At 13 I learned my dad wasn’t my biological father. I adore my dad and finding out he wasn’t actually my father crushed me. In that same conversation my mother also told me I couldn’t tell anyone. She was afraid if her father found out she had cheated, he would disown her. I was afraid of my mother. She was often