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Going home for the holidays tends to be a happy and nostalgic event for most. From the family dinners to the peaceful nights spent reminiscing in your childhood room, there are many reasons to appreciate spending the holidays at your family home. But what do you do when “home” doesn’t feel like home? For many years, going home to Dallas for the holidays meant going home to bad memories, tense relationships, and a haunting house. These feelings around going back to my hometown triggered so much anxiety that eventually I decided to not go back at all. However, I have recently realized that going “home” doesn’t have to feel like hell. In fact, going home, no matter how tough it may have been in the past, can actually be cathartic and healing when done with the proper set of boundaries.
The first thing that allowed me to find my footing when visiting my hometown was being honest about what I was able to handle and what I was not. For example, the home I grew up in is still occupied by my dad. I tried for a long time to force myself to sleep comfortably in that house in order to be able to spend as much time with my father as I could, but every time I tried, I left hating that house a little bit more. Maybe it was the memories of hiding in the hallway as I listened to my mother talk with one of her affairs on the phone. Or perhaps it was having to sleep in the same bedroom that was once infested with cockroaches and bed bugs due to a lack of attention and finances. Either way, these memories and thoughts would come flooding into my mind every time I stepped foot into that house. Despite the fact that my parents were no longer married and my father had since fixed up the place, that was the reality I was forced to live with for years. It took some time, but I eventually admitted I was not able to handle staying there. However, that didn’t mean I couldn’t go home; it simply meant I should avoid that house.
Every time I go home now, I stay with my aunt and uncle. We go out for dinners, have nightcaps in the evening, and stay up until 3 a.m. talking about politics, religion, and life. While this is not the experience I had for many years when going home, these are the new expectations I have when planning for the holidays. Rather than dreading a trip back to Dallas, I actually get excited to go to the house that has become my new definition of home.
It is important to be honest with your loved ones about how much time you can dedicate to them. After having divorced parents who are pretty far from amicable, knowing how to split my time in a way that is seen as fair came as a challenge. However, I now no longer feel guilty for how I choose to spend my time when at home. Of course, I try to be diplomatic and fair, but at the end of the day, my time is my time. If I am miserable or not enjoying myself, then my company will not be enjoyable anyway, and I truly believe that quality outweighs quantity. At this point in my life, I would rather spend a happy yet short amount of time with my loved ones rather than a long and tense one.
If you are someone who has chosen to run away from your hometown, I challenge you to consider that even when you run away from a place, you can never run away from the memories. While you should avoid any potential triggers, realize that triggers can also act as catalysts to overcoming those same triggers in the future. Learn and develop your boundaries, find a new route, and redefine what “going home” means for you. If you can accomplish this, I promise you’ll find enough joy in your future to outweigh the pain of your past.