My literal home was a fractured one. My father was never on the scene, and my mother and sister formed their own close little unit very early on, from which I was – and still am - excluded. Personality-wise, we are polar opposites, and so all of the things that bonded the two of them were the things that made me feel different and separate. I told myself that I was lucky, that I lived in a nice house with nice things, I had food, clothing, heat and light, I had rollerskates and a goldfish and piles and piles of books. But still I always thought of it as a house, not a home.
I have an absolutely amazing therapist. I may have mentioned this once or twelve-hundred times. I remember telling her once that I wished I had enough money to just pick up and move, start over again: new place, new life. She smiled, and said, But everywhere you go, there you are.
I’ve heard similar things before, but that time it hit me like a truck. I thought, no matter where I go or what I leave behind…I will always have this particular body, I will always have this particular mind. I will always be me; I can’t escape myself.
Previously, that would have filled me with despair because I didn’t like the Self I was. But this time it really struck me that I was going to have to spend the rest of my life with myself. I was the one constant I could count on. If I was in a relationship with someone who treated me cruelly, would I put up with it? Maybe for a while, but hopefully, I would have the strength to free myself from the situation eventually. So if I wouldn’t put up with it from someone else, someone who I could walk away from if I so chose, then I certainly shouldn’t have to put up with it from myself.
It’s a frightening one, this idea of the Self as home. Terrifying at first when you’re not even sure you want to share the same space as your thoughts, your ideas, your feelings and fears, not even sure if you can. My therapist told me to think of it like moving into a house where every wall is painted black. You would probably begin to feel claustrophobic – cramped – small – depressed. But- and this is what’s important to remember - you can change that. They’re your walls. Paint them however you want: white, pink…fluorescent green and flowery if that’s what makes you happy! Whatever helps to make you content in your living space. Whatever you need to be comfortable in your body, your mind. This is where all the mindfulness comes in…the self-soothing we’ve been talking about…the nurturing…
(She is very wise, my therapist).
It’s not an overnight thing. I am not suddenly revelling in every cell of my body. I don’t imagine my interiors as being gold and gleaming. I still sometimes want to strip away every last bit of myself and start over – new paper, fresh paint. But once you begin to accept that you are a work in progress, a sort of ongoing renovation project, it’s incredibly liberating. You are not building a home from scratch, you are improving the one you have. Feel like your mind is rusting away, your brain unchallenged? Take an evening class, learn a language, read a difficult book. Feel shabby and well-worn? Take a bubble bath, get a haircut, paint your nails. It doesn’t have to be anything majorly dramatic. It’s about constancy. A little like keeping up with the house cleaning – you might properly Spring clean once or twice a year, but you still need to do the dusting every few days to stop the cobwebs collecting, you still need to vacuum under the beds.
Everywhere you go, there you are. Might as well make it a pleasant place to be.