As a Melburnian stuck in lockdown, I've had a lot of time over the last few months to binge-watch various films and TV shows that are available on the many streaming services that I pay a subscription to (if you need any ideas, I wrote a post a couple months ago of my top 11 recommendations). My latest victim was the 2010 box-office hit, Eat Pray Love, a romantic drama that follows the journey of a 30-something-year-old woman who, upon finding herself at an emotional crossroads in life following her divorce and failed rebound relationship, decides to leave her job and travel around Italy, India, and Bali in an attempt to "find herself." 

The film bothered me, because as I sat there on my bedroom floor watching Julia Roberts ride off on a boat into the sunset, I felt as though the entire film was bullshitting viewers into believing her personal growth came from running off to Rome for a few weeks and eating her weight in bowls of pasta. Would she have had a good time? Yes, most definitely. I cannot think of any greater experience than eating copious amounts of Italian food until I turn into a giant meatball. But I'd still just be the same meatball that I was before I left, albeit a bit fatter. Instead, the personal growth and sense of self-direction that Julia was searching for started long before she stepped foot into the airport terminal. 

Allow me to explain.

In 2018, I had my own (sort of) international journey of self-discovery. Upon detaching myself from an unhealthy relationship, I ran off to Vietnam with nothing but my suitcase and my passport. Did I do it for the sole intention of finding myself? Of course not. I did it because I was 19 years old, and after what felt like 12 months of treading on eggshells, I felt like a dog who was finally let out of the backyard for the first time. And so I booked my trip with the same intentions that I had when I got my nipple pierced or got the word "PASTA" tattooed on the inside of my lip; I just wanted to do something a bit random and "wild". And because I'm not one to enjoy going on ketamine fuelled benders, or sleep with the entire population of the western suburbs of Melbourne, running off to a third world country seemed like the best option.

In my time spent frolicking around Vietnam, I passed out in a hammock after drinking copious amounts of Jungle Juice. I also fell asleep on top of a junk boat in the middle of Halong Bay (I clearly have a pattern of sleeping). I caught a mudfish with my bare hands. I fired an AK-47 rifle. I traveled around Ho Chi Minh on the back of motorbikes. I visited temples at sunrise, ate with locals, and met people from all walks of life. It was seriously an amazing trip. But did it change my life? No. What did change my life, however, was the relationship that I was so desperate to get away from. And though I have few positive things to say about it, I will admit that I learned a lot. Because that's the thing - running off to Vietnam or Italy or Timbuktu sounds wonderful, but wonderful holidays with little adversity rarely inspire the sort of growth that Julia promises us. The real growth comes from moments of pain and hardship. 

A few weeks ago, I came across a really interesting podcast where they were talking about a very similar topic. Specifically, they expanded on the idea that you learn the most lessons, sometimes about the world and oftentimes about yourself, when you're struggling or going through some form of adversity. In other words,

"pain is the catalyst for growth"

In the moment, any sort of pain and suffering feels awful, and sometimes it can take months or even years to recover from it, regardless of what it is. But when you're finally out of that bad headspace and are able to look back at what you've experienced, you begin to see it for what it is and you can extract all of the valuable lessons it provided, because some lessons can only be taught when you're at your worst.

Post-Traumatic Growth is the Psychological concept whereby some individuals who encounter a period of traumatic suffering undergo positive "life-changing" psychological shifts in thinking. This growth goes beyond returning to who they were prior to the trauma, meaning that these individuals have the ability to take their pain and use it as the catalyst for intense (positive) emotional and mental changes. It can be difficult to climb back up when you hit rock bottom, especially if you feel confused and alone and unsure of yourself. But it is possible. Not through becoming a meatball or drinking Jungle Juice in Vietnam, but by making a conscious effort to work on yourself, whether that be through seeking help, self-reflection, or creating necessary changes in your life. It definitely won't look like a Julia Roberts movie, but it sure as hell will be a lot better.

            - Loz

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