My initial response to the question Where do I belong? was flippant. I’ve never really felt like I didn’t belong. My 20-year-old self wouldn’t have given this question another thought. But in the ten years since age twenty, I’ve started to recognize that when I give something a simple response, it’s usually because a more uncomfortable truth is hiding somewhere.
So, I allowed the question Where do I belong? to hang out in the back of my mind for weeks.
As I considered this question, I found that it led to other questions, like Why do I feel like I’ve belonged? and If I do belong, to where and to whom and to what do I belong? and How exactly do I belong or not belong?”
While these questions have been making friends and moving in with my subconscious, I’ve been dealing with what I thought was a completely independent issue. My counselor calls it “co-dependency.” My initial understanding of this word was someone who relies on another to an unhealthy degree—children who failed to launch or wives who stayed with abusive husbands. As I’m learning, it also means people-pleasing—people who aim to please and placate everyone, people who MUST belong, especially at the expense of what they want or believe.
It is currently 4:00am and I am lying in bed with a 6-week old, in that weird, half-awake head space that is life with a newborn, and these two concepts—belonging and co-dependency—are starting to merge and make sense. The reason I’ve always felt like I’ve belonged is because I’ve bent and shaped and molded myself into belonging.
I’ve attempted to be one thing to one person and something completely different to another, all for the sake of belonging. I’ve sacrificed myself in the process.
Over the past several years, I’ve felt like God was telling me to write again. I was an English major and I’ve always loved to write. Writing was how I process life, how I communicate, but in recent years, I’ve stopped. Most of my excuses for not writing have centered around busyness and shifting priorities, but the real reason is fear of offending someone, fear of being vulnerable, fear of not belonging.
One of my 18-month-old son’s favorite books (Did you catch that? I have a 6-week old and an 18-month-old…that’s right people, I’m crazy!) is the Mixed Up Chameleon by Eric Carlin. In the book, the chameleon wants to be like every other animal in the zoo. He wishes to be big and strong and white like the polar bear and that’s what he becomes. He wants to be handsome like a flamingo and he grows pink wings, and so on a so forth, until he looks ridiculous and is unable to do the one thing he loves to do: catch flies. At the end of the book, he wishes to be himself and he morphs back into a chameleon, catches a fly, and is as happy as can be.
This story has never been my favorite, probably because I relate to it too much. I’ve morphed myself into everything imaginable to the point where I’ve become unrecognizable. I have lost myself. Some changes were innocuous and probably even beneficial: a boy I liked in college liked jazz music, so I learned a ton about jazz music, and a girl I wanted to be my friend had a huge vocabulary, so I read dictionaries to make sure I could keep up. Other changes have made me wonder where the real me is underneath all of the layers of façade, under all of the white polar bear fur and pink flamingo wings.
I find myself in what I’m calling “The Raw State.” According to dictionary.com, “in the raw” means “in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state…not yet changed by a process, by manufacture or by preparation.” I’m learning who I am before the pretense, before the 500 walls that form the box I put myself in, or the lenses and filters that bend me into what others want.
I would love to tell you that I have this figured out, that I followed a 7-step program to discovering my true, authentic self, that I live in the raw state all the time. But unlike the chameleon in the book, this is an ongoing process, a process that is teaching me how not to belong, and to give myself the space to simply be.
Lyndsey Ribble lives in San Antonio with her husband and two sons under 2. She loves reading, writing, traveling, food (cooking it, eating it, taking pictures of it…), wine, hole in the wall anything, and forming community in unexpected places. She has a heart for bringing restoration to broken people and loving the unloved. She writes about all of these things and attempting to find balance here.