The Therapeutic Benefits Of Your Childhood Home


You know when someone (or two someones) hurts you so deeply you can’t even form coherent sentences to describe how you’re feeling? When you wake up feeling more than sad, like someone is sitting on your chest and has soaked your sheets so they weigh on your skin? When your emotions are a roller coaster of sadness, anger, jealousy and pure, sticky hatred? Well, that’s where I’m at.

And so I went home. Not to the house I pay rent for, but to the house where I was raised. Home. I grabbed my laundry basket and makeup bag and I drove the four hours to my little yellow ranch house in North Dakota.

It’s a long drive, but a heavy foot and a few CDs full of abrasive rap music help you make the time pass. The miles go by and the distance gets shorter until you take that exit- don’t miss it in the dark! – and finally feel your car hit the gravel.

Sometimes, when I feel the crunch of gravel under my wheels for the first time in months, I stop the car on the road. It’s OK, because in the middle of the country, nobody will drive past at 10 PM. I have the whole countryside, the fields and the trees and whatever’s lurking in the corn, to myself. It’s totally silent, motionless, cool and calm under the moon. I stop the car and get out for a few minutes, sitting on the hood of my car and taking a few deep breaths. In that open space, I feel nothing but relief.

Going home is wonderful for so many reasons; every corner of the house is familiar, though it has changed a lot since I was a kid. When your parents become empty nesters, they have more time to prowl antique stores for the treasures that decorate your house. But the bones are the same.

Your things are still there: the childhood books, the collage poster you made as an Edie Sedgwick-obsessed teenager, the mix CDs from 2002 when only one friend had a CD burner. Clothes you don’t wear, but can’t bear to get rid of. Toys. Photos. It’s all there waiting for you to come home again and bring it to life, that “Toy Story” effect. The bed in your room bears your grandpa’s initials; he carved them into the footboard as a boy. Your whole life, to a certain point, is between those walls.

And it’s not just the house that offers such comfort; it’s the land. The roads don’t change. You’ve been navigating them since you were wobbling on training wheels, and then you tore them up in your beat-up old Cadillac. They’re waiting for you. The trees grow and die. The people never leave, though they age. That’s not the point, though. The point is that they’re there.

I have to put great distance between myself and things that have hurt me. It’s part of how I heal, and the gravel roads and plowed-up fields I grew up with are what helps patch up my mangled heart and broken spirit. I wake up in my childhood bed – much too small for my childhood self – and look out the window, and I think, “I will be OK.”