What it's like to start your life over and over again

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Cathryn Hein

Cathryn Hein in the snow in Lyon.

Cathryn Hein in the snow in Lyon. Photo: Supplied

How many of us have the chance to start over? To begin life afresh in a new town, new state or even new country. Does the idea make you think of adventure and possibility or fill you with horror at lost friends and distant family?

For me, it's a bit of both.

My partner is in the military and that means we move around. It's a part of military life and one I've come to accept, even embrace, although it does have its moments. We've been lucky enough to score extended stays - seven years in gorgeous Newcastle is still a highlight - but we've also suffered our share of brief postings.

Imagine it... Just when I've found a doctor, dentist, hairdresser and beautician that I like, along with all those other myriad services so vital to everyday living, I have to wave goodbye and find new ones. It's annoying. Sometimes really annoying. There have been some horror stories. But I've now come to view finding replacement services as an adventure, a challenge of my resilience and adaptability.

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There are other things we let go, too. That Greek restaurant we discovered, fell in love with and shared so often with friends? No more lazy lunches there. That city with the magnificent harbour and beaches within walking distance? Farewell to that. That amazing country, France, where we were so lucky to live for three years? All nostalgia now.

Some places have proved easier to adapt to than others. Every location has its quirks and secret knowledge that only locals and long-termers are privy to. It's easy to make mistakes. I've had the misfortune of booking in with a doctor who left me feeling nervous and unclean, and later became notorious for sexual harassment. I've blithely walked at night around places infamous for drug crime and assaults. France was amazing, but arriving in a country with no language in the heart of a European Winter certainly left me with some tales to tell.

But we adjust and in the scheme of things none of these little dramas are very important.

What makes a place, what makes our lives, what memories are made of, are people. Those who fill the holes in our hearts and shape our characters.

Which is why starting over is both an adventure and a trial. We don't have, and are never likely to have, family close by. Mine are in Mount Gambier at the bottom of South Australia and Jim's are in north Queensland. There aren't bases he's likely to be posted to near either location. We don't have the immediate crutch of family whenever we move. Sometimes we don't even have friends, although the more we rotate back to places, the older we get, and the more acquaintances I make in the writing world, the less often that happens.

Which means we have to get out and make our own. Easy to say, not so easy to do. For many constant movers, kids are a great ice-breaker. Those with children are almost forced to socialise. For young families there are playgroups and day care, followed by school with all its parent-involving activities. For older families, teenagers have sport, hobbies and social lives that parents can be involved in and meet other people.

But what if, like us, you don't have kids? What if you work from home or have a job that doesn't involve a lot of interaction with colleagues or the public? What if you are simply shy? How do you find new friends? How does a place not become a hell of loneliness and isolation?

It's hard. Sometimes very hard.

Often it's a matter of taking baby steps. A friendly encounter here,  a chance meeting there.

Sometimes you have to gird your loins and reach out. The military has wonderful support groups filled with people who understand exactly what it's like to land in a place where you know no one, and I know life-long friendships have been forged through these groups.

After more than twenty years of this life, I think I'm pretty adept at downplaying the negatives and viewing each new location as an opportunity to be grasped. There is so much I haven't seen, so much I haven't learned about, amazing people I've yet to meet and new friends to make. Other than packing up house - which I will only ever view as being an exquisite kind of torture - I don't see horror anymore. Only adventure.

Yes, we miss out on so many things with our families. That is our sad price. But there are planes, trains and automobiles, and the internet.

We lose, but there is also much we gain.

Cathryn Hein is author of The Falls.