught you about gratitude and you extend Grace toward your friend. Grace, Forgiveness, and Understanding toward your friend will help you work through the anger and prevent resentment from developing.
During this time of readjusting and confronting the challenging emotions that come up, it can be tempting to seclude yourself and become a hermit. Find balance. As you are acclimating, take time to engage in intentional self care and alone time. Journal about your memories from your missions work. Journal about the challenges you are experiencing connecting to others and the tough emotions. Get specific about triggers. Talk to God about your frustrations and ask for the gifts of Grace and Mercy. Reach out to a member of your ministry and debrief with them.
It is okay to spend some time alone to help you adjust, however, it is also important to engage with your community. Connect with people who helped support your trip. Connect with your church community. Connect with friends and family. Remember your “elevator speech” and make sure to give them a platform to talk about how they have been. There is no need to try to do it all at once or overbook yourself. Pace yourself and proceed in baby steps. Give yourself grace as well and be patient with the process.
Let me take a moment to acknowledge those who may have experienced trauma or spiritual abuse in their ministry. For you, isolation may look different and connecting with your church community may not be immediately appropriate or feel safe. Please address trauma specific coping mechanisms and the healing process with a therapist!
Reacclimation can be an overwhelming, exhausting experience for everyone post ministry. It can feel like you’ve been hit by a freight train. Here at Strength International we can help you debrief and work through healthy processing, whether you are back permanently or temporarily, feel free to reach out! We will also walk with you through trauma informed healing practices if applicable. You are not alone!