Belonging – the glue that holds us together, the sense that we are safe and held and a part of. Belonging – being possesed by someone, being the property of another.
A few years ago, I would have been content with feeling a sense of belonging in either of these ways. On paper, I could understand the idea of belonging, the idea of seeing parts of yourself in others. Belonging – that warm feeling when parts of me see themselves in parts of you and we both dance for joy in our hearts for having found a fellow traveler on this journey of life.
My journey to belonging began as a child, with lots of experiences of not belonging. July 22nd 2000 – now 20 years ago. That was the first moment I realised belonging wasn’t guaranteed when meeting new people. This came as an even greater shock as the folks I’d be meeting were family. Belonging isn’t guaranteed by your shared heritage, your shared class, or the shared language that you speak.
My nuclear family arrived in this country, chasing the immigrant dream – safety, stability and opportunity. A skinny, tall, brown 10 year old at the time, I definitely didn’t feel a sense of belonging meeting my mixed race cousins. They were cool with their Northern accents and confident mannerisms. I also didn’t feel any sense of belonging when they mocked me for my accent, as teenagers often do when enounctered with the different.
Belonging later alluded me when we settled in London and my classmates were confused by my lack of knowledge of the big names in music at the time – S Club 7 and Steps, of course.
Belonging seemed a fictional idea when I had my growth spurt and was the tallest member of the class in Year 6, towering over my peers, males included. That crush on Dereck Vaughn was never going to work out when I was a literal head above him.
Belonging came briefly at secondary school when I met a girl who soon announced we were best friends. That belonging was fleeting and slipped through my fingers when an argument occured and the battle lines were drawn. She was a sharp shooter and turned many against me with her words. I continued to have fleeting flirtations with belonging – jumping from friendship group to friendship group. But it’s hard to avoid some sort of drama at girls’ school and soon I was leaving secondary school, knowing in the deepest parts of me that belonging was absolutely for other people and never for me.
So I made my own beloinging for a while – I made fake profiles online and swapped messages with them on my MySpace wall so the girls at school would think I had friends. But as with most things made up, it soon feels empty and ceases to be an effective plaster to cover the wounds of loneliess.
Soon enough, the idea of not belonging was part of my identity. I was the loner, I was the outsider, I was the alien. As soon as this became my identity, I didn’t want to be around me either. Why would I? If no one else did, why on earth would I want to be around me? Escapism came in may forms – spending hours in fantasy, dreaming I was anyone but me, binge eating and soon drinking to excess before finding boys.
Sixth form college brought a new set of connections and potentials for belonging. But how can a self-titled loner connect with others. I had built a fortress for myself, and shut myself inside it. Soon that fortress felt like a cage and I forgot I had the key to the cage the entire time.
Raised in a home where my parents were each others’ belongings, that seemed the next logical step. If only I could find a boyfriend, a partner in crime, a confidante then I would have what all the others around me seemed to have – I’d finally belong. We could be a two-person gang and that would suffice. I would have to convince just one person that I was worth keeping around and that felt like a manageable task. The more you feel like you will never belong, the more you want to see all the parts of you in one other. A fantastic recipe for codependency, and codependency I found. I found enough parts of me in another that I was willing to ignore all the parts of us that were so different and I squeezed my eyes shut, pretending we matched each other perfectly.
Drinking brought even more intoxicating belonging – finding others who enjoyed spending their weekends forgetting themselves in the shots and pints. We didn’t need to see any of our parts in each other, the largest part matched. We all wanted to disappear into the dark abyss of the night out.
Ten years after arriving in this country, an awkward pre-teen with no voice, I had now found my people. I finally belonged. But that belonging was fleeting in a sense. Soon the boyfriend wasn’t as perfect as initially imagined and faced with a choice to leave or stay, belonging took president.
Belonging was a baby bird sitting in my hand. I could have let her fly free with the hopes of future return. But when you’ve been starved of belonging for so long, losing my belonging felt like death itself. So I gripped so tightly and suffocated the life out of her until she was nothing but heavy matter in my hands. The cheating boyfriend was forced to leave me by the end of the relationship.
More years passed, more nights out passed, many ending in blackout. Men came into my life briefly and left in a flash. And suddenly, in the blink of an eye, I’d found my true belonging. He matched me so perfectly, all my crooked edges lined up with his crooked edges. Little did I know that when one has no interest in belonging to themselves, they seek out others with similar intentions. This man wanted, as deperately as I did, to belong to anyone. That intoxicating belonging was wonderful at blurring those cracks in his character.
Belonging can be a prison. A prisonthat traps us in the idea that the belonging we have found is the only belonging we will ever find. No better, truer belonging awaits us outside these walls. So we might as well stay put, where we know exactly how big our area to walk around is. Much like heavy duty velcro, he and I were attached and it would take divine intervention to unattach us.
And divine intervention is exactly what it took. This was no concious uncoupling. This had to be an act of strapping explosives to the bridges that joined our islands and lighting the fuse. The flash blinded us, the boom deafened up and when we finally surfaced, the shrapnel had covered our respective islands.
I can’t say it has been an easy task of collecting, sorting and disposing of this shrapnel. It has meant unpicking why I so deeply felt he was my belonging, and learning what true belonging is.
Belonging is key to survival. I must belong. We must all belong, it is how we have survived through the ages. But I must first belong to me. I wanted to match all my parts with all your parts so that we would never be alone, but I didn’t know what any of my parts were. I would mould my parts to fit yours, like trying to force peas through an hourglass. So the first step on this journey has being getting to know me, getting to know my likes and dislikes, my strengths and weaknesses, the bits of me that I enjoy and the bits of me I’d prefer were different. Secondly I have had to accept all these bits of me exactly as they are, perfect in their own ways – a task that feels like a lifelong endeavour. I’m learning that today I can choose to belong to me. All my parts of me match me perfectly and I can choose to enjoy that.
Today, I have a fellow traveller on this journey of life, but we don’t match perfectly. There are lots of parts of me that don’t match lots of parts of him and that’s okay. I don’t need them to. I have me now. True belonging feels like coming home and I’m finally home.