“Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you’ve made that your mission. Stop scouring people’s faces for evidence that you’re not enough. You will always find it because you’ve made that your goal. True belonging and self-worth are not goods; we don’t negotiate their value with the world. The truth about who we are lives in our hearts. Our call to courage is to protect our wild heart against constant evaluation, especially our own. No one belongs here more than you.”
― Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone
This quote caught my attention. In fact the whole book rocked my world. In part, I knew that my addiction and belonging were connected. Or more accurately, that deep hole created by a sense of not belonging.
Using drugs and alcohol masked the deep sense of not belonging inside of me; of not being a part of; being separate and alone. Somehow other than and less than. I had this inner pool of insecurity that kept me constantly trying to measure up to what I thought everyone’s expectation of me was. A sure recipe for disaster as it is actually not attainable. Slowly, over time, I began to realize that all my relationships, interactions, and connections were predicated on whether or not the other person felt I measured up to their expectations. And everyone was using a different measuring stick.
Realizing that this never ending quest to be a part of – to fit in – to belong – was evolutionary helped me to accept this aspect of myself. After all, we are wired to connect. The only way our species has survived has been to band together and help each other. My desire for belonging was not the problem. In fact, it is actually one of the most natural aspects of being human. Understanding that this deep well of longing to be a part of was natural actually helped me to get to the next level of understanding.
It has been said that this lack of connection is particularly acute in those who suffer from substance use disorder. Based on my experience and that of the many people I have encountered in the battle for sobriety, I believe this to be true.
Being A Part Of vs. Being Authentic
I recognized that this desire to be a part of was not the problem. This realization created the environment for me to be open minded enough to explore further. I begin to wonder how do I navigate that sense of not being a part of, not being good enough, of letting people down or not being liked?
With the understanding that my desire for belonging is to some degree very natural, I begin to examine why it was such a major driver in my life and why when I felt the perceived sting of rejection I could barely breath let alone stay sober.
Digging into my past was an option but I realized that knowing why I had such intensity with this issue would not mitigate the effects of it. So I decided to do the only thing that I have found ever truly works, which is to try to create a shift in perception within me.
Brené Brown’s book was an excellent starting point. Her ”call to courage” to stand-alone and be ok with it gave me permission to begin to explore how I value me. What do I think about myself? Can I stand-alone and still have meaningful connection? At first, this seemed too daunting.
My conditioning, which at times feels like it is cast in cement, demands that I be liked, fit in, make you happy, feel a sense of belonging. Yet my integrity, self-knowledge, values, and heart make me want to stand-alone too.
In the beginning of trying on this new way of being it feels very awkward. There are times when I know what I am expected to say, to look like, to show up as. And I don’t. I stay true to myself. Grounded in my own authenticity. I feel the immense burden of separateness. My heart pulsates while my throat starts to close. Air becomes scarce. Then I practice stillness. “Just be” I tell myself. “Just breath.” Awareness begins to soften the fierce intensity of being authentic.
It is very strange to have the physical sensations of being other, of not belonging, and at the same time have the mental agility to be ok with it. To know that I have been true to myself even though you may not like it or want it to be different is a learned skill. It is standing in the gap between the bullshit of my conditioning and the “quest for true belonging.”
Tips for Practicing True Belonging
Learning to “not negotiate my own self worth,” as Brene Brown says, is a work in progress. The following tips have helped to put me on the path of discovering the experience of true belonging.
1. Be comfortable being uncomfortable
Sobriety, particularly early sobriety, is a never-ending ride of being uncomfortable. As it relates to Brown’s definition of true belonging, I realized that in order to belong to myself and belong to the World I have to be comfortable with some level of being uncomfortable. It is rarely ever comfortable for me to know that I have displeased you, that you don’t like me, or that I have let you down. I have learned it is even more uncomfortable to pretend just so I can make you happy, to say what I do not truly mean, or to act in a way that makes you happy and me unhappy.
2. Being separate from you but true myself pays off
Standing on my own without the psychological support I want (and sometime think I need) from you takes courage. It also takes the awareness to ride the emotional roller coaster of not fitting in when I desperately want to. Knowing these intense sensations will pass helps to get me through. The work involved here is recognizing what is my truth and then adjusting my thoughts, actions, and words accordingly. This is a practice that takes time and patience. I notice that if I am compromised in any way, for example, hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or already experiencing an emotional upset, then this path is much more difficult to travel.
When I am able to stand-alone and belong to myself and be ok with it the benefits are amazing! I notice that my confidence increases and I feel ok with me. Even with all my imperfections I have started to even like me. In being ok with me, I have started to be ok with everyone else too. It seems as those the harsh edges of some relationships have started to soften. I no longer have a need to prove myself or make sure you know that I am worthy. That worth is now coming from inside of me rather than seeking it outside of me.
3. Perfectly Imperfect
I do not always stand in my own true belonging. There are times I sell myself out to feel a part of and feel connected to another. Sometimes I do not even realize I have done this until well after the interaction. It is a work in progress and I am ok with being a student of True Belonging. The important part is that I remain aware of my intention to practice True Belonging and let go of any notion that I will do it perfectly. There is an ease and comfort that comes with being authentic in my relationship even with myself.
In early sobriety this practice of True Belonging has removed the feeling that I am constantly walking on eggshells. I am a little more relaxed and feel like I am getting to know myself. I am also becoming more comfortable in sharing my true self with others. The relief is amazing!