Kendall Rob once wrote, “Home is where you go to find solace from the ever changing chaos, to find love within the confines of a heartless world, and to be reminded that no matter how far you wander, there will always be something waiting when you return.”
When you think of the word “home,” your mind might go to a picture of the house you grew up in. It may jump through memories of your hometown from your first day of school to your first kiss to your first car. (Mine was a 1971 Chevy Van.) For those who were constantly moving, it may conjure nothing at all, images as black as the macadam roads you know so well. Yet in both cases, there is the idea of home, of a place you’ll one day return to or one day find for yourself.
Upon returning “home,” wherever that may be, it often seems entirely foreign. Your perceptions become refracted through the new feelings, insights, and personality you’ve acquired while away, and, upon returning, there’s the realization that the change you feel isn’t so much the place as it is you. After all, life is only the way it is on account of the way we feel. Remember, our emotions lie to us, telling us all is wrong, or we’re sad, or that we’ll never amount to anything.
When you look at your bookshelf from when you were younger, or the music you used to listen to, or when you return to that café in which you spent so many afternoons, you see that life isn’t so much a series of chapters as it is entirely different books. Each time you go home, the life you’ve been living begins to fade, becoming smaller and smaller in your rear view mirror, until it’s merely a speck, indiscernible as a life at all. The characters in your life begin to change, and past lives become like a dream until there’s nothing real about it. And that’s perhaps the scariest phenomenon.
Upon returning home, it seems that time has never passed. That the world has stood still waiting for you to return to this life. That somehow the place where you grew up is the default setting that’s constantly being reverted to even as you’ve worked so hard to leave. There’s nothing that instills the fear of death quite like seeing how quickly time flies, and there’s nothing that shows how much time flies as returning home.
Now don’t get me wrong. I enjoy coming home, but it often feels like a return home is no different than sliding down a ladder I’ve worked so hard to ascend. The world has continued to spin, but it feels as though it has changed directions and begun to move backwards. Yet as we move from city to city, or friend group to friend group, or career to career, there’s the feeling that there’s actually no such physical place as home. That home is a feeling rather than a place. As much as we love our families, it doesn’t mean we belong where we were born. Instead, where we belong is something we decide for ourselves.
What does it feel like when you are back at your parents’ home after you realize you’re an adult? As you might know from reading my blog posts or my “About” page, I was facing homelessness in 2008 while in active addiction. I was struggling with alcohol and drugs, moving from job to job and apartment to apartment, divorced for the second time in my life. Mom and dad agreed to let me move in with them in order to help me get my act together. I attended AA meetings regularly, was seeing a therapist, and became involved in a local church. I managed to put together a number of years without drinking or smoking pot. Unfortunately, I developed an opiate addiction due to abusing Percocet I was taking for severe back pain.
My father passed away in December 2015 after a long battle with emphysema. I am ashamed to say I had started stealing narcotic pain pills from several family members. I was also abusing my anxiety medication. This was a time when my family should have been able to count on me. Instead, my behavior was becoming rather bizarre. My family held a family intervention. At the end of the intervention, I agreed to go to a drug and alcohol rehab for three weeks. When I was discharged, my mother said I could not return to live with her. She was very hurt, and said she couldn’t live through any more of my lies, my drug abuse, my drama. I lived with a friend from AA for four months. Amazingly, my mother recently asked me if I’d like to come back home. She needed help caring for and keeping her house. Just today I moved back home. It feels so good to be trusted again.
Now I realize that even if where you are isn’t the place you’d like to call home, it doesn’t have to be lonely or sad. Home is in the mind, and the only reality that can be truly counted on is your imagination. Whether you’re on a beach at the Delaware shore, or living in a tenement building, working a dead-end job in a city you hate, your happiness isn’t decided for you. Home and belonging are inextricably linked to your sense of happiness, of purpose, of community, and it’s only you that can decide how you feel. You didn’t have a say over where you were born, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have a say over where home is, even if it’s in your imagination. But I have to say, it sure does feel good to come back home and to be trusted again.