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Coming Home to Yourself - Creating Your Sanctuary

Separation and divorce are often experienced as an overwhelming loss. Not only have you lost a partner, friend, and lover, you may also feel as if you are losing your sense of self. The purpose of this article is to suggest a steadying course of action that will guide you in the discovery of the person you most want to be.

It may seem peculiar to think about focusing on your physical space at a time when there is so much change swirling around your world. This period of dis-equilibrium is actually the perfect time to focus on creating a physical environment that reflects and nurtures you.

A great deal has been written about the importance of one’s living space. One interesting resource is interior designer Xorin Balbes’s recent book entitled “Soul Space; Transform Your Home, Transform Your Life”. Balbes, and many others, believe that one’s home is a reflection of one’s self. I like the inherent possibilities within this belief. In almost all situations we can exert some significant control over our physical environments. We can identify the things that we love and the things that we hate and edit their place in our lives. This process meshes well with the natural inclination during this life transition to wonder about one’s past, present, and future. By examining the rooms and objects throughout our homes we are gently led along a path of self -reflection and discovery. The end result of which may be a lighter load and a wonderful sense of possibility.

Start simply by taking a look at what you have. The steps below are about reflection and developing an appreciation of your very personal likes and dislikes.

Step One: Exploration

Grab a notebook and pen and take a walk through your home asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do the colors in your home delight you? (Write down which ones)
  • Is there one room or space that you love?
  • Is there one space that distresses you?
  • Do you have too much stuff?
  • Do you want/ need more stuff?
  • How does your home help you function? Can you find your keys, hats, gloves, umbrellas?
  • Are you able to get to sleep without the distraction of bills to pay, clothes to fold, e-mails to answer or are reminders of these things present in your sleep space?
  • Do you feel relieved when you walk in the front door or do you feel pulled in a million directions?
  • Is there a designated space to relax and unwind?

Let these questions mill around in your mind for a few days (or hours if you are anxious to keep going!).

Step Two: Discover the things that speak to you

Sit in the room that you like the best, or with several objects that make you feel good, and wonder about them. What is it that you like about either the space or the object? Perhaps it is the color, shape, texture, comfort of the furniture, or the memory it evokes. Pay special attention to your feelings in response to the space or objects and jot your thoughts down in the notebook.

If you are starting from scratch with few old possessions upon which to focus, or find there is nothing you like, select instead three articles of clothing including one accessory. Ask yourself the same questions including how you feel when you are wearing the item. Over the course of the next few days let your mind come back to muse over these ideas. Spend more time in the room or put your favorite objects in a prominent place that will encourage this thought process. Keep your notebook in the same area so you can write down any significant thoughts that may come to you during this process.

Step Three: Take note of what you do not like

Notebook in hand, prowl through your home recording the things you do not like about your space including the emotional reactions you have towards certain things. Please note this may be tricky; photos, mementos, and objects shared with a partner may evoke very mixed feelings. Remember that you are not deciding to get rid of anything at this stage; you are simply noticing your emotional reactions to the things you see in your living space.

Step Four: Considering others

If you have lived alone with your partner you may not need to factor in the needs and emotions of others. However, if your family includes children or other family members, it is important to take some time to consider their reactions and responses to any changes you may be thinking about. A brief example: one woman I know found herself distressed every time she was confronted with her family portrait over the mantelpiece. Seeing this beautiful portrayal of her children, husband, and herself felt like a slap in the face every time she walked by. Unsure about how to handle this, she talked it over with her children. They decided to hang it in the bedroom of the eldest child, as she was very attached to the happy memories it provided for her. The mother was able to feel good about this placement of the portrait knowing that it provided comfort for her daughter. The discussion and the recognition of each other’s feelings took this family one step further down the road of healing.

Recovery from divorce is a process. It is the rare individual who shakes off the dust and detritus of a finished marriage and moves on smoothly. For most, there needs to be time to regroup, learn about oneself, and find ways to re-establish yourself in your world. Taking a close look at your surroundings and following the above steps is a wonderfully non-threatening way to think about what you want and what you don’t want as you move forward.

The story below about one woman’s therapeutic re-design may help to illustrate the emotional impact of this process.

