Finding Home - Samee
A place where one keeps one’s stuff.
The idea of home has been ever-changing throughout my life. When I was in my teens and early 20’s, home was a place to keep my belongings. There was an extended period when “stuff” mattered a lot to me. When I was young, and friends came over to play, I would be very protective of my toys. I didn’t want anyone else to touch my stuff because they wouldn’t treat it as nicely as I did. And they would break it. And then I wouldn’t have stuff. And what would I be without my stuff?
I likely inherited this mindset from my mother: a collector of collections. Such a collector that she even collected things for me. My barbies, for example, gifted to me every holiday, were to be preserved in the boxes and put on a shelf. If they were damaged in any way, she would tell me, they wouldn’t be worth anything. So there they sat. On the shelf. While I grumbled and unknowingly imitated her behavior to those around me.
During my college years and into my early 20s, I moved every year, making it difficult to define any place as home. It was reinforced for me at that time that “stuff” was home. And then I started to buy more stuff. Any moment of uncertainty or discomfort called for more feeling of home, so I would turn to Amazon.com or the Victoria’s Secret website for solace. I ran myself into $20k of credit card debt trying to find a sense of home. I didn’t really know who I was back then or what I stood for. I didn’t even really know what I was looking for. I just knew stuff. And I had stuff. And wherever that stuff was, that was my home.
1. A place where one showers, eats, and sleeps.
My relation to stuff as home lasted until I finished grad school. I took an externship in upstate New York as a behavioral counselor at an all-female adolescent weight loss camp. Because I had planned to be exercising all day everyday with 14-year-old girls, I decided to go in to this experience empty handed. I only brought one of my favorite dresses with me, and no other stuff. Mostly, I didn’t want to ruin all my nice workout clothes throughout the summer! But I also figured it would be therapeutically more effective to “down dress” and look more relatable. I decided to outfit myself in grungy tees and workout shorts from the local thrift store.
At camp, we weren’t allowed to have cell phones, computers, or television. I was immersed in a bubble of teenage emotions and hormones. Without distraction to help my mind escape, nor stuff to soothe me, I had to follow my own advice to the campers and turn to other people to manage. I made a great friend that summer: the head fitness instructor, Sarah. We would sit in our empty dorm rooms, drawing on each other with permanent marker, shaving each other’s heads, making friendship bracelets, and talking about our feelings.
I was stripped of all my stuff that summer and I was still able to find home. I learned to empathize. I learned to connect with others. Most of all, I learned that home could be anywhere that I had access to food and a shower. Upon leaving camp, I threw out my smelly, thrifted clothes, hugged Sarah hard, and sobbed. As I locked my dorm room door for the last time, I lovingly said goodbye to the place that redefined home.
1. The place in which one's affections are centered
Home was further redefined for me when I started dating an older (than me) married couple a few years after camp. I threw out all of my furniture and the majority of my stuff, and moved into their condo. The closets were cramped as it was, but I wanted to be with them. I chose the love and connection they offered over my default experience of home. Living in their space was never quite comfortable for me and never felt like mine, but I was able to feel at home there because they were there. They wanted to take care of me. They wanted to help me achieve my goals: build my own counseling practice and pay off my debt. I wanted them to teach me how to be a sophisticated adult; something I had been scrambling to figure out since finishing grad school.
I quit being their unicorn nearly two years after I started. I had been going through a lot of my own counseling during our relationship and was also participating in personal development programs. I learned at some point that I wasn’t being authentic to myself. I had been pretending for two years that there was a certain way it all had to look: a correct way to be an adult. I had been depending on them to teach me how to be. And then I learned that I was good enough as I was. And that being an adult could look any way I wanted it to. I decided to go on my own journey of figuring out what kind of adult I wanted to be.
1. A dwelling place
After I moved out of their home, I decided to live in a 250 square foot studio apartment to save money while I started my second counseling practice. The apartment fit only a twin sized bed and a rocking chair, which I would later exchange for a meditation altar. I decided to stay single and live alone to avoid depending on the input of others to tell me what was right or wrong. I struggled to be alone with myself during that time. Any time spent in my apartment alone turned into perceived rejection. It wasn’t that I was alone because I didn’t make plans; I would tell myself instead that I was alone because no one wanted me. I was alone because I failed. I was alone because I wasn’t good enough.
I would cry at night, hoping that someone, somewhere would sense my distress and call me to provide comfort, but no one did. Even if they had, I wouldn’t have answered the phone. I would binge eat at night, trying to distract myself. I would eat until I had to throw up from being so full. I went through a few weeks of smoking weed every day to numb myself. And when I was able to give that up, a bottle of Jameson could keep me company for a few days. I finally got to a breaking point when I found myself picking cigarette butts off the ground to calm my nerves.
And then I decided to deal with myself.
I decided to explore the parts of my past and my life that were holding me back from being the person I really wanted to be. I called people I barely knew from my personal development program and told them what was going on with me. I called my coach and requested help. I started making plans with people and allowing them to see me vulnerable. I made real, genuine friendships with people I could cry in front of. People who knew my story. People I could call on if I needed. I started participating in activities that I enjoyed while alone: activities that filled me up and brought me peace and presence like painting, writing, and meditating. When I finally learned to be alone with myself and accept all of my thoughts and feelings, I found that my tiny apartment started being a home.
Nearly a year after moving into my tiny home, just as I had learned to be alone and love myself, and just as I was feeling ready to bring someone else into my home again, I bumped into Joseff at Target.
1. A space of safety and comfort
Joseff is emotionally connected with himself, willing to be vulnerable, and endlessly kind and fun. He’s always up for an adventure. He loves so completely and so unapologetically. He’s opened me up to a version of me that I didn’t know existed. I can be completely raw and open and still he loves me. Even when I’m being stubborn or mean, and even when I think he’s being dramatic or irresponsible, we know we want to be together. We challenge each other and we disagree sometimes, but we’re always considering each other’s best interest. Even when I’m mad at him, I’m always more at home when he’s near.
Joseff and I have been living together now for just over a month. Our apartment, while small and minimally decorated, feels so strongly like home. I’m finding that my definition of home is changing once again. I look in to our tiny spare bedroom and imagine where we’d set up that cradle and changing table for the kids we don’t yet have. This is the first place that I can actually imagine myself living for more than 2 years. But that has nothing to do with the apartment itself. I imagine myself growing a family here and staying long-term because I’m at home with Joseff.
As I sift through my many experiences redefining home, I’m aware of just how much every new definition layers atop the prior. I have learned that home isn’t actually a location, but a space; a feeling or experience. A home isn’t made of four walls and some paint or hardwood floors. A home is made with safety, trust, comfort, and love. I have found that everywhere the feeling of home has been present in my life, I’ve been in a comfortable and safe space with people I love. Including myself.
I’m sure as I continue to live, given I continue to live much longer, my definition of home will change at least a few more times. I guess if I could encapsulate my many definitions of Home in one concise sentence, I’d say it’s defined as wherever I want to be, the moment that I want to be there.