Going Back Home
Going home is complicated. Preparing for my trip home I felt familiar emotions, a mix of gladness and worry. Will I be seduced by my memories of who I once was? My young heart once ached for a reconciliation of perceived wrongdoings, where my experience was acknowledged. In my case, loss and hardships of the past result in a belief that I am “not enough.” Yet my adult understanding is my family did the best they could with what they had. How to overcome a conviction that compromised my confidence and stole precious time?
Dealing with these feelings requires much internal work. In preparation for my trip home I started setting specific intentions of letting go, acceptance, and living in the present moment. However, letting go is often easier said than done and the process has required careful listening to my body, mind, and emotions. Learning to live in the present necessitates a tolerance of “limbo,” the acceptance of transitional spaces.
“Wishing that my childhood had been different does not help. Instead while I grieve the costs of hardships, I must recognize that my unique set of life experiences, both good and bad, all contribute to who I am. Here’s an inside peak at my process of shifting from anger and resentment towards gratitude and acceptance.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Letting Go and Falling Apart
Creation and destruction are part of all life. However, for children, all that exists is here and now so when a child’s world falls apart the consequences feel devastating. Once the world I knew fell apart. It was shocking. I felt scared and confused. Now I realize that I built my sense of self as I constructed my world with the tools available to me. Unfortunately I erroneously made myself responsible. If I was to blame for what happened than perhaps I could work hard enough to change the situation; then everything would be okay. The result was a powerful inaccuracy built upon magical thinking and false hopes.
The fantasies that we create as children are meant to be outgrown but letting go often feels like a crisis. It was no surprise that as I dealt with these issues, I began to have a succession of powerful dreams with themes of death and rebirth:
I am travelling through a beautiful canyon and accidentally kick a rock which causes a dangerous avalanche.
An airplane spins out of control crashing into a lake. The shock waves produce an earthquake and a hotel crumbles to the ground sending people out screaming. I assist a pregnant woman out of the wreckage.
I feel pain course through my body and scream, “I’m scared of letting go!” A release of sadness and I am free. Running down the road I tell a man that I have killed myself. For a moment he is frightened and then he shrugs his shoulders as we start singing “ease on down, ease on down the road.”
Releasing old patterns and beliefs can be destabilizing even when identity is built around a cracked foundation. Surrendering to change takes courage.
You Can’t Go Back Home
We boarded the plane. I had readied myself for the trip, allowed myself to feel the complexity of my emotions, and set clear intentions for the journey home. A stack of magazines I hadn’t yet had a chance to read and a fully charged computer by my side (I love to write while traveling). I mindlessly opened Real Simple magazine to a page with Thomas Wolfe’s famous quote, “You can’t go back home to your family, back to your childhood…back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time.” The synchronicity of the moment caught my attention and further reinforced my intention of letting go.
I have grown and changed. The forty-two year old woman I am now is vastly different than the 17 year-old that left home so many years ago. My adolescent held a disjointed blend of anger, naiveté, and idealism. Going home involves relating to the memories of who I once was without letting these memories taking control. So as my young heart ached for an impossible reconciliation of perceived wrongdoings, as an adult I needed to hold a broader, more compassionate perspective. Specifically to understand that my parents did the best with what they had.
The childhood home I return to is changed too. The wallpaper has been peeled away; the walls have new coats of paint. Family constellations have changed; some are no longer with us, some have aged, and new generations have arrived. My place in this home is different too. I sit at a new place at the table. “You can’t go back home.”
Living in Limbo
I have found in my life that meaningful change requires stability; otherwise a crisis can leave me feeling unhinged. I reached out and shared my journey with those who could hold my tender heart with the care and respect I needed. We all need people who love us unconditionally. We all need people who can witness us fall apart without fear or a need to fix. We should all be so fortunate to have such a person or people in our lives. The witness, like a container, provides the stable ground when we are in the midst of change and supports the letting go. Otherwise like water being poured out of a pitcher, without a bowl it will spill onto the floor.
Going home again is like living in limbo, standing in the transitional space between my past and the person I am becoming. Limbo is indeterminate, undefined, and full of potential. Limbo feels awkward, unsettled, and exciting. Limbo is full of potential but falls flat when we cannot tolerate the discomfort of the unknown. In stagnant moments we prematurely adopt stories or beliefs, even if inaccurate, because they are more comfortable or provide us with a sense of self that feels secure.
There are many times I have chosen to hold fast to the past to justify my position. We all do it. Nations, religions, prejudices, are rooted in storylines. It is human nature to adhere to beliefs in order to feel safe. Yet, limbo invites us to live in the moment. The invitation is to let go of right and wrong, to lean into the uncomfortable, to embrace fear, seek questions instead of answers, and to be “okay” with not knowing. Knowing people who love me unconditionally I could stay in the moment, let go of the past, and embrace the unknown.
Wave after Wave
My visit home always involves time at the ocean. Every day is different at the sea; the wind, currents, and tides are ever changing. The ocean encourages me to let go. Moment by moment waves advance and retreat. Practicing yoga on the shoreline my breath mirrors the ebb and flow of the sea, coming and going. In this moment my mat and my commitment to my practice provide the ground. My thoughts arise and subside; I return my awareness to sensation. Emotions crest and release.
All things are meant to pass. Yet, it is easy to feel trapped by the past. Hurt and resentment can solidify as if frozen in ice. Yet just as the waves keep the water moving, I move my body on my yoga mat to keep the emotions moving. I breathe through the tension and acknowledge that which got stuck so long ago. I unwind and melt, releasing the attachment to my grievances. My protective walls dissolve. I am free.
Living in the Present
My trip to my childhood home complete I am once again on the airplane with time to reflect. I am returning to my “now” home, the place where my husband and I raise our children, in our own imperfect manner. This journey of letting go has afforded me a great deal compassion and acceptance. There was no drama during my travels; no blame was assigned, no fingers were pointed, and I leave without regrets. The inner journey was likely imperceptible on the outside. However, on the inside I felt the shift; a recognition that my unique set of life experiences have all collectively contributed to who I am today.
I sit here with a deep feeling of gratitude; the result of attending honestly to a raw, uncomfortable, and beautiful process. My joys and my hardships inform who I am and help me to continue to contribute my gifts to the world.
About Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. Dr. Schwartz is the author of The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole (Fall, 2016). She is the developer of Resilience-Informed Therapy which applies research on trauma recovery to form a strength-based, trauma treatment model that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic (body-centered) psychology and time-tested relational psychotherapy. Like Dr. Arielle Schwartz on Facebook, follow her on Linkedin and sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all her posts.