As I drove away, I cried all the way home. “How could this be? How could I no longer want to be here? I have a great job and great friends. How could I leave my mom and two sisters behind while I’m in another country making one of my dreams come true?” I have never really believed in card readers, but, this one had brought my secret out in the open. I could no longer hide.
A few years ago, my life had taken a major detour. Within a couple of weeks, there was the sudden death of my dad and my divorce was final. The only two men who had a big part in my life were no longer around. Not only was I grieving losing my dad and my husband, I had lost a part of my past. Everything was disrupted: my routine, my relationships and most of all my identity. I was terrified to never fall in love again. I realized that life would go on for the people around me and had to rebuild a social life. However, there were days where it was just too much and all I wanted to do was be alone. I had to discover who I was, what I really wanted because the only Alex I knew, was no longer a part of me anymore. My every thoughts were consumed by the dream I had locked up inside; go live in Italy.
Italy, for most people is a dream vacation destination. But to me, it became a part of me that I couldn’t let go. The breathtaking landscape, the beaches, the climate and the lifestyle, I fell head over heels with this country. Every vacation I spend there to visit family, friends and explore; I felt a spark, an excitement, a force inside me driving towards living there. I fell in a trance with the warmth and welcome of the people. The way they took the time to enjoy every single moment: a meal, a conversation, laughter, the sunset, afternoon naps…
The only word to best describe how being there made me feel is: FREE
Keeping the Dream Buried Inside
Going back home after each vacation, I got in a routine where life was about work, family and friends. As I kept living this life, I was achieving goals. However, they were goals that had been set for me. Each one of them was keeping me further away from the one true goal I really wanted to achieve, live in Italy. I would always end up telling myself, “Stop thinking about it, it is impossible! What about my job, my family?” So, I continued living in my own private prison.
Two years after grieving the loss of my dad and my husband, I no longer “fit” in this society, I didn’t belong here. Life was going too fast. I felt alone even when I was around people. Listening to them complaining about their jobs, wives, husbands or kids, would make me nervous and anxious. All these emotions were eating me up inside, taking me back to how I felt in Italy. How could I be thinking about some fantasy after a failed marriage? What kind of a person am I to think about leaving my mom and two sisters behind? I wanted to let my emotions out, but didn’t know who to talk to. Talking with a complete stranger would be easier, but I could not afford a psychologist. I heard about this woman, a card reader, I didn’t believe in that kind of stuff and was very skeptical about going to see her. I was desperate and just needed to talk to someone, anyone and she was affordable.
Awakening the Dream: Surrendering to Myself
Within a few minutes of our conversation, she said, “you don’t want to be here”. I became uncomfortable and replied: “Of course I want to be here, I have chosen to come see you!” She looked at me, smiled and said, “No, I mean, you don’t want to be in this country any longer.” I froze, I felt my heart stop. It is one thing when you have inner thoughts about something, no one knows about them, you can pretend to have the same thoughts as everyone and the only person judging you is yourself. Hearing those words, out of another person’s mouth, meant it was now out in the open. Nowhere to hide. She continued, “You need to let go of your guilt, be in touch with what you really want to do.” I cried all the way home.
It wasn’t easy to accept this, to admit that I wanted this for as far back as I could remember. Having spoken about it to someone, relieved some emotions that I had kept buried inside. I had been judging myself for wanting this because of what others would think and say. The only way to break free from my torment was to stop fighting the forces driving me towards achieving this dream. Surrender to myself, my beliefs and start making something ‘my own’. But, where do I start?
I have never spoken about my goals and dreams to anyone, believing that it would bring me bad luck. A friend of mine would tell everyone about her plans and her feelings. She did it so freely and seemed happy when she did. So, I asked her, “Why do you tell everyone about your goals?” She said, “It makes the goal seem much easier to accomplish. Talking about it makes it feel like a reality. Also, since I have told people about it, then I have to do it. If I don’t talk about it, it is easier to quit or never get started because no one knows about it.”
WOW, something so simple has always been the most difficult thing for me to do. I tried it.
Taking the First Step
As a strategy, to encourage myself, I started to tell my friends. They got all excited, giving me valuable information on the steps to take. Soon, everyone I met knew about me wanting to live in Italy. Sure enough, the more I spoke about it, the more it felt like a reality. Now, I was taking steps towards doing it. I had no idea, talking about it to others, not only gave me confidence but, I got so many resources and contacts.
Confronting Challenges and Not Giving UP
My biggest challenge was to tell my family about it. I started small by saying little things to my closest and youngest sister. Her reaction would further prepare me for the bigger challenge; telling my mom and other sister. Because she was scared to feel alone by my going away, she told me, “We can’t always have everything we want in life”. I saw the fear in her eyes and realized that people, especially the ones closest to you, will react based on their own fears. For weeks, I repeated to myself that no matter what, I wouldn’t give up. I imagined the worst possible things that the others would say; nothing would change my mind, not even my family.
New Year’s Eve seemed like the appropriate time. What better way to bring in the New Year than with a bang! Both were in shock, they thought I was crazy. I sat on the couch; listening to their comments one after another just like I had played over and over in my mind. I replied, “I am aware of what I’m getting into and even if I don’t have all my answers, time will let me know.”
I continued with my planning. After a while, once everyone got over the shock, they actually seemed excited for me. So, I searched and searched for a place to stay in Tuscany within my budget. This is when I actually thought about giving up. There was no way I could ever afford the rent. So, I needed to talk to someone again. This time, my close friend told me, “you have waited for this long enough, you have come so far, the worst thing you can do is give up now. You are so close, keep looking and have faith, the best things will happen to you.”
One day, as I was searching, I came across a website with a room to rent in the town of Lucca. Looking at the pictures, reading the description, I already felt like this was my new home. I got in contact with the owner, I cried after she told me the price and the kind of roommate she was looking for. Everything was perfect and I would be able to afford it. I cried and cried, this dream was going to happen, it was actual going to be a reality.
It was in May 2010 that my feet touched the ground of this charming town. I was FREE to be me, rediscover myself. The people I met took an interest in me, they enjoyed my company. There was no judgment when I shared my thoughts with them. No one tried to impose a right or wrong way of doing things on me. They encouraged me to be “who I am”, to explore myself further. For the first time, I started to be in touch with my true self. They taught me to meditate, listen to my heart and soul. There was an understanding for another human being.
The most valuable lesson I learned living in Tuscany is: Let people be who they are. In doing so, you will enrich your life and that of others.
By allowing yourself to be who you are and let people discover you, you can make any dream come true. It is possible, you just have to believe, keep smiling and most of all stay in touch with your heart throughout the process.
Today, Alexandra Garofalo has devoted her life in helping people experience living in the present, accepting and loving themselves to achieve fulfillment.
Are you struggling to identify what you want? What is your biggest challenge?
And maybe, you surrendered to yourself, share how you got there.
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