One of the most profound injuries of divorce and the end of a marriage is the loss of a sense of place. Marriage touches on our deepest sense of belonging, and without that grounded experience of knowing we are in our rightful place, we may feel terrified and alone. The feeling of being adrift without a “due north” can trigger a sense of panic that can only be felt when you feel no earth beneath your feet.
Several years ago, when my mom was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, she was often disoriented and lost. Never feeling solid in where she was, she would express a desire to go “home” even when she was already there. This was heartbreaking and hard to hear, but it made me aware of how our sense of place is not always about the external environment in which we live. I came to understand that feeling at home is as much an internal experience as it is a concrete manifestation of a place in time.
We all need a place in the world where we can go to feel safe. For most people, the first thing that usually comes to mind when asked where they feel the most safe is home. We associate our homes as being places of refuge, and it’s in our homes that we feel the most comfortable. This makes perfect sense, particularly since we feel the most at peace when we experience a sense of belonging and connection to where we are. Like you, perhaps, I spend a lot of time working on my home and trying to make it a place I can feel proud of and connected to. This is an important practice particularly when we’re coming off of an experience where our sense of place has been fragmented, as with divorce.
When my marriage ended, I was both emotionally and physically displaced from what I had considered to be my home. As the years pass, I have moments of homesickness where I long for the feeling I had when I was married with an intact family life. I catch myself getting sad and longing for something other than what I have in the present moment. I have learned to name this as homesickness because it helps me to remind myself that I belong where I am now, not in a life that no longer exists.
Coping with homesickness after a divorce is an essential piece of the healing process. When we feel like we don’t belong anywhere, we’re at risk of depression and other mental health issues. Feeling connected to a place is part of our human condition, and sometimes we need to create that when we feel lost and disconnected from what we know or knew.
Here are four ways to begin healing your homesickness post-divorce:
- Name the feeling: Homesickness manifests in many forms, and it doesn’t always present clearly. Homesickness can feel like depression, nostalgia, regret, grief, and apathy. If you think back to being homesick as a child while at camp or somewhere else away from your family, you’ll likely remember it was a very sad experience. It was clear, however, what you were missing because you had a place you were supposed to go back to eventually. With divorce there is no going back, so it’s a harder experience to identify because it doesn’t really make sense. Naming your feeling as homesickness may ease the suffering, and then you can take steps toward healing that loss in the moment.
- Establish a sit spot: A sit spot is a place one goes to often and regularly to look, listen, feel, smell, and even taste the surrounding landscape. A sit spot creates a feeling of consistency and routine, and it trains the mind and heart to seek out a particular place for relief. Knowing you have a particular spot in your garden or near your home that you can go to when you feel homesick will offer an active step and a way to feel some relief. You can also create a sit spot inside your home if going outside feels uncomfortable. The idea is about consistency and a deep trust that this is a place you belong.
- Make nature a second home: I have also extended my internal sense of home into the bigger landscape of nature. I have asked many people where they felt safest as a child, and the answer is often “in nature.” There is something about the trees, plants, and earth that welcomes us home and embraces us in a loving hug. This is a particularly great alternative to finding a home post-divorce when the actual structure in which you reside isn’t pleasant. Often, our homes become challenging spaces when a divorce is happening due to toxicity or bad memories. Nature provides relief and a clean space for healing and grounding into a place of belonging.
- Create an image: Imagery is as powerful as reality because it’s what surfaces from our dreams and deep beneath our consciousness. Activating an image of home can come from drawing or painting what you see as home. It doesn’t have to be a literal representation, just an image of what you see as this place. Allow yourself the space to dream and imagine your home will trickle into your nighttime dreams and a vision of what this means will take shape. If you’re an intimidated artist, you can cut pictures out of magazines and create a collage of home.
Know that whatever path you take, you have the right to both an internal and external home. Remembering that you can go inside or outside to create this sense of belonging and place may help you through the moments when you feel adrift and alone.
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