In 1999, I moved from a small town in Indiana to a private women’s college in Atlanta, GA. I hated Indiana and desperately needed to get out. At first, Atlanta electrified me. The people, the school, the opportunities. I felt alive for the first time in forever.
Until I didn’t.
I became obsessed with a boyfriend, or rather my idea of him. I wrote teary poetry daily. A mentor who helped me get to Atlanta turned out to be a very bad man. I fought with one roommate and then another. Nothing was working for me.
After two years, I found a new boyfriend while home for the summer. Stupidly, I transferred to Indiana University to be near him and was quickly dumped. I continued to chase after him, and any relationship that could make me feel worth something.
By 2003, I was ready to run again. This time I went to Miami to be a teacher. I immediately found another man (you can guess what happened). During this time, I discovered that I could be a VERY messy drunk and slowly chipped away at every relationship I built. There aren’t enough fingers and toes to count the times I thoroughly embarrassed myself while drinking.
I found a new man (shocker) and for the next five years continued down a path of self-destruction. That man ended up throwing my world into chaos. I continued working as a teacher, despite hating it and became a messier, more embarrassing drunk in public. I didn’t maintain friendships for long and never met a bridge I didn’t burn.
In 2008, I relocated to Brooklyn, New York, and everything not only repeated itself but got much worse. By the time I had thoroughly ruined my life there, I had a new escape lined up halfway across the world. I took myself and problems all the way to Abu Dhabi.
How Moving Tricks You Into Thinking You’re Okay
Every time I moved to a new place or met a new group of people, my whole vibe changed. I was a new person, someone I liked, and who other people liked as well.
You know the feeling I’m talking about. You meet a new person (or people) and there’s an attraction. Suddenly, your skin is tingling and you say all the right things. You’re charming! Instantly, you have a date lined up or some new friends to hang out with.
If it’s a new city, you’re wrapped up in the possibilities. Every bar, every restaurant, every event feels like exactly what you’ve been wanting your entire life. You are excited all the time and your mood has never felt so elevated.
Those nightly bottles of wine you were downing earlier? A thing of the past! The cigs you wouldn’t be caught dead without? You haven’t even bought a pack yet. It’s a whole new you, world! Just watch out.
Be careful! The fantasy you have of starting over is literally making you high. Our brains love novelty, and what greater novelty is there than new people and new places?
Don’t be fooled. It can (and does) wear off. If you’re not prepared to deal with your “stuff” when the new scene loses its novelty, you will find yourself back where you started.
What Should You Do When All You Want To Do Is Move?
Before you pack up your entire life and head for a new city or town, do some major soul searching.
Have a heart to heart with yourself. Why do you REALLY want to move? Are you running away or towards something?
There ARE good reasons to move. Some examples of these might include a lack of job opportunities, cost of living, or poor schooling choices (if you have children). Maybe you live in a small town and the social circle there is not good for you. Perhaps the literal environment is impacting your health negatively. If your safety is at risk, definitely seek ways to get out.
But what if none of those are the case for you?
Think twice if your move is being fueled by any of the following:
- A breakup
- An effort to beat an addiction
- A major falling out with friends
- Depression or other mental health issues
Moving After a Break-Up
I get it. After a breakup, especially a difficult one, your fight or flight instincts are sure to kick in. Before you do something drastic, ask yourself if it had ever occurred to you to move before this happened. What motivated it?
If this break up puts your safety at risk, of course, you should move. But if a broken heart is driving you to look for your suitcases, take a moment to pause.
What You Can Do Instead
Take a vacation. If you can manage it, get thee to a beach or cabin far away, turn off your phone, and let yourself start the healing process.
Maybe a trip home (whatever that means for you) is what the doctor ordered. Change your scene temporarily to see if that quiets the urge to book a moving van.
Moving to Beat an Addiction
If you think the cure for your almost daily alcohol binge (or whatever your poison) is a new city, please think again. Unless you live in a town where there is literally nothing to do except go to the bar, this is not going to work. Trust me. I’ve done it three times.
Remember that whole bit about novelty?
