Going back home for the holidays is always coupled with memories of the past I’d rather forget, and memories of the delicious home-cooked meals that taste just as I remember my mom used to make it. Homecoming is a reminder of the time passed and deliberately left behind for a better future.

It’s always around the holidays I become nostalgic and feel unbearably lonely. I try to avoid social media during these times because it makes me feel bad. It’s like everyone on my news feeds has large families, beautiful homes, and food that span the entire length of a dinner table. My family, on the other hand, is small so our festivities are hardly as lavish as Instagram and Facebook makes it out to be. We also don’t have a beautifully decorated home, but it’s home to me.

Though, I’m still very much grateful. I’m not grateful in the “oh, people always have it worst than us” kind of grateful. I feel grateful because through time, I redefined how to measure gratitude.

Not too long ago, I was battling mild depression and anxiety, before I even acknowledged what it actually was. When I reached that point in my life,  I was completely helpless and alone. I thought, “Holy shit, something is wrong with me and I have no idea how to deal with it, and no one’s going to understand.”  Without getting into one huge digression about how I overcame this, there was a point I reevaluated my life and laid out everything I had and did the scary thing: became completely honest with myself. What have I accomplished? Who were my true friends? How is my relationship with family? Was I getting enough sleep? Exercise? Why am I not happy today?

I focused on everything I had, and ignored everything I didn’t. It was then I started to strip down and simplify my life, cutting the fat so to speak, and throwing away the things that were toxic and unnecessary burdens. I was a much happier person for it because I learned to block out the damaging thoughts in my head. I’ve learned how to overcome myself when I became my worst enemy. Going through this ultimately changed my perspective on life and how I defined both gratitude and happiness.

Riding BART to what I consider the soul-sucking suburbs of the south bay, the negative thoughts returned. The bad memories of being home, the panging reminders of what I didn’t have, and the emptiness I felt at just the thought of reliving those memories, even if it was just for a dinner, haunted me. It’s always scary to return to something you’ve tried to escape for so long. But in reality, it’s impossible to escape your past.

No matter how much time passes, or how far you are geographically from the source of those memories, the scars of what was will remain, and often times persist like a throbbing migraine. Acknowledging this improved my mood because I saw it as one less thing to worry about. No use in worrying about something you have absolutely no control over. So I moved forward, picked up a book and read until the BART reached the end of the line.

It’s normal for me not to see my family for 4-6 months at a time. Every time I go back, my mother looks a little older, my sister a little taller. My favorite burger joint is out of business, and the mall is never as exciting as it used to be when I was in high school. A lot changes in a few months, and it makes me wonder how much I’ve changed in the eyes of friends and family that remember me as the geeky, musical theater guy in high school.

Seeing my family this time around, however, was different. Perhaps it’s because I’m moving to New York in a month, knowing it’s going to be a while since I spend the holidays in California again.  Perhaps it’s because I learned to appreciate the beautiful reality of my circumstances and family. Whichever the reason, I embrace this story because it’s mine. It’s every bit a part of my journey and how I experience the human condition.

Coming back home reminds me of so much more than the past. It also reminds me of how much I’ve grown, how much I still have yet to learn, and how much I’m so thankful for. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Emmanuel is moving to New York City. He likes to think, write, and design. Follow him @emmanuelcoloma.

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