My entire life I put myself in situations over and over again that don’t make sense. I wear clothes I don’t like, I go places that don’t interest me, I care about things I don’t even care about. Because my sense of belonging comes from outside of myself I constantly feel like an imposter. My sense of belonging is me, outside all the circles, trying to find a way in. Hopping up, trying see over shoulders, manipulating my body to fit through any space that opens, changing shape to accommodate my yearning for acceptance. This is true everywhere- home, school, work, grocery shopping, at the bookstore, in my living room.
I spend a lifetime numbing this feeling with alcohol.
The idea that if I gather the right set of instructions or wear the right clothes or say the right things or have more stuff or make more money I will feel grounded/safe in my place is so appealing. I do what other people do until I’m exhausted. EXHAUSTED.
I give up.
I get sober.
After a few years of sobriety I suddenly recognize that I am constantly trying to steady myself to seem more acceptable when instead I want to be able to handle my life. My self spends most of it’s time reeling around my life like I’m still drunk. When I used to drink a lot I was constantly unsettled, alarmed, and ashamed. Having something to grasp firmly was the thing I thought I needed, a finish line, that was thing I wanted to get used to. Waking up in the morning hungover and not knowing what I’d done the night before made concrete answers feel crucial. I am desperate for connection, for that sense of inclusion, for the safety of doing it “right”. Even sober I stay stuck in this story: I don’t belong. I’m displaced, an alien being in all worlds.
Then I am in limbo. Nothing makes sense. I didn’t go to AA, I didn’t head to rehab, or any traditional method of recovery. I found a sober pen pal and start writing this blog about getting sober. These two things work miracles because I am vain enough to not want to mess up in front of my pen pal or the few strangers who read my blog. I find a sober online community, and I belong-ish. I love the sense of being in it together I get from a recovery group I joined, but that goes sideways and I quit.
People in the online community email me, and I write back. I develop relationships with people all the way around the world. They fade in and out of my life. It feels uncertain. The online sober community grows. I get a Soberbia Instagram. It gets cooler to be sober. I have gone from newly sober to long term sober and I still feel like I don’t really fit in. I wonder where all the people are who have a few years of sobriety. How do you find them? How do they find me? I don’t want to go to AA, or get a tattoo. I don’t notice a lot of people talk about things like what changes happened in their long term relationships, what it’s like to be a family, or how getting sober is just the first thing, or how addiction shape shifts. I successfully juggle managing sobriety, PTSD, anxiety, OCD, and my marriage, my family, making a career for myself.
I still feel like I don’t belong anywhere.
“Sometimes the place you are used to is not the place you belong.You belong where you believe you belong. Where is that for you?”
I hear this quote while I’m watching “Queen of Katwe” with my boys. I get up to write it down, it speaks SO LOUDLY to me. Because I write it down I remember it clearly, I roll to around in my mind for days. Sometimes the place you are used to is not the place where you belong. The place you are used to. Not the place. Not the place. Where am I trying to be?
We get so comfortable and rooted in to where we are- even if it totally sucks. How many times have you had the thought “I don’t like this, but I’m used to it, so…” I mean, I thought that about drinking for decades. All the endless drinking and searching and numbing and there I was with a big pile of I’m used to it. But I knew it wasn’t where I belonged. I wonder what it is I’m trying to be a part of. What belonging means.
Belonging to me is that feeling of being known. Of being seen. It isn’t necessarily agreeing on things, but more the agreement to honor another’s thoughts. It’s being able to say things that make you feel nervous, or vulnerable, or both. It’s being able to talk about difficult things, being able to tell the truth, being able to stop making sense and be as silly as you can, laughing until you beg for it to stop. It’s knowing that someone will mostly always be glad to hear from you, that they won’t see your name pop up on their phone and roll their eyes and sigh.
Belonging is being able to get dressed without having to change clothes 4 times because you think you aren’t acceptable yet. Belonging in your body is so hard and so important. It’s so important and I hate how important it is, but it just is. When I feel comfortable and like my body belongs to me I can get on with it.
Belonging is showing how hard you’re trying. It’s not getting it right. It’s getting it totally wrong. It’s breathing hard and sweating and flailing and whooping with delight.
Belonging is not being okay and acting like it. It’s saying “Not really” when someone says “are you ok?” And then telling them what’s up- if it’s I’m worried about my twelve year old son or I couldn’t find my favorite jacket this morning. This creates an opportunity for vulnerability, which creates a sense of acceptance.
Belonging is being proud of who you are, and being able to say so, knowing that people won’t see it as bragging but as you, shining.
Belonging is knowing that there are a thousand million billion ways to do things and that all of them are grand. My recovery journey has been unconventional, it gets easy to feel like I’m doing it wrong because I don’t subscribe to many of the things that are typically true for people in recovery. Whatever that means. Which is a whole other post or twenty.
Belonging is connection. It’s seeing the crossover between us and then all the other paths that make us unique. And then knowing that just because you like cinnamon and chocolate together and I don’t that we can still be friends. Or that we deeply disagree about something big but with patience we can find common ground to widen the circle. We’re like Venn Diagrams.
Belonging is plopping yourself in to the sea of humanity as your constantly evolving self.
The outside place I’ve been used to is a place of my own making, I put myself out there by believing that’s where I was supposed to be and it was comfortable. Feeling left out was how I belonged. It is not the place where I belong. I BELONG HERE. I don’t mean here in this chair, or in a room or in a group, I mean HERE- in my body, in me. This is the place. It’s been here all along. I’ve been here all along. I soak this in, the warmth and safety of it, my palms stacked over my heart.
Questions for you:
How do you belong?
Where do you believe you belong?
What creates a sense of belonging?