I heard from a fellow adult child of an alcoholic (ACOA) this week. She was in the middle of what most would normally consider a reason to celebrate, being in a new home. Yet, she was dealing with the challenge that many of us ACOAs face - the dreaded feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop. I know that sensation all too well. I’ve written about it in the past, but my conversation with her reminded me of just how awful it can be. Don’t mistake this for just another negative attitude. When you grow up in chaos, it becomes a part of your mapping to always be on the ready for something bad to happen. In our childhoods, good things didn’t usually stay good for very long. You dodge and shift and prepare for the worst so that the worst can’t catch you off guard. While this may help a child to survive, in adulthood it can cause crippling anxiety and a whole slew of other difficulties. Happy life events can quickly turn into total panic.
My email exchange with the lovely woman above got me to thinking about home and how I went for years without ever having a place that felt like what I imagined home should be. I’ve carried the other-shoe syndrome my whole life. Between the unnerving nature of my addict father’s behavior and the ridiculous number of times he uprooted and moved us across the country, the seed of unsettlement was planted at a young age. I made brief homes here and there as an adult, but I was always either in fear that it would all be taken from me some day or I was scared that I made the wrong decision and didn’t have a way out. Every place felt temporary. Most places were.
Last weekend, my husband and I made a quick trip to Michigan. For him, it’s called going back home. It’s where he was born and raised. I’ve often referred to it as going back home because I spent the entirety of my twenties there, the longest I have ever lived in one state (a record soon to be broken here in North Carolina). I’ve also referred to Chicago as ‘back home’ because it’s where I was born and where most of my family came from. The truth is, the only glimpse I ever had of really feeling at home was when my husband and I moved in together. Even then, I struggled for years that he would go away one day. There were many sleepless nights and an inevitability hanging in the air that the goodness wouldn’t last. That other shoe was always on the verge.
As I walked around my house on the night after the conversation with the fellow ACOA, it struck me that this is the first place that I have ever felt completely settled, and it is better than I ever imagined. Although it’s a comfort zone that my husband and I have worked hard over the past five years to create together, it isn’t just about the physical space. I know it’s so much more than that. It’s about who I’ve become in this place and the growth I continue to foster. It’s the questions that I ask myself every time I feel doubt or worry creeping in, “What’s the worst that could possibly happen?” and “If it did, would I be okay?” It’s the effortful awareness to relish in what’s beautiful and right about the moment and not let my mind wander into the unknown or get lost in the what-ifs. It’s being present in a space that I’ve built with someone I love and finally seeing that the love he has for me is not temporary. This is my home.
My home is my sanctuary, my safe-haven, my place of peace. It is where I dream of getting back to when I’ve been traveling, and where I bury my head when I’ve had a hard day. Sleepless nights still occasionally come, but the sound of that other shoe dropping still hasn’t.