Brendan sat back on the couch and ran his fingers through his hair, sighing. “I moved back to my hometown two years ago. I had not lived within a 60 mile radius of the place for over 15 years, and what I experienced surprised me. At first, I just felt a little out of sorts. I had a life and identity unique from what developed growing up. But here I was, married with two children, back in the home where I had grown up. This was the place full of memories and ghosts from when I was a child. Yet at the same time I was an adult, with kids of my own. These two worlds – my childhood me and my adult me – were colliding.”
The experience of coming home happens to many of us. It is a return to old, familiar places, people or events. The holiday season is the prime time for coming-home experiences to occur – family gatherings, getting together with childhood friends, visiting your favorite restaurant growing up, etc. It can bring up a lot of emotions, both positive and negative. Brendan struggled coming home. It triggered him to react from that child-like place instead of from his adult state. He became reactionary, easily irritated, impatient, and full of self-doubt. It caused problems in his marriage. He returned to old coping skills that he had worked hard to let go of in previous therapy sessions.
The goal to weather the storm that often arises when coming home is to be at a place of wholeness. It is to say and believe within ourselves – “I am who I am no matter what the situation or audience.”
Coming back home is always a high risk for parts of ourselves from the past to be triggered, to bubble up to the surface. We act and do things and say things we might not normally say or do otherwise. People and places can trigger these smaller parts of ourselves to come to the forefront. Anytime we tread upon the paths of our past, we risk doing more than just visiting – we risk slipping back in time and acting or reacting from that past time.
Do you find yourself drinking a little too much at the family holiday gathering and not really knowing why? Or maybe you have feelings of resentment that seem to come from nowhere when you get together with your siblings. Maybe you find yourself edgy, easy to anger, withdrawn or otherwise just not you. These can be totally normal reactions that accompany coming home.
To those who have had bad experiences at home, suffered disappointments or serious failures within their childhood/adolescence, coming home and staying in a healthy functional place sounds unrealistic. Wouldn’t it just be better to run away and stay away from home? Is it impossible to stay a whole, functional, integrated person even when we do walk down memory lane (figuratively or literally)? Not at all. There are some key strategies that need to be mastered, however.
1.) Become aware of the parts of you that still live and breathe in the past. Know what they look like, how they feel and how they think. This will help you more quickly identify when they come to the surface.
2.) Face the fears of the past – clean out any stored “energy” of the past place. If you don’t do this, the energy of the past will bubble up, causing you to fragment and lose your wholeness and functional integrated “adultness.”
3.) Learn to find peace and serenity within yourself no matter where you are or who you are with. Meditation, prayer, reflective contemplation, feeling comfortable in your own skin – all this will help you be true to yourself regardless of the trigger.
Some part of us may feel fear that the old people, places, or events will not accept who we have become over the years. Affirm to yourself that the reaction of others is something you cannot control. Being true to yourself is what feels best, not living to please or fit in with whatever outside expectations or scenarios may seem to dictate.
This holiday season, prepare for those coming-home events by taking some extra time the weeks prior to meditate. Follow the three steps detailed above, and love who you are. Knowing who you are and what matters most to you today is what will help you thrive and enjoy your yesterdays as well as your tomorrows.
Doug Dobberfuhl holds a masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and has been working in the field for the past 15 years. He works with families, couples and individuals that struggle with traumatic pasts, addictions and intimacy problems. He is married with five children. He has finished writing a workbook on applying the 12 steps of recovery from a spiritual point of view, which will be published by the end of the year. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org