It’s the same reason so many New Year’s resolutions fail. The initial high of something new might get you by for a few weeks, but eventually that old familiar urge will come back for you.
What You Can Do Instead
Seek treatment. Find an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous group. Show up to a meeting. If you’re able to, book an appointment with a therapist or counselor who specializes in addiction.
It may very well be that a change of scene is what your sobriety needs, but if you haven’t even tried to get help where you are, slow down a little.
Let’s be honest, the reason you drink has more to do with you than your zip code. Unless you start to unpack that, you’re not going to do better in a new place.
Moving to Escape a Falling Out With Friends
A lot of reasons for wanting to escape can be interconnected. It certainly was for me. I’ve lost a lot of friends along the way because I didn’t get the help I needed. Instead, I buried my issues in alcohol and found ways to make myself a victim.
Nothing was my fault. Poor, poor me.
Hopping around from one city to the next, and “starting over” with new people won’t work in the long run. Eventually, the old you is going to show up and sabotage what you’ve built.
There are exceptions to this of course. Sometimes we’ve burned so many bridges that there’s nothing left for us “here.” That’s not what I’m talking about.
If you’ve done something disastrous and find yourself alone on the periphery, nothing is really going to be resolved until you fix what you’ve done.
What You Can Do Instead
Give everyone space, including yourself.
If you’ve been wronged, look for new social opportunities. Take time for yourself.
If you are responsible, then own it and figure out a way to mend what’s been broken. Either way, there is going to be a time in the not-so-distant future when this won’t matter anymore.
Moving to Beat Mental Health Issues
Depression and anxiety are exhausting to manage. It is understandable to think that starting over is a way to be done with it. You feel depressed and think a new city will help, and it might for a little bit. But that depression will find you again. It’s very similar to what addiction will do.
There is no quick fix for this. Although there is some evidence that new scenes can help improve a person’s quality of life, it is generally because of extrinsic factors like lower cost of living, proximity to nature, etc. Escaping depression can’t be the only reason you’re moving.
What You Can Do Instead
Much like with addiction, before you make any big life changes, give yourself a chance to fix what is actually wrong. Find a counselor or therapist. Join a support group. Start going to the gym. Movement alone will help manage your mental health issues.
Try to get yourself in a better place emotionally and then revisit whether or not a move is right for you when you can think more clearly.
Moving to Escape Loneliness
This is another one I understand all too well.
You’re tired. If you go on one more awful Tinder date, your head will explode. No matter how hard you try, you aren’t clicking with anyone these days. Or maybe your best friend moved last year and nothing has been the same.
Ask yourself why you think moving will solve this problem for you. Does the reason you give sound practical? If a loved one came to you with this solution, would you support it?
Much like moving to avoid addiction or mental health issues or a breakup, this desire to escape and start over is rooted in something much deeper. If you don’t address it, it will follow you.
What You Can Do Instead
Before you give in to the little voice that says, “Woe is me. There aren’t any good guys/girls to date here. Everybody sucks,” ask yourself a better question.
Are YOU the problem?
If dating is your issue, have you tried not trying?
This seems counterintuitive, but it is the best advice I refused to take in my single days. Stop focusing on dating and focus on yourself and what you like to do. This is a significantly more fulfilling endeavor than looking for “the one.” He or she will show up eventually.
If friends are the problem, are you going out to social events that appeal to you? Have you joined groups that center around your interests? Maybe you’re not casting a wide enough net and choosing to hang around with people for superficial reasons.
Are you even a good friend to have? I certainly wasn’t. There was a time when all my friendships seemed to center around people talking me through my problems or listening to my drama. I rarely reciprocated. That’s not a friendship; that’s therapy.
Evaluate what is really holding you back from connecting with others. Chances are there is work to be done there. Make it a priority.
I know it’s hard and that you might be dealing with some heavy issues right now. Avoiding your problems will never make them go away. Believe me. I’ve tried.
If you’re interested in finding a community who understands what you’re going through, send a request to join the Soberish Facebook Group. Don’t worry. It’s a closed group and we respect everyone’s privacy.
Hope to see you there.