Belonging and Finding Place

By Ken Wells - 01/28/2021


Series One: Blog Ninety-Seven

“All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. When the last red man has vanished with this wilderness, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie…Will there be any of the spirit of my people left? One thing we know…. No man, be he Red man or White man, can be apart. We ARE all brothers after all.” (Excerpts from screen writer’s letter attributed to Chief Seathl)

Belonging and having place is crucial to survival. One of the great tragedies that is exploding around the world is the migration crisis. Home and place are powerful anchors for people to survive and thrive. When people are forced from their homes to wander around trying to find place, it is a great threat to existence. Think of it. Look around you. Think of being forced from your home with only a few things to carry in your backpack and being coerced to leave with no secure place to go. Suddenly your existence would be in grave danger. If the alarming forecasts of globing warming are true, then the migration crisis around the world will someday become a global crisis on an unprecedented scale. Some predict that it will be soon.

Abuse has a way of fueling the spirit of an inner nomad. For the abused, vigilance is absolutely necessary for survival.  Settling in and building a nest is sometimes impossible because of the fear of what might happen next. Abused people learn to live with the fantasy that someday there will be a place of safety and comfort. Yet, many will testify that this place is like a desert mirage that never exists. When I was young, I could never know for sure when it was safe. I hid in so many places. We had a big attic and I would build boxes around one corner and crawl behind them and sit to experience temporary safety. Once I crawled inside our neighbor’s dog house feeling safe as I sat with matted straw and the dog!  When little I used to take strolls in the railroad yard with an imaginary friend and have conversations, thinking about traveling somewhere. It was all about creating an illusory sense of safety and belonging. I learned that these experiences were absolutely necessary to surviving abuse. 

Still as an adult, I seek safety from discomfort and stress by taking drives in my car. Thankfully, my wife most often goes with me. Yet, I must admit that the inner nomad feels the urge to roam and remains on the lookout for unrest and emotional danger. Most people would not notice. What I have learned through listening to others tell their story is that I am not alone in this experience.

Finding place and a sense of belonging is crucial to long term recovery. Many addicts who have been abused early in life have encountered this sense of belonging in a 12-step group. Of all the reasons for attending a 12-step group, finding place and belonging is likely the greatest motivation for attendance. Not everyone stays sober and not everyone works a good program. But, everyone is welcome whether they beat the addiction or not. The 12-step community is heralded as a safe environment to be loved and accepted just as you are. Little things, like hanging out with the same folks, having a wall hook for your coffee cup, connecting at the same diner after the meeting for coffee and conversation, all create place and belonging. Place is all about relatedness. Addiction is about isolation. Even when an addict fails with sobriety, there’s human warmth with a 12-step group, knowing that wherever they are on the journey, they are welcome.

We are creatures who only thrive in community. It’s the fabric of community that creates purpose and place in a 12-step group. Many have healed from their addiction. There is a rap against Alcoholics Anonymous stating that recidivism is far too high and that other evidence-based treatments are better. This may prove to be true. Yet, when it is said and done, we remain in need of community. There is a temptation to brush off this need with the suggestion that you might find that anywhere. Potentially, this is true, but the place and belonging offered in a 12-step community provides the warmth and safety that is needed for existence and survival.  You might find these life-sustaining qualities in other places. For sure without them, addicts and other people shrivel and die in isolation.

Addicts will only heal the hole in their soul through connection with others in community. Honesty, mutuality, generosity and egalitarianism are all qualities of human connection. We do not fulfill wholeness alone. Each of us need the interaction and engagement of others. Everyone needs to belong. The crisis of trans people in our communities is one of place and belonging. It’s not about gender. It’s about acceptance and creating place to belong.

There must be a place to identify as home. Without home, it is impossible to find heart. The greatest challenge in recovery that I have ever known is to quiet my nomadic spirit in the here and now in order to establish home and find heart. Abuse complicates place and belonging. Recovery community provides the environment to create safe place without judgment and with connection to know that you belong. Many struggle with the concept of human brokenness. Yet, it is my experience that this struggle is the common thread that creates a place for us all to belong. Chief Seathl was correct when he stated “all things are connected like the blood that unites us all…no man, be he Red man or White man, can be apart. We ARE all brothers after all.”

May you and I find our place to belong and calm our nomadic spirits. Whether addict or migrant, may we find connection that creates a space for heart and healing.

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