Home. I write about it a lot. Make that “way too much.” But it’s one of my greatest passions.
It’s my opinion that narcissistic abuse leaves each of us with one or two MAJOR hang-ups unique to us…and a lot of little ones. My major hang-ups are 1) adulthood and 2) a home of my own because I wasn’t “allowed” either of those things by my narcissists. Now that I have them, I defend them fiercely.
As I was reflecting about the concept of Home, I found myself asking myself, “Where have I felt cozy? Where have I felt safe from narcissistic abuse and the stressors of life? Where have I felt my stomach muscles unclench, my face relax and found myself heaving a huge relaxing sigh?”.
Ask yourself that question now. Take your time. I’ll wait. 😉
When I asked myself this question, I was shocked to draw a blank. I knew I’d experienced that warm, cozy, protected feeling but I couldn’t place any particular geographical location where I’d felt cozy while living with my narcissists.
In my experience, sharing a house with narcissists does nothing to foster warm, fuzzy, protected, relaxed feelings. Whether you own the structure, they own it or you own it jointly, there’s no corner they will not invade.
Often I found myself hiding in the cold basement. One time I fashioned a private sitting area in the hot second storey. But I can never remember feeling particularly comfortable in my own bedroom nor the living room with its two recliners (theirs) and one uncomfortable futon. I suppose the closest I got to feeling cozy was sitting in the cold, porcelain tub…but even the bathroom wasn’t necessarily private.
Having to search outside your own home for a cozy, safe place is a sad state of affairs. Home is supposed to be The Cozy Place. Of course, there are libraries, coffeeshops and bookstores. Some people, like me, just love to hang out in hardware stores and greenhouses. One of my friends found her cozy place in a field of Lily of the Valley flowers near her house. When she lay flat among the flowers, her narcissistic mother couldn’t find her and to this day she adores the fragrance of Lily of the Valley.
Michael found his safe place wandering and camping in the fields and forests surrounding his boyhood home. As he puts it, “Facing a hungry bear or wolf was safer and far less terrifying than facing my perpetually drunken father. As soon as Dad drove down our long driveway, I’d grab my coat and run out the back door.”
Michael and I both love treehouses. While the only tree I ever climbed as a child was cut down by my parents (infested with ants it was), Michael built himself a treehouse complete with a locking door. When he was obliged to be home as a little boy, he also made his bedroom safe by wedging a 2 x 4 against the door, braced it against the opposite wall…and for good measure, slept in his closet with that door wedged tightly shut as well.
I was thirty before I found a tangible, real-life, geographical place where I felt safe. In Downtown St. Paul stands the beautiful Landmark Center. You may have heard of it as the location where John Dillinger was tried in federal court. Built in 1902, the Landmark Center is gorgeous with marble, gables, dormers and wrought iron.
On the second floor of the Landmark Center is the Schubert Club Museum. Have you been there? It’s an amazing collection of antique-but-still-working clavichords, harpsichords, piano fortes, Victrolas and many other instruments set against lapis lazuli blue walls in an environment so peaceful that you instinctively whisper.
One room is painted a lovely fresh onion green with mellifluous swags of curtain glowing in sunlight, pimento-red trim and lovely paintings of pianos surrounded by those who love them.
That is my happy, safe, warm, cozy place. I would set up housekeeping and live in the Schubert Club Museum if they let me. Without realizing it, I copied the glowing green room when I decorated our Living Room in fresh green with pink accents.
But my guess is that most of us found our happy, cozy, safe place in the world of our imaginations. That’s what the members of the Homeschool Survivors Facebook group tell me. We all had a favorite place(s) we retreated to in our minds. Growing up without TV, my cozy place changed depending on what book caught my fancy. Sometimes I wanted to live with Badger in his cozy underground home in The Wind in the Willows. Or with Bilbo Baggins as his underground pantry was probably better stocked than Mr. Badger’s, before it was pillaged and plundered by Balin, Dwalin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Dori, Nori, Ori, Fili, Kili, Oin, Gloin and Gandalf.
I vividly remember “living” within Frances Hodgson Burnett’s wonderful 1905 book A Little Princess. How I longed to step through the pages of the book and be Sara Crew after she lost her wealth but kept her character. She was my hero and I wanted to be a hero like her. Sara was poor, bedraggled and starving but still kind, still good and still beloved by everyone. Although I couldn’t be Sara, Ms. Burnett’s books instilled a love of England, especially London. It’s a case of Anglophilia that “afflicts” me to this day.
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis (bless him!) made me long to live in Narnia. Forget everything you saw on the Disney movies. It’s all wrong, especially Tilda Swinton’s humorous spin on the White Witch. I was livid when I watched it. No! Go back and read the books by Lewis illustrated by Pauline Baynes.
