In the past I have betrayed myself to “keep the peace.” This choice isn’t benign. When I betray myself, a brick lodges inside my body, either as physical pain, anxiety, resentment, or general irritability. I grab the forecasted cloud of conflict and swallow it whole.
What does it mean to find community? To belong? My body answers with a soft sigh of understanding that I must belong to myself before I can belong to another—to an individual, a family, a group, a society, a race, a nation, humankind. What is belonging? Brene Brown offers the definition, “being part of something bigger but also having the courage to stand alone, and to belong to yourself above all else.” I choose to belong to myself first. This is not always easy, natural, or safe.
My twice-exceptional son has modeled this type of belonging for me his whole life. He is largely unbendable, but in the most beautifully quiet, calm way. I see this trait amongst the gifted community, and I admire it. The quiet bravery to honor thine own self. To belong to oneself first. In the middle of our current cultural crisis in America, this is vital. When we, as individuals, understand in our bones that we must be an active part of the dismantling and restructuring of our current power systems, I see and hear one gifted voice after another call out for change. I know underneath these calls to action and accountability there is a foundation of belonging to oneself first. I admire the courage to speak out and ask questions in the effort to learn, to grow, to transform.
Brown continues with the explanation of what is involved when we belong to ourselves first. In her book Braving the Wilderness, she paints the picture of sometimes needing to walk away from group ideology, to walk alone into the wilderness with the sole companionship of our true self. For me, this feels like trading one terrible feeling for a slightly less terrible feeling. I didn’t emerge from the womb with this trait, like my son did, and it still feels dangerous and painful to walk away from groups if the statements don’t align with my values. Because I am an optimist, I am holding out hope that the volume of this fear quiets.
Because I am a white American, I am currently studying race, white privilege, and white fragility and learning how to become an anti-racist. So, belonging to myself first means having difficult conversations about these subjects with family, friends, clients, and community members every day. When I call out a comment as racist or challenge a viewpoint, my heart races and my feet sweat. These physiological reactions are a sign of a sympathetic autonomic shift in my nervous system. I am afraid. Afraid of the conflict, afraid they will leave me, afraid they will love me no more. I know that is a little steep—but this fear is primal and very real. In the past I have betrayed myself to “keep the peace.” This choice isn’t benign. When I betray myself, a brick lodges inside my body, either as physical pain, anxiety, resentment, or general irritability. I grab the forecasted cloud of conflict and swallow it whole.
I am new to studying race and racism; writing this feels enormously uncomfortable, because I know I will get some things wrong. When I thought and prayed about it, Glennon Doyle’s words, “begin before you are ready” floated into my heart, and I knew I needed to begin to publicly speak about this before I was ready. If I belong to myself first, I must speak up. I breathe deeply and try to steady my body and remind myself that I am safe. I let the conflict live in the space between us, to have a space to exist outside of my body. The gift of this essential belonging means that I can clearly hear other individuals who are doing the same work, and I can join them, and I can then belong to a larger group. This level of belonging feels delicious.
I identify with others in the gifted community through our shared activism and commitment for change in America. White neurodivergent people have likely felt the weight of learning to cope and eventually thrive in a world that wasn’t designed for them. This is a small window into the world of what it means to be Black in America, except the physical safety of BIPOC is not promised or upheld in our current systems of power. And then, there is the largely overlooked issue of gifted and neurodivergent BIPOC in America. What space have us white folks created for them to thrive in? Why are we responsible for creating this space? Because white folks are in power in America, and on every level, it’s a white majority. Only people in power can grant power to those who do not have it.
Last fall we were lucky enough to hear Tuskegee Airman Frank Macon speak about his life and his life with dyslexia. He is ninety-five years old, yet I could feel the pain and struggle in his story when he talked about going to school as a dyslexic child. His triumph, grit, and resilience are unparalleled. How many Franks are out there, trying not to get killed by the police, when the greatness within them is locked away in the struggle to survive another day?
I will continue to hold sacred space for myself each morning, so that I may greet my true self and align all parts of me to embody and hold this vision. I will take a deep breath, square my shoulders, and face the world. I will belong to myself first and then join hands with the other individuals who are doing the same work. Together, we will continue to create larger and larger concentric circles, in hopes and prayers that we may one day, all, every single one of us on planet Earth belong to each other. As the true neighbors that we are.
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