When I was starting to look at colleges, my mother said to me: "Don't take this the wrong way, but once you leave, don't come back."
Seeing the odd look on my face, she went on to elaborate. She explained something about getting away and living my own life and not getting tied to the chaos and patterns of home.
And perhaps now that seems kind of harsh, but at the time, our family was a... mess. My dad was an inapproachable, alcoholic, walking disaster. My brother was getting arrested on a regular basis, and couldn't seem to control his rage. (During this time, he kicked in the screen door to our house, and also punched several holes in the drywall around his and my bedrooms.) My mother was sleeping on the couch, and had been for a year or two by then. (Last year she returned to a twin bed in the room my parents again share.)
But then there were my sisters. I felt responsible for them and I was pretty much terrified about them living there without me to run interference. But I wanted to get myself out of there just as much. So my mom's advice didn't sound so odd. It sounded pretty good to me, in fact. Like permission.
So I left and I really haven't gone back. Oh sure, I visit. I even lived with them for four months after coming home from four months in France after college. But I always had an escape plan. But in many ways, I feel like an outsider when I am with the family. Not with all of them, and not all the time. But enough.
I don't know who I would be today if I hadn't managed that escape. I'm sure I wouldn't be as happy or confident as I am. I think I might have slipped back into the familiar and miserable roles of my teenage years - acting and reacting as the people around me expected me to.
I moved to the Grand Canyon in 1999 because it seemed like a safe place to think about who I was and what I wanted out of life. I thought I would be there for a year. But in the first year I fell into a relationship with another smart, self-loathing guy, and all my old passive-aggressive, martyresque behavior resurfaced. After we split up, I decided to take another year to figure out what I'd gone there to figure out in the first place.
So my second year at the Canyon was my Hermit Period. Lonely, but useful.
I'm set now - mostly broken away from the old habits and patterns I hated but couldn't seem to break when I lived at home. My escape was successful, and necessary for my continued sanity and survival. I know that. My mother knew that. But that doesn't mean that the choice or process of escape was easy, or that I don't sometimes regret being on the outside of family conflicts and situations.
I'm a better person than I was before - better at communicating, better at making my own decisions, better at staying objective when I need to be - so I know my choice was the right one for me.
And that's what I have to say about that.