Tuesday, November 5, 2019

My Yearning to Belong

Hello, Invisible Audience.

Excuse my absence. I have no excuse, except that I have not felt the call to write out loud lately, until the last couple days.

The last couple days, I have been weepy and tired. I’ve been sleeping 10 hours a night and find my legs shaky without a boost of caffeine. Fortunately, I have created an arsenal of tools over the years to help with such times: yoga classes, Al Anon meetings, women’s groups, journaling, and yes: writing to you.

A couple weekends ago I went to an all-weekend women’s retreat held here in Leavenworth. It was so close to my house I actually walked to it most days, although the majority of the participants stayed on-site. 

In theory, it should have been an uplifting experience, but I have to admit it wasn’t. Spending from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon with 25 other people in any capacity is almost guaranteed to put me on overload. This was especially true after an entire month with something going on every weekend, plus teaching six kids’ classes a week, plus a three-week cold that left me on the couch for a lot of the time I wasn’t teaching and drained me of my strength. Let’s just say that I was already exhausted, and regardless of the type of company, company is exhausting to me, and this retreat was no different.

BUT. A realization came out of the weekend that was wholly unexpected and very well may be life changing. It was about belonging. 

My life trajectory is different than most people’s. Until a couple years ago, I had not spent more than a year in any single residence since I went to college at 18. I have traveled extensively, mostly by myself. I have lived for at least short periods of time on various continents and a couple different states. Although all these experiences have been rich and well worth the time, energy and money that took me there, they have also made it more of a challenge to find a group that I consider my tribe. Even more important, however, was the realization that I have been using all of these experiences as proof that I don’t belong to anyone or anywhere.

During the retreat, we worked on discovering the values we consider most important in our lives. One of my most important values was adventure – I sense you’re not surprised, Invisible Audience – but the other one that presented itself loud and clear was belonging. With that realization, my entire life and all my struggles came into focus in a way I’d never put together before.

I have yearned to feel like I belonged for as long as I can remember, even if I never realized it. At the same time, I have spent A LOT of mental energy convincing myself that I did not belong for various reasons.

·      I felt too fat to belong in high school.
·      I felt isolated and alone living in Spain during the year after 9/11 because I was away from my country and could only communicate what I needed in simple terms in Spanish.
·      I felt isolated and alone when I returned from Spain because my viewpoint was different from those who had never left.
·      I felt too responsible and serious (and not into drugs enough) to belong to the skiers at Winter Park when I worked there.
·      I felt different from many of my friends who seemingly settled easily into relationships, jobs and stable lives while I traipsed around the world.
·      I spent a summer at an ashram in Canada, and didn’t feel like I belonged there because I didn’t resonate with most of their teachings. 
·      I sometimes feel too sedentary to really fit in in Leavenworth, where four-year-olds can ski, mountain bike and rock climb better than I can.
·      I have felt separate from others because I spend so much time trying to feel better. I have worked for myself for years because I don’t have the energy it takes to work a 40-hour-a-week job. I don’t tell most people how much time I spend on the couch, trying to muster the energy to work, or how a hike in the morning will mean I spend the rest of the day on the couch.
·      I feel different because I cut off ties with my dysfunctional family. I often lie about how I’m spending holidays so people don’t feel sorry for me, when really I enjoy not having to spend a day in other peoples’ dysfunctional family dynamics because they think it would be better for me to be with anyone versus being alone.
·      I have convinced myself I am too different – too serious, introspective, busy, broken, neurotic – to belong to another in a romantic relationship.

Do you see, Invisible Audience? Whether it was true or not, I have been collecting proof of my “unbelonging” and using it to keep myself siloed. Despite the fact that what I have wanted more than anything was to belong to a tribe of people who get me, I have been keeping a running list of reasons why I don’t and will never belong.

At the same time, a lot of what I do on a day-to-day basis is meant to help people feel like they belong.

·      I teach Spanish classes to kids and adults so they can reach out to Spanish-speaking community members to help them feel more like they belong.
·      I smile at tourists in Leavenworth so they feel welcome in town, even right after I’ve yelled at them in the safety of my car for driving like idiots.
·      I am involved in a lot of community events and organizations because I want to help people feel like they belong, including immigrants.

Even as I hold myself apart, I am trying to help others to feel the belonging that I don’t. So here’s the question that has come up: how do I let myself feel like I belong? I am not without friends. I have plenty of people who love and value me and would not toss me to the side because I admit all these things about myself. The real issue is not whether I actually belong,it is whether I feel like I belong.

That whole weekend at the retreat, I was creating a story in my head. Because I didn’t find it relaxing and rejuvenating, I didn’t belong. Because I was irritable and exhausted, I had to keep myself separate. I was trying to convince myself that I couldn’t be authentically me and still belong.

And that, Invisible Audience is why I’m writing to you today. I need to be authentic, and remind myself that it makes me MORE loveable, not less. That the people who love me do it BECAUSE of who I am, not because I am hiding the most tender, messy and chaotic parts of myself. Because, ultimately, if I can’t belong as myself, I’m even lonelier than if I belong as a pared down version of me.

Love and belonging kisses,