I grew up in an extremely abusive home. I’d get into details, but it would serve no purpose other than to give context. The short version is that there was physical abuse, rather severe in my earlier years, constant verbal and emotional abuse, and when that didn’t seem enough, there was neglect. Malnutrition level of neglect, not for lack of food, but as a method of control. I was 6’1″ and weighed 140lb. That last part lasted consistently for 3 years.
We lived on farm land which hadn’t been actually farmed for a number of years. The fields had overgrown with grass, weeds and saplings when I was little. There were also about 18 acres of woods, which I’d go hide in when things got real bad at home. When I was a teenager I started staying out as much as possible. I was perpetually forbidden to go anywhere, but if you’re going to suffer the same level of punishment for some other failure or imaginary slight, you say ‘screw it, I’m out of here’ as often as possible. The few friends I had in school were also in abusive situations at home, so staying at their places couple expose you to some level of the same type of situation. Basically, the only downtime was in the woods.
It was made very clear that I was a mistake and that I wasn’t welcome rather frequently. My stepfather would suggest rather frequently that everyone would be better off if I were dead. Home, never felt like home at all.
I left home when I was 17. I had started working under the table at a local roofing company and found a lady who was at the time renting out rooms in her house for $150/month and was willing to let me stay there. I didn’t tell her any of the situation at home, but I didn’t need to, either. If you’ve been abused for any amount of time, you can see it in others rather easily. It’s unspoken. If they haven’t started to repeat the cycle themselves, they know the rules of how to treat each other – the things not to say, provided they have any sense of empathy after such a thing. Anyway, we saw it on each other and never spoke of it other than a passing mention without any details. I was living there, but still felt very much like an outsider. There was the guy whom had just gotten out of prison in the other room that was rented out that had a rather extensive knife and porn collection. We didn’t talk.
When I was able, I got my own apartment, got married to the girl I had dated all through high school and had a home, at least in the technical definition of what a home was. Still, I felt pretty out of place. The PTSD has really set in by that point as well. Who would have figured – I didn’t know how to not live in constant conflict. Calm actually freaked me the hell out. I didn’t create drama, but rather became very anxious all the time and paranoid, just waiting for something to happen. I saw potential everywhere for everything to come apart at the seems. It’s exhausting living like that. It was exhausting for my new wife, too. She demanded to know exactly how long it would be before I’d be ok – specifically, how many therapy sessions and how much medication it would take. We’d be divorced almost two years to the day of when we got married.
After the divorce I moved around a lot. Usually as each lease came up at each apartment, I’d move to another community. Not being the most social person, it was usually chosen based on location and cost. I always wanted to be near woods and water, if possible. In a lot of ways, I felt like a nomad. I guess I was in some sense. Either way, I never had that feeling of getting home from work or somewhere and feeling like the place I walked into was mine, if that makes any sense. It’s not about ownership, but rather about belonging; hell, maybe even deserving of having a home. Likely the latter, but I’ve not reflected on that possibility much.
So what is home, anyway? Aside from the technical definition, what is the feeling of home? Is it a sense of belonging? Is it a feeling of having your own space? Is it a sense of safety? Is it all of those things? When I was in my early 20’s I moved out to Seattle for a year. It felt like home – a lot of forest and water around.. Stunning landscapes.. Mountains. Loved it. The job there fell through, so I was back in the midwest and not too happy about it. A few years later, I moved to Boston and spent up until late 2013 there. I got remarried and I finally felt at home again, at least for the most part.
Each place I’ve lived have had some combination of the criteria for what constitutes home for me. Seattle had shelter, safety and my preferred surroundings. It didn’t have security, though. The company I worked for made it difficult to pay bills since you received your pay sometimes weeks late, and even then, you had to hold your breath until it cleared. It was never for as much as you were owed, either. So, with nobody around that I and my girlfriend at the time knew that could help if things fell apart completely, we were both on edge at all times and fought about money. Boston had pretty much everything, but things happened and we relocated back to my ‘home’ here in the midwest. I felt so out of place when moving here. I was around family and old friends and felt so like I didn’t belong. I still feel that with most.
My definition of home has changed, though. I’ve always been looking for something I couldn’t put my finger on, but I knew was missing. Then it hit me – I wasn’t looking for a specific place, or even the needs beyond shelter and relative safety in the place where I lived, it was a sense of safety. A sense of being welcome and wanted, which to some degree can be taken as being codependent, which it very well may be, but it’s not severe. I don’t need someone else to dictate how I feel. Psychologists will say that others can’t make you feel anything. As philosophically correct as that is, have someone berate and beat you regularly and see if you don’t feel something as result of someone else after awhile.
So, now, I’m starting to feel that sense of ‘home.’ Given where I live though, I am getting the nightmares back about things that happened as well as things that a psychoanalyst would likely have a heyday with interpreting. I have the sense of ‘home’ in my waking hours, at least. My nightmares pretty much all center around being helpless to protect myself, or my wife, or both. They’ve been so visceral lately.. They’ve not been that bad in over 15 years. I’ve always taken some comfort in renting because I could always just say ‘fuck it’ and move elsewhere, but now we’re looking at setting roots here.
So, now I feel like I’m actually ‘home,’ by my own definition, and I think it’s scaring the bejesus out of me.