Last year, my husband Dave, and I visited his childhood town. Dave spent the first 8 years of his life there, and seeing it was a great experience for both of us. He has very fond memories of the little town he started off in, and he was able to reconnect with a memory of peace and safety. I saw the lazy river that literally butts up to the edge of this town, and the unpaved streets of his hometown. This year, it’s my turn.
I have struggled with whether or not I wanted to return to my hometown to visit. It’s been almost 20 years. I have fond memories there, but I also have memories of abuse. The church where I was raped repeatedly by the pastor, is right in the heart of town. Visible from the city square – the main attraction of the town. It’s impossible to avoid the church from coming into my field of vision, or even my thoughts and emotions on this trip. So, I have been preparing.
My personal growth and healing has taught me to take care of myself, and that is what I will do. Taking care of myself has been one of the slowest learnings I have had the pleasure of working on. First, my childhood religion taught me that my needs should always be last, so taking care of myself for many, many years seemed wrong. Second, I understood “taking care” of anything as literally caring for the physical needs. I gradually began to expand my understanding to taking care of emotional needs, which included going to therapy. But, I still thought of “taking care” as mostly cleaning up the damage. I only started fully understanding self care a few years ago as doing whatever is needed to provide myself with a physically, emotionally, and spiritually safe environment. Once I understood this, I starting thinking outside the box.
Here are some of the ways I am taking care of myself on this trip to my hometown. Ways that I never would have thought of before:
- We picked a quiet weekend. I used to be tempted to return to my hometown during a festival weekend, thinking that the activity would be a good distraction from my feelings. That was putting my feelings in last place. My feelings are just as much a part of this trip as other goals. They need to be cared for, not abandoned on this trip.
- I asked for extra time off from work. We plan to return on Sunday, but I have asked for Monday off from work. I have no idea how I might feel after coming face-to-face with physical reminders of both wonderful and horrific memories for the weekend. I’ve made a day with no expectations on Monday, so that whatever I experience after the trip will not be pushed aside or stuffed because getting back to work is more important.
- I have made going into the church optional. In the past, I considered making a trip for the main purpose of reclaiming a physical space that was mine to reclaim. At times, I still feel that this would be a liberating experience. Sometimes I feel that I left a vulnerable little girl there. Other times, I feel that there is no reason to revisit that space – that I am more powerful by not needing to. Other times, I am just downright scared and sickened to even think about walking in that space. I don’t know how I will feel on the day that I will be in town. By leaving my options/agenda open, I am caring for my needs first. This may seem obvious to others, but I was raised in a culture that demanded decisions, agendas, schedules, and timetables. I was over 45 years old before I realized how dehumanizing it is when all decisions become irrevocable and schedules are gods.
- I have sat with myself in preparation to determine what I want to share with Dave. One of the important things about this trip has nothing to do with the abuse that happened there. I learned so much about Dave when we visited the town that contained the stories he had shared with me. Now, we both want him to see the farm and the town that helped shape me as a child. I lived there for nearly 20 years. There’s a lot of me in that town. When I first thought of going back, many abusive memories started to surface. But, as I processed and acknowledged them, they moved on and some of the gentler, more peaceful memories started to come to mind. Memory is associative, so it’s hard to compartmentalize it. It’s like a deck of cards that is constantly being shuffled. In order to find the card you’re looking for, you have to pass through others in the deck.
I plan to post again after we return from our trip. I will need time to process, but I’m looking forward to sharing the experience. Wish me well!