The church basement smelled musty as I took my seat on the hard plastic chair in the circle of strangers. Everyone introduced themselves. When it was my turn, I was crying so hard I could not even speak my name. All the pain and hurt that I had been holding in for so long came tumbling out of me. Raw. Fresh. Exposed.
I felt the woman sitting next to me stir. “Great,” I thought”. ” I am making her uncomfortable. I need to reign myself in” So used to the shrinking of myself, it happened almost without awareness. My body caved inward. I wrapped my arms around my torso. Smaller. Smaller. Smaller still. I was ready to bolt out of my seat and leave, convinced once again that I was too much.
It took every ounce of courage I had to sit tight. And I’m grateful I did because what happened next still fills me with wonder to this day.
The woman who I was sure I had upset reached over and grabbed my hand. She did not utter a word, nor did she look at me. She squeezed my hand tightly in the middle of her sharing. And she did not let go. This woman, this complete stranger, held on to my hand for the next 45 minutes. The dam burst in my chest again. Sheer relief. I had shown my full self to someone. Not only did they stay, they held on to the fragile core of me. And in the moment, I started to believe I was worth holding onto too.
When the meeting was over, she left before I could say good-bye. I searched for her because I wanted to thank her. To tell her that this was my first 12-step meeting. That I was only here because I did not know where else to go. That I’d had this strong feeling for a very long time that I needed help because the way I had relationships was so painful to me. That I was so scared nobody else would understand and that people like her were my last hope.
I wanted to share that I could not talk about how I was crumbling on the inside with my friends or my family. Everyone else seemed to be doing just fine. And so I felt like an outsider. Like an alien who did not belong with all these other humans who made life look easy. Effortless. Because some days even breathing felt like more than I could bear.
I wished I could have told her that her one simple gesture had meant the world to me. The warmth of her hand brought hope and comfort. And a feeling I had not had in a very long time: Belonging. Nobody was judging me, or telling me to stop crying. Nobody was trying to talk me out of my feelings. They were just there, accepting me right where I was- pain, loneliness, confusion, desperation splayed out in the circle like an offering.
For the first time, I knew in my heart that I had found my people. My tribe. I had found home.
My search for home was right and true and I had been making my offering for years. We all are. Everyone is born with the need to belong. It is innate in us from the moment we arrive in this world. And as children, our first tribe is our family. Every day in a million small ways we ask them, ” Do you see me?” “Do you hear me?” Do I matter?” “Do I belong here with you?”
If we are lucky, we have caregivers who respond to our inquiries with love, acceptance and validation.
Most of us aren’t that lucky.
We get subtle and obvious messages that we are not enough. Or we are too much. Or that our belonging is conditional. It’s based on our ability to smile and be pleasing all the time. To contract and contain our wild hearts. Or be big and angry, raging, railing and thrashing against the world so we feel powerful. Maybe it’s both or maybe it’s a variation on that theme.
It is pressed into our tender souls that in order to fit in, we can’t be who we really are. And as a child, to belong equals survival. So we adapt. Adjust. Twist into unrecognizable versions of ourselves. The need to belong is that powerful.
Sometimes we do all these gyrations and it still does not matter. We have this sneaking feeling that, despite our best efforts, we are on the outside looking in. So we look elsewhere. We seek belonging in food, alcohol, toxic relationships, perfection; the list is endless.
But here’s the thing. The need to belong and connect is beautiful. We are beautiful for having it. It’s just that we have to find people who can meet it. Our people. Our tribe. The ones who get us and don’t ask us to be anybody other than who we are.
It’s why we have to sit in sacred circles with other equally flawed beings who can let us know in all the ways that we missed out on as a child ” I see you”. “I hear you”. “You matter to me and you belong here”.
It’s why we have to learn to let them in, even when it feels vulnerable and risky. These are the people who can show up for us over and over again, the way our parents did not. As many times as it takes. They will be there no matter how often we stray from our center. No matter how much we have to learn the hard way. They will stand beside us with loyalty and devotion and ferocity. We will know there is nothing, and I mean nothing, we can say or do to not belong with them.
It’s why we have to have at least one other person in our lives who mirrors our worth. In all of our contortions as children, we forget our innocence. Our preciousness. Our inherent goodness and rightness. We need someone to take our emotional hand and help us remember who we really are.
That’s what the woman at the meeting did for me that day. I never saw her again after that 60 minutes spent in circle with her. It’s almost like she vanished into thin air.
People like that never really disappear, do they? You never forget the people who walk you home.
If you are ready find your people, contact me about working together at firstname.lastname@example.org or join my Facebook group here:https://www.facebook.com/groups/890519857769294/