Caroline’s Journey

I first met Caroline when she called for assistance after stripping her bedroom bare. She said she felt paralyzed with the task of making this room her own. Instinctively, she knew after her divorce that she needed a big change in the master bedroom. Out went the bedding, drapes, carpet, and even the wallpaper. Left with the bare bones of a room she felt empty and discouraged. We began the process of discovering and examining her likes and dislikes. Caroline noticed that she was drawn to delicate paintings, soft, tactile rich fabrics, bright colors and white. All the rooms in her home that she enjoyed spending time in were filled with light. She also noticed that she felt better in the mornings. Life held more possibilities when she was rested and could feel the light of day. Another finding in this exploration of her home came when she realized just how difficult evenings were for her. She had continued a long held habit of watching television in the family room after dinner. She tuned in to just how “down” she felt during this part of the day. Rather than finding herself entertained, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness invaded her thoughts. The family room reminded her of her past married life. Envisioning the future and new possibilities seemed impossible in this room. It dawned on her that now that her schedule was entirely up to her she could gradually change her sleep habits, going to bed early and rising early to enjoy more daylight. She decided to avoid the family room for the time being and focus instead on changing her bedroom and home office.

Taking her newfound discoveries into her bedroom, she painted the walls a pale pearlescent pink and purchased soft but inexpensive throw rugs. Sheer curtains let in the early morning light. Caroline’s big investments in this room and in herself were the purchase of luxurious sheets, and many colorful pillows for her bed. The result was the creation of a soft and inviting nest. Slipping between these sumptuous sheets each night is a tangible affirmation of her self worth. She announced to me one day that since she now gets to be in control, she was breaking the cardinal ”No TV in the bedroom” rule. Now in the evenings she looks forward to retiring early to this soft, feminine, and very personal sanctuary.

Having established a comforting space in her home for rest and reflection, Caroline next turned her attention to her home office. Again taking clues from her discovery journey, she purchased a bright colored, comfortable desk chair, slipcovered existing furniture in white canvas and brought in a bold multihued rug from another room in the house. She framed and hung her favorite travel photos and souvenirs. The room was transformed into an inspiring place to work, pay bills, and communicate with the outside world. While thinking about the room’s transformation she remembered how invigorated she was by travel and pledged to make this a priority for her future. The lively atmosphere that was created makes it a favorite place to be when she is in the mood to look outside of herself and connect with the world.

Having two important spaces that nurture, reflect and support her desires, Caroline felt ready to stop for the time being. I urged one more simple transformation, the entryway. Previously dark in nature, with an overstuffed coat closet, small table filled with family photos, and piles of mail; this introduction to home created anxiety rather than a feeling of welcome and relief.

To address this Caroline placed a whimsical lamp, a pretty bowl for keys and another for sunglasses on the entry table. Favorite photos were re-located to other parts of her house. Carefully editing her photos and moving them away from the front door allows her to come and go without memories interrupting her focus. A purge of the coat closet left ample room for her coats, hats, and scarves enabling simple entry and departure. During this clean out, Caroline came across her old riding boots. These she placed front and center as a reminder to get back up on a horse (literally and metaphorically) and rediscover activities that had given her pleasure.

The most practical change in the entry came from relocating and setting up a system for the mail. We found a convenient area to set up a mail sorting system complete with a shredder and recycling basket. Caroline found she could easily handle the incoming mail on a daily basis and was no longer faced with the anxiety-provoking piles of paper. In addition she developed more confidence in handling financial and household matters realizing that she was able to proactively set up systems, solicit advice, and make plans for dealing with difficult issues.

Caroline’s journey of discovery and re-invention began with the examination of her living environment. This non-threatening process led her through a gentle exploration of her hopes, fears, worries and desires. Discovering and honoring her travel photos and riding boots put her in touch with her confident, eager, and resilient self. Creating a bedroom that feels like a sanctuary allows her to rest and recharge both physically and emotionally. Taking care of herself by creating a nurturing home increases her feelings of self worth.

If one’s physical space is said to be a reflection of one’s self, the life transition of divorce may be the perfect time to take a look at that space and make it truly your own. In the process you may rediscover the unique individual that is you.


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