When you live in Minnesota, it’s very easy to believe you really do live in Narnia where it’s “always Winter but never Christmas.” I’m still on the lookout for a robin with a bright eye or a very intelligent looking beaver beckoning to me from a thicket.
In Narnia, unlike living in cults, faith is easy. Either you love and believe in Aslan the Great Lion, the son of the Emperor Beyond the Sea who gave his life for Edmund and to free Narnia from the reign of the White Witch…or you don’t. There’s no religious torture, no wondering if you have enough faith or if God deems you worthy or not. Narnia had four of my favorite things: anthropomorphized swashbuckling animals, fauns playing panflutes, ancient Greek gods made real (and sanitized for children to read) and dwarves mining for gems. What’s not to love!?!
But then I grew up and to quote George C. Michael in Patton, “Helluva shame.” Living in your imagination isn’t possible when you’re grappling with schedules, fatigue, stress, narcissists running you ragged, coworkers stealing your work and the like.
That’s when TV shows provided not only surrogate families but surrogate homes. Homes where I felt warm and protected. Cozy homes with warm rooms, glowing woodwork, yellow light, delicious meals and lots of knick-knacks, books and soft comfortable chairs. Real homes quite unlike the antiseptic white, OCD spartan, cold house that was the only “home” I’d ever known.
The Yorkshire home of veterinarians Siegfried and Tristan Farnon and James Herriot became another surrogate family and home via the 1970-90s BBC show All Creatures Great and Small. There was a warmth that glowed from the dining / sitting room where they shared so many of Mrs. Hall’s delicious meals, a nightcap or two of whisky, tales from their day and the odd good-natured practical joke or two. And dogs. The place was simply overflowing with dogs while Siegfried pontificated about, “…the way that people will insist on filling their homes with domesticated pets. It’s absolutely looney. C’mon you dogs! C’mon you lot!” I do so love an eccentric!
More recently, I’ve found myself drawn to the Paris portrayed in Amélie, the cluttered underground offices of Torchwood and the book-and-painting piled apartment where Elisa lived in The Shape of Water.
When you live in a home colored by narcissism, you don’t have a home. You may have a house or a room in a house, but no matter how beautiful it may be, it’s not home.
Maybe that’s why I write about Home so much in this blog. I’m absurdly passionate about Home. The day I closed on my townhome, with Handel’s Acis and Galatea chorus “Happy, happy, happy we” playing on the radio was one of the happiest days of my life. Finally! A place where I could shut out all the stress and all the criticism. A place where I could walk how I wanted, cook when I wanted, sleep when I wanted, wash as much as I wanted and launder my clothes as frequently as I wanted.
A place where I could be as warm, physically and emotionally, as I wanted to be. A place where I wasn’t being watched and even stared at. A place where there would be no criticism, no suggestions, no furious pouting and no codependency. A place I could decorate exactly as I chose without having to ask permission to drive a nail hole, be laughed at or called “cluttery.” A place where I could use all the hot water I wanted…and keep it coming please…without being lectured and shamed. A place where I could follow my own circadian rhythms without being packed off to bed at 9 p.m. every night.
Home. It was magical. Every night when I returned from the office, I was greeted with the gentle light of swagged Christmas lights timed to turn on just before I arrived home…and a chorus of barking! There were no white, antiseptic walls and demands made before I could eat supper. There was color, plants, music, art, a gas fireplace, a proper shower, antique photos on the walls…and dogs. As many dogs as the homeowners association rules would allow.
And a chair. My first chair. My very first chair of my very own.
I was finally Home.
I don’t think home is a privilege. I think it’s a right. No one should force us to live in a place that makes us uncomfortable. No one should sully the home we’ve made for ourselves, making us unable to relax and be ourselves without fear of verbal, emotional, spiritual and physical attack. It doesn’t have to be big or fancy or new. It just needs to be utterly safe.
Hey! It’s in the Constitution: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” Just ignore that “search and seizure” bit and you’ll catch my drift.
You shouldn’t feel your stomach in knots at home, always waiting for the next shoe to drop. You should be able to have privacy that isn’t constantly violated. You should be able to have a creative hobby mess without having to clear it away because it offends someone else’s sensibilities. At this moment, half of our Living Room is waist deep in boxes and boxes of Michael’s hobby stuff…and more power to him! If he can’t surround himself with what he loves here…where can he be happy!?! So we divide each room in the house in half. My side tidy; his side…well, he tries very hard. And we’re both happy.
If you don’t feel at home anywhere, that’s a clue that perhaps you need to make some changes in your life. Home isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity for our mental health and happiness.
So, again I ask you, where is your happy, warm, cozy homey place? Do you have one?
Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this article, please visit my food blog, Reluctant Cook, Cheap Foodie. The name says it all.