The idea of belonging is entrenched with the very idea of our existence. Our families, our friends, and our communities inform how we are in this world, and we take cues from our environment to know how to behave ourselves. When the idea of belonging is shaken up, our identity suffers, and we are out of balance with the world. It is difficult to navigate your every day when you don’t know where you are, and having identity trauma is like being dropped off in the middle of nowhere with no map and no clues on how to get to where you have to be. As a child I’d often had those feelings of not having any clues and of missing the crucial map that would explain the point of being here, on this earth. I do not believe in souls, but Lost Soul is a good way to explain how I’ve felt for majority of my life. I know I was searching for something, but I did not know what that thing was. Today, I know I was searching for belonging.
Why do people use drugs and alcohol? For a variety of reasons, the most popular fable being that it’s to take the edge off, to relax and to reward yourself, and to feel like part of the group (belonging). Friday night drinks, drinks after work, drinks at parties and get-togethers—all of that is so innocent and encouraged in our culture, but for people like me, those times were the times when I was finally able to escape my blind search. Me taking the edge off was quite literally no longer standing on the edge, but being able to quiet the noise in my head that screamed that there was something wrong. Imagine going your entire life with that mantra stuck in your head, “something is wrong, something is wrong with me.” People with trauma understand what that feels like, their brain is quite literally trying to alert them to danger that does not exist but that feels very real. It is an on-going fight-or-flight response and there’s no reprieve unless you address it through healing/recovery, or you numb it with substances.
Under the influence, I didn’t have to worry if I appeared “strange” or if there was something about me that told others I was not like them. The shame that was with me from my early age would get diminished and my inhibitions would be removed so I didn’t stress over whether I belonged or not. A party or a work situation or even home, while under the influence, I could check out of my reality, which was the reality of never feeling comfortable in my own skin. I know most people go through those emotions, and no one is 100-per cent confident all the time, but it’s exhausting when you’re operating in the red just to try to keep up. But there I was, operating in the red while developing a successful career, becoming a husband and a father and a homeowner. There I was, living a lie of pretending to be just fine, when inside I was tormented about what others thought of me and if they noticed that I was different.
I cannot tell you the relief I felt after I got sober and after I finally started to address the issues of belonging and how I’ve fit into the world. Getting sober, I was finally getting the pieces of that missing map. Staying sober and in check with my reality, I knew that eventually I would have enough landmarks to piece it all together. I know this sounds abstract but that’s how my life was—just a disarrangement and then rearrangement of the parts that made no sense that suddenly made all the sense. Putting it all together took me years, but it was totally worth it. Am I now absolutely sure that I’m in the right place and with the right people? I think so. I feel safe and I feel loved and I feel that I am able to give love to others. I welcome people into my world and I am welcomed into theirs. I feel like I belong and I know that I have the ability to make others feel the same when they are around me. I wouldn’t trade it for a moment of that drunken so-called bliss.