It is my belief that growing up children and teens should have a secure feeling of emotional and spiritual belonging with their parents and siblings. Unfortunately for many, such as I myself this was not the case. Was there a feeling of physically belonging? For myself and others, I am sure the answer is absolutely. I grew up in the cozy little Sothern California beach town called Dana Point. I lived in a nice middle-class home, had a roof over my head, food on the table, nice clothes and spent most of my spare time doing what I loved to do at my safe place, surfing at the beach. Physically I did feel like I belonged. However emotionally and spiritually it was a whole other story.
When my parents divorced and my dad died, no one was there to support me, comfort me, or explain to me what it was all about. Instead I was just left with confusing feelings and questions about the divorce and death of my father. It was swept under the rug, not talked about, yet I had so many unanswered questions. I felt as though my feelings did not matter. After all I was just a twelve-year boy, what feelings could I have possibly had? Today I know that my mother was utterly incapable of helping me on an emotional and spiritual level. After all who ever helped her deal with her Adverse Childhood Experiences or unresolved childhood trauma.
It is really hard to feel of any value or worth when you have a mother or father that treat you as though you are nothing but a burden to them. In my case my father was a very loving father, however due to the fact my mother and father were divorced, we only saw him on weekends. Living with my mother on the other hand was not a pleasant experience for the most part. I will say there were times of fun and games, but they were few and far apart. My mother had no problem on a regular basis calling me a stupid little S.O.B. At least once a week I would have soap caked on the back of my teeth for supposedly lying. Honestly, I do not remember lying. I do however remember just being and doing what kids do. During this period of time I never remember my brother being called names or being punished in the way I was. By the age of seven or eight I already I didn’t feel I belonged in my family. In fact, I felt more like a heavy burden and mistake than anything else. I surely didn’t feel loved.
After my father’s death, even though my mother made an attempt to make things better by putting a father figure in my life, things got drastically worse. As if my mother’s emotional and physical abuse wasn’t enough, my new stepfather started showing the dark side of his personality not long after they were married. Somewhere along the road we started going to church. My mother was a member of the choir and my stepfather was a deacon of the church. One would think this would cause them to change their ways, but it didn’t. In fact, not only did their treatment and attitude towards me worsened, the abuse I was suffering at their hands also intensified. The sexual abuse also continued. In fact after a meeting between my stepfather, pastor, and myself, because the pastor in essence condoned the abuse, it got worse.
It did not take much for my mother to instigate a severe beating by my stepfather. Often times I was curled up in the fetal position on my bed or the corner of my room trying to protect myself. With every punch or lick of the belt, he would utter the words “You stupid S.O.B.” His words and my mother’s words, which were no kinder, pierced to my core. My mother even went as far as calling me “Satan himself.” It did not matter what I did or what I was doing, it was never, and I do mean never, good enough. They actually had others from the church waking me up in the middle of night and praying the demons out of me. Little did they know the demons were the ones standing behind them.
My brother on the other hand never had one word uttered to him or hand raised to him. My feelings of belonging in my own nuclear family diminished rapidly over time. Even the feelings of belonging to my church family had diminished to the point I wanted nothing to do with the church or God. So, at the age of eighteen I turned my back on God and the church. After all what had God done for me other than take my father from me and replace him with a monster for a stepfather. As far as my mom, she definitely made me feel as though I was a mistake and nothing but a burden to her. The feeling of not belonging to my nuclear family was one of the many reasons I turned to drugs and alcohol. I felt accepted, a part, and like I belonged in that community.
It is absolutely the parent’s job to raise their children up in way they feel loved, protected, worthy and made to feel that they absolutely, unequivocally belong with their family. Not just physically, also emotionally and spiritually. If not, some will seek a place of belonging wherever they feel comfortable and accepted. For some it might be a church or spiritual center. For others it might be climbing a corporate ladder. Still for others, like myself it might be we entered into the dark world of drugs and alcohol surrounding themselves with people they perceive to be happy and successful in life. Often this perception of success is a result of the materialistic world they are living in. The fact is, why this population of people appeared to have a happy and successful life, and some do, more of them had broken lives, marriages and families. Such was my life.
When I entered into recovery in 2006, I entered into a community I never knew existed. Oh, I had heard about Alcoholics Anonymous, but like so many others I believed it was secret cult. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was called contempt prior to investigation on my part.
My first experience was in treatment where I was met with love, kindness, compassion and no judgement, not only by the staff, but by the other clients that were there. When you are excepted without judgement, loved unconditionally, treated with respect and kindness, it’s easy to feel as though you belong. In no time at all, I finally felt as though I belonged to something good, healthy, and worth belonging to. But the question still remained; What will happen when I leave treatment? Where will I fit in? More was to be revealed.
I fought my therapist when she suggested I go to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Little did I know that it would be a mandatory step while in treatment. Protocol said I had to go to a minimum of three meetings a week. Being the good over achiever I am, I started attending meetings every day. Again, when I walked into the rooms AA I full well anticipated to be met with criticism and judgement. Instead I was met with outstretched hands and no judgement. People told me to keep coming back and that they would love me until I could learn to love myself. They listened to me with understanding and love. They assured me I would be okay and treated me as though I was family. As I let my guard down and learned to trust, again I felt like I belonged. As time passed my AA family grew exponentially bigger.
When I became of service and started putting others first, I was put into different leadership roles. As I was put into these different leadership roles, I made a lot of mistakes. The difference was that my new found family did not criticize me or beat me up for making mistakes as my nuclear family and others in my life had done. Instead they talked with me about the mistake, gave me suggestions to improve or correct the mistake. I never felt as though I was not good enough or less than. I always felt validated and important, no matter the circumstances. I always felt as though I belonged.
It has been nearly fourteen-years since I have entered recovery. AA quit working for me seven years ago. So, after a thirty-plus-year absence, I walked back into church with the same doubts I had when I walked into recovery. Again, I was met with no judgement and unconditional love. Once again, I have found another extension of family that I truly feel I belong to. Rather it’s AA, church or any other form of recovery or religion, there are places where if you are willing to let your guard down and take a risk, you will be surrounded by non-judgmental people and unconditional love that will make you feel welcome. Remember this, no matter where you are or who you are with, there will always be haters, you have the choice to allow them into your life or not. You deserve to belong. You are loved and you do belong.