Home is the Heart of Recovery

  • If home is where you hang your hat, I must be blessed because I have 12 kinds of chapeaux. I simply like hats, and I display three or four in my hall on a maple wall rack. The others I keep in round boxes on the closet shelf and rotate each season.

    My first apartment was a sunny intimate studio, and then I moved up to a one-bedroom. While in school, I lived at home for four years. Now on my own again, I live in a 3rd floor walk-up in Brooklyn. I truly believe a home is the heart of our recovery. I feel proud to keep house, and I occasionally throw dinner parties. Having a roof over my head makes me feel secure and protected. I also didn’t want to live in “the system” for the rest of my life.
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    From my observation, I don’t think adults with SZ should live with their parents. I’d make an exception to this if house rules were set—like no drinking or drugging—and there was an alternative plan for when the caregiver dies. Too often, I sense that such living arrangements aren’t healthy because those involved are co-dependent.

    It can also break a mother’s heart if her loved one isn’t in a good way. Parents might not be qualified to care for their grown son or daughter if this is so. Again, I’d recommend looking into a residence where the staff is professional and caring.

    If you have schizophrenia and desire to live on your own, you could make a halfway house or supported apartment the stepping-stone to your own place. The better ones have counselors who will help you obtain vital life skills. When I got my first job, Amiri, a female staff member, drove me to the Mall so I could find work clothes. Another counselor had me keep a daily grateful journal in which I listed five things I liked about myself.

    This support and encouragement gave me the confidence I needed to break away from my parents. It was the first time I lived away from home, because in college I went to a nearby public university. Sometimes, we have to shift our perceptions. I made peace with the fact that I couldn’t go back to the way things were before I got sick. I could’ve said, “Hell no, I won’t do that (live in a halfway house)!” Instead, I knew this option was my best chance at becoming independent.

    Indeed, after 26 months, I found my first studio near the beach. Owning or renting an apartment gives us responsibilities. We have to cook, clean, and pay the rent and utilities. Paying bills can be quick and easy if you make online payments, or have the money directly taken out of your checking account. Grocery shopping can be streamlined by ordering online, too. In NYC, I like freshdirect.com: they have seafood, chicken and meat; fruits and vegetables; household supplies and even delicious desserts like chocolate mousse. It all comes right to your door!

    My goal is to own a co-op, because I don’t want to be at the mercy of a landlord who won’t make repairs. I also want to decorate and paint, and entertain, and have a home office. I’m saving $200 a month to make this happen. For now, I live in a rent-stabilized apartment, coveted in New York City because the rent is below market value. I’m also lucky that the neighborhood is safe. That’s a consideration for anyone living alone.

  • Why is a home the heart of our recovery? Environment plays a key role in whether we get better, and I believe it also could contribute to why we get sick. While the myth of the schizophrenogenic mother has been proven wrong, family dynamics do affect us. When I was growing up, my mother and father fought all the time, and it upset me greatly. I hid my feelings like an emotional chameleon, and only confided them in my private notebook. I got the message that I wasn’t entitled to my feelings. I was afraid to hurt my mother, because I wanted her love. Though she did love me, she had a hard time with my father, and wasn’t always there for me in the way I needed her to be.
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    It didn’t help that the neighborhood girls bullied me and physically attacked me. I was a shrimp back then, and I’m only five feet tall now. So having to deal with what went on at home, and then being an outcast in the schoolyard, took its toll. I retreated into my room, where I could read books and listen to music, transported to worlds far away. A creative, sensitive child, I had nightmares nearly every night. I tried my best all those years to make it on my own.

    When I was 22, I got sick. My mother drove me to the emergency room within 24 hours of my breakdown. She knew something was wrong, and took action, not caring how it would look. Mom paid for my therapy because she felt guilty. Had the illness been there all my life, in a subtle form, and she didn’t realize it?

    As adults, we need to check our emotional baggage at the door. We need our privacy and our freedom, even if it’s the freedom to make mistakes. Having a home of our own gives us breathing room.

    And a place to hang our hats.

Published On: February 23, 2007