Thursday, December 15, 2011


Synonyms for the word "recovering":

 Recover, reclaim, retrieve: to regain literally or figuratively something or someone. To recover is to obtain again what one has lost possession of: to recover a stolen jewel.  To reclaim is to bring back from error or wrongdoing, or from a rude or undeveloped state: to reclaim desert land by irrigation.  To retrieve is to bring back or restore, especially something to its former, prosperous state: to retrieve one's fortune. Heal, mend, recuperate; rally. 

Recently a fellow TCK blogger wrote an article questioning the validity of the word "recovering" in terms of being a Third Culture Kid.  Of course I was offended at first, seeing as my little piece of the information superhighway is actually named "Recovering Third Culture Kid."  When I was scratching my head trying to come up with a catchy name for the blog, it just popped into my head.  I didn't give it a lot of thought. The fact is, I am a recovering Third Culture Kid!  If we break the definition down into its parts, I can illustrate this pretty easily.

Recover: To obtain again what one has lost possession of.  I guess you could ask: how can you recover that which you never had?  In other words, if I was never "not" a TCK, how can I return to "not" being a TCK?  I guess in this sense, I am reclaiming my identity.  Something which I know I had as a child at one point!  The identity that I was forced on so many occasions to reshape and redefine.  Yes, I was the same person at each new posting, but I was forced to make myself fit into a new set of rules that were required to fit in.  Where I fit in with one form of myself "here", I had to remold myself to fit in "there".  And not necessarily between foreign postings.  Even coming back to the states, I had to learn what to say and what not to say.  We TCK's talk a lot about being perceived as arrogant, talking about our big houses, our maids and our drivers.  So we just don't talk about them.  The parts of our lives overseas that we took for granted don't apply in the states! We have to craft our conversations carefully, to pick and choose the things that will make us find common ground with those we are trying to befriend.  And we don't do it consciously, we do it on some level, knowing what will and won't work.  As an adult, I realize how much I did it, how difficult it was, and how many times I failed miserably.  It of course becomes easier as an adult, because you finally realize that so many things just don't matter!  So what if you don't get into that clique!  Did you really want to be part of them anyway?  Most likely not. 

Reclaim:  To bring back from error or wrongdoing, or from a rude or undeveloped state.  For many years I blamed my parents for all of my TCK-related shortcomings.  I was shy, I was awkward, I never fit in.  "If only I had grown up in one place, I wouldn't be like this!"  Earlier this year, I wrote a blog entry about seeing a picture of my 12-year-old self in a yearbook.  We were living in Brussels. I  remember my self from that time: I had no inhibitions, I had lots of girlfriends, I was outgoing, a leader.  After sixth grade we moved back to the states, and that "me" was lost forever.  That was the birth of my shy and insecure self.  Of course, you can point at lots of things other than moving back to the states that made me that way: my sister died shortly after that, and my family went into a downward spiral.  But even before my sister's accident, there were changes.  I remember going to the new school in Louisiana and feeling completely bereft.  I broke down in the cafeteria one day (the dreaded "where do I sit at lunch") and some girl took pity on me and took me outside.  I remember stamping my foot in frustration, that I was out of control, making a spectacle of myself in front of this stranger.  I was completely awash in a maelstrom of emotions and I couldn't stop them.  I will never forget the "WTF?!?" look on her face.  And the sheer misery in my very soul.  So you can't tell me that the move didn't affect me.  

Many times I hear parents considering a move (even just to another school district) and then I hear them say, "No, I would never do that to my kid."  I don't remember either of my parents asking me how I felt about moving.  It was a directive, an announcement.  We're moving, period.  No discussions about how this would affect us, if we were happy about it or what.  It was just done.  When we moved from Manila to Singapore (in the middle of my senior year in high school) I apparently cried and cried, a lot.  My mom asked me recently, "What were you crying about?"  Really?  You don't KNOW?  I guess it was a generational thing, I don't know.  People back then just didn't coddle their kids like a lot of folks do these days.  They worry about their precious babies' bruised psyches.  I guess in retrospect I'm glad I wasn't coddled.  But it would have been nice to have a little understanding at the time.

My point being ... I don't blame my parents any more.  I accept my life for what it is.  What is the point of dredging up the past?  Mom & Dad did the best they could, looking at the bigger picture.  They thought they were offering us a great opportunity to see the world!  To grow up with a global perspective.  To have broader horizons.  Raising children as TCKs at that time didn't come with a manual.  (It does now!)  Blaming them doesn't change the past.  As my mom says, "Go to Home Depot, buy a ladder and get over it!"  Well, Mom, I'm trying!  

Retrieve:  To bring back or restore to its former, prosperous state. Retrieving a healthy part of myself is in the ultimate recognition of why I do and feel some things, that are a result of my being a TCK.  It is a new awareness of what makes me tick, and being comfortable with this awareness.  Okay, I'm like this because of this, and that's okay.  Today I have personality quirks that are directly related to growing up like I did.  I hate (despise) being "new" and not knowing how to do my job.  I hate being the newbie in the neighborhood.  A good friend of mine once told me that you have to give yourself a full year before you feel "home" in a new place.  On the other hand, I am very sympathetic to others who seem out of place too.  That's a good thing!  I don't feel bad that I find comfort in my solitude.  I don't feel guilty that I don't need the company of others, just to hang out for the sake of hanging out.  I learned to be alone while my parents traveled or while I traveled by myself.  This may be a factor of maturity, after all, when we're grown up, we weed out the things that don't matter. 

And finally, what helps me retrieve my well-being is relating to others who are like me.  The internet, of course, has made it so much easier to talk to and relate to other TCKs, including the friends I made along my way.  It's those relationships that are satisfying to me, because other TCKs GET me.  And I get them.  No blank stares, no eyes glazing over.  We are the same.  We've finally found the clique that is worth belonging to.  Because of this, we are all restored to our former, prosperous selves. By reaching out and connecting with each other, we are recovering.  

1 comment:

Cecilia Haynes said...

I loved this! Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post, and in such a detailed manner.

Your clarification has helped broaden my understanding of why people use this label. I can definitely relate to your feelings upon returning to the U.S. It was a dark time for me as well and I am so glad it was only four years and not the rest of my teen years. I think that if I had stayed, I would have been a different person, someone who likely would have used 'recovering' to describe myself.

I agree that having a TCK community online or, if you are lucky, surrounding you, helps a lot with a sense of belonging. It feels like a weight is being lifted when you can just be honest with people about your life experiences without tailoring the content.

I linked this post to my post so others can read it too. On an unrelated note, did you go to ISM and then SAS? I was in ISM for my senior year (lots of tears since I had to move away from Chennai just to spend my senior year in a strange place). In retrospect, I am very glad I did end up moving since my parents lived in Manila for three years after I graduated and it would have been quite lonely for me to visit them without having the friends I made during my senior year.