emotional abuse, enmeshment, journalling

A Visit Home, Emotional Separation + Maintaining Boundaries

This time last week, I was back in Shetland for the first time in 1½ years.

Prior to this, I’d found myself growing unusually homesick. Seeing people on social media doing the regular, banal things like frequenting the dingy local bars and taking coastal walks was sending pangs of nostalgia through me. So I figured it was time to go back.

I knew that I wanted to prioritise my happiness and pleasure while I was home and I wanted to keep obligations to a minimum – partly because it was going to be my first real “break” since September and also because I was only going to be back there for 3½ days. So I didn’t see very much family and I spent most of my time lounging about with my friend at her new beautiful house, driving around the countryside and holed up in my favourite coffee shop.

At The Peerie Shop Café, Lerwick
Lerwick Harbour, looking out over onto Bressay
Gott, Tingwall


I loved spending time with my friends but the times I hung out on my own sipping tea and reading were equally enjoyable. At The Peerie Shop Café, they do a green tea with ginseng which is my favourite tea of all time, probably. It’s that simple thing of walking into a café and knowing exactly what you want – because it feels like home. In Edinburgh, I walk into conglomerates where I’m charged for tea based on the size of the mug – like stepping onto a TV set and pretending what you’re seeing is authentic – and am typically at a loss as to what to get. It’s all overpriced and nothing feels special. So being in my favourite independent café was really special for me.

It was really enjoyable seeing more of the lives my friends have made for themselves in Shetland, too. The homes they’d made, the plans they had, the friends they’d made. Even though I wish I saw them more, I’m so happy for them and meeting them was as if no time at all had passed. I’ve been reminded of how genuine my closest friendships are and to not be too hard on myself if I find it difficult to emulate that in a new city. Friends like that are hard to come by and I’m lucky I have them at all.

On the Sunday, I went over to my Dad’s. It would’ve been my first time seeing him in quite a while, too. I was slightly apprehensive and although I knew I’d be okay, I kinda just wanted to get it over with.

The gate needed a hard push to shove it open and stepping into the back garden, I saw how overgrown and neglected everything had become. The small, makeshift shed had its doors missing and rusty tools lay forgotten inside. Half of the garden is paved with stone slabs and half of it is grassy but the line between the too had long since blurred – brown weedy plants monopolising almost all of it. I don’t know if upsetting is the right word but I felt at the very least deflated seeing how forlorn everything looked.

My Dad let me in and he looked older than the last time I saw him, probably. I have relatively old parents – my dad is 64, for instance – which makes the whole assessing childhood trauma and subsequently taking a step back from both of them even more conflicting. When I think about my Mam turning 60 next year, I get this surge of pain in my solar plexus imagining how she feels about it. I feel scared for her, worried for her, apprehensive for her. My Dad is fairly relaxed about getting older – after all, it’s easier for men, isn’t it? But my Mam isn’t really and it makes me feel so protective of her.

I hung about in the sitting room with my Dad and my brother for a couple of hours. The energy in the house was more miserable than the last time I was there – things felt stagnant and lethargic. I put on Brooklyn 99 and the remote was soon taken from me to switch to the news so my Dad and brother could natter on about politics. That surprised me. I thought that because I hadn’t been there in ages, they’d indulge me by letting me watch some lighthearted comedy; but no – it was straight to the news.

Overall, it was fine. I talked to my Dad about moving house and he had a trip down memory lane talking about the parts of Edinburgh he knew. That felt nice, normal. There were a couple of instances where I was kinda made fun of – nothing too crazy – but it was so interesting watching the dynamic unfold after having not been part of it in a long time. I saw very clearly how these seemingly inconsequential little digs could become consequential through their accumulation. And how they had become consequential in the past. In fact, they had become emotional abuse.

But here I was, calm and measured, watching and listening but not getting caught up in it. I saw how these reactions to me were like compulsions, potentially stemming from unrest and anxiety – even just force of habit. “You’re so argumentative!” I joked at one point, hearing my brother bicker with my Dad, knowing that this was probably their norm – but also noting how toxic it felt after having so much space from it.

My Dad had remained fairly cool and collected most of the time that I was there but when I got up to leave, I sensed this panic in him as he followed me to the door. He seemed overcome with emotion, with tenderness, as he quickly stroked my hair and told me that he loved me.

It’s strange; when he tells me he loves me, it’s like he’s trying to convince me of the fact – as if I don’t already believe it, or something. But that’s not it at all. I do believe that he loves me, I just don’t believe that having the capacity to love is indicative of virtue – nor do I think it is ever an excuse for abusive behaviour. It doesn’t matter that he loves me – he’s not able to love me in the way that I not only need but deserve.

“Can I get a hug, or is that totally out of the question?” he tried. I stood there awkwardly for a few seconds, lightly grimacing in spite of myself. “Ehhh…”, I trailed off then managed to say that it would feel awkward for me. I dangled the possibility of coming over again the next day before my bus to the airport in front of him because I felt guilty, knowing that it probably wouldn’t happen.

Then I was away. I’d intentionally planned to go swimming with a friend after so that I’d have an excuse to leave after not too long. That house is like quicksand – I’ve gotten sucked into staying too long at the expense of my energy so many times.

But I didn’t get sucked in, I kept to my time limit then took the nice walk to the leisure centre on that calm day; with this as my view:


Then I was decompressing in the sauna.

A nice break! The only thing is that I wish it had been longer. But that just wasn’t possible with me moving house around the same time (which I’ll talk more about in my next post!).

Thanks for reading. How does going home make you feel? Nostalgic? Happy? Conflicted? Let me know in the comments!

– SMUT. ❤ xxxx


Featured image by andrewmasonphotography.









3 thoughts on “A Visit Home, Emotional Separation + Maintaining Boundaries”

  1. Wow, great post, lovely photos, love the detail of your cafe enjoyment, I really relate to that. And a big well done you for managing that trip home so well. Don’t stay too long, is a great strategy, I follow that one as well. x

    Liked by 1 person

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