Home. Home is a word that typically evokes images of cozy sofas, a warm fireplace, comfort foods, and loving faces. When most of us think of home, we feel a sense of peace and safety. Sometimes, though, the places that we call home in certain periods of our lives are far from these idyllic images – in these instances, home can feel uncertain, unpredictable, and even downright scary. The homes that we create throughout our lives span the spectrum of different life experiences and relationships; the walls of our homes know some of our deepest pain and sorrow and are also witness to some of our greatest joys and triumphs. It is with these complexities in mind that I began to conceptualize what a temporary home at the AVA Apartments may look and feel like for our clients while in treatment at Opal.
Beginning eating disorder treatment can be such an overwhelming experience for so many clients – their lives and routines are massively disrupted, familiarities are put on pause, and each moment they are faced with the choice of whether to lean into recovery or to take a step away from it. We imagine that there may be a myriad of reasons that a client chooses to stay in our apartment given that treatment itself is already so intense. One client may have a two-hour commute to treatment every day and want to use that driving time to rest instead. Another client may not feel like her current home is the most recovery-focused environment for her while she is in treatment, so she may opt to stay in the apartment for additional support from the other clients that may be staying in the apartment as well. Whatever the reason may be, the decision is not a small one. It means that she chooses to disrupt what is routine, comfortable, and relatively safe in order to challenge herself to a future of freedom in recovery. These women are so brave.
The courage that it takes for a person to enter into treatment for an eating disorder is nothing short of miraculous because treatment is so vulnerable; so, having the opportunity to design a living space for these miraculous clients is a deep honor. This project has been of utmost importance to me as one who really values what an intentional space can provide for people. Home, as I began, holds so much meaning for us and is so personal. Thus, my project begs the question: is it possible, then, to create a sense of ‘home’ in a living space that is temporary? I’m not sure, but I hope so. And that is the goal that I had in designing this apartment.
Every piece of furniture, every knick-knack, every object was chosen with a lot of thought. My hope for the clients is that when they walk into the apartment, they feel as though they have been cared for long before they even arrived. I hope that they immediately feel the intentionality – the on-purpose-ness – of the space. The furniture is cozy and sturdy because they’ll spend most of their time in the apartment either lounging or sleeping. Rest is just as important in treatment as the work. I found books, games, and puzzles to offer them refuge in levity amidst the often draining emotional work of recovery. The kitchen is fully stocked because I believe in our clients’ journeys to eventually make the kitchen a more comfortable place to navigate in their own homes. I believe that eating disorder treatment is like a practice field – to practice new coping skills, new interpersonal skills, new life skills – that will eventually lead to the empowered lives that these women dream of living. This apartment is a place for this practice as well as refuge and camaraderie with one another. And as one of the last additions to the space, I went to a local beach and scoured the shore for rocks and driftwood to display throughout the apartment. These treasures are meant to be small reminders of our place in the greater community of the world. For the clients, they are reminders that even in the midst of their treatment, they are not alone but, in fact, connected to others and to nature – something bigger than themselves.
For me, the apartment is an extension of the care that we provide at Opal as a place for long-lasting, in-depth, transformational recovery. Though the Opal apartment will never be “home,” for our clients, my hope is that at the end of a long day in treatment, clients can return to this apartment feeling safe to be who they are, wherever they are in their recovery journeys. “Home” becomes less about routine in a familiar place and more about acceptance of oneself, which one can pack up and take anywhere.
“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” – Maya Angelou