In therapy this week, I talked about the visceral reaction I feel when ever I cross over the mountains and start heading down into my ‘hometown.’ And by hometown I mean the place my parents live, where my sister lives, where I spent 8-12 grade and tried like hell to get out of. There was college, and then 1 year post-India where I lived there, and hated it just as much. And so I rarely go, even though my parents beg me to visit. I grit my teeth and maybe manage a summer trip, for two days, and then there’s “the holidays,” of which this year Thanksgiving AND Christmas fall on the visiting rotation…so this’ll be three trips in a year. I’m not looking forward to it.
Eastern Washington feels like hell to me. But my therapist said a few things that stood out, like when she asked if I was “homebody,” and then mentioned that it sounded like I was replaying an old story in my visits ‘home’ for the holidays (or any other time of year, for that matter). And it got me thinking…am I a homebody? I sure drag my feet when it comes to visiting my in-law’s cabin 6 hours away for Christmas, because it’s snowy and trapped feeling with 8 people in a house all sleeping on hide-a-beds and playing Trivial Pursuit into the wee hours of the morning. Sure I like routine, but who doesn’t?
And yet, I’m jumping at the chance to visit one of my college buds in Albuquerque in January. And maybe flying to New York solo in May for a conference. I know my anxiety tends to fill me pre-event, but I find that I’m actually pretty chill when I visit friends and do other adventurous type things. Sure I used to joke about becoming a Montana recluse, but for the most part I’m a pretty social introvert who likes doing things, but I also like routine. What I hate is “going home.” Why? Because my home is right here, dammit!
So I realized, with the help of my therapist, that I have, indeed, been playing out an old story. The time when I was 13 and my family “took a vote,” to move across the mountains to a new place called Eastern Washington. The vote that wasn’t fair, because it put me in the position of choosing to stay, in Seattle, with a depressed mom and a dad we never saw (because he had worked in Eastern Washington for a year already, commuting home on the weekends), and a role of surrogate mom, taking care of my younger siblings OR move to a place I didn’t know in hopes that our family could be together again. Of course I chose the latter, because the weight of raising my siblings and dealing with my mother’s sadness was too heavy for my young perfectionist shoulders. And yet, the move, to a new place, with new rules and an equally depressed mother (since she, too, was leaving her home, where she was raised) did nothing for me.
I entered 8th grade and adolescence with a dark cloud hanging above me. My anxiety and depression flared up, but instead of recognizing it for what it was, I was labelled angry and withdrawn. Who wouldn’t be? They had left their home, their friends, the comfort of the evergreen trees and the known smells of wet bark after it rains. And now, as an adult, I am back, in the place I’ve known to be home, in my heart, since I was born. Why would I ever want to leave? Why would I choose, willingly, to make that drive again, across the mountains and into the valley of despair? But, like my therapist said, the adult Self can say, “this is for 2 days. this is not home, and isn’t home, you can return home in 2 days. you are choosing to visit, not to stay.” But that trapped, clawing claustrophobia of a teenage sense of dread, like being sent to juvey or exile, is still living in me whenever I even think of visiting. I do it, out of obligation, but the question, “why don’t you and Boof move back home?” puts me in defense mode. I always angrily say, “we are home. Seattle IS HOME.” But it falls on deaf ears.
Maybe I am a homebody. Maybe I am tied to Seattle in a way I can’t explain and I’m working to heal the trauma of having had to leave in those formational years. I’ve been back for 7, and adding up all the time I lived here as a child/pre-teen plus my adult years, it far outweighs those blip-on-the-radar moments of highschool. And yet I feel scarred and changed by the whole ordeal, and never want to go back. But I will go back. Because Thanksgiving happens in two weeks. Are you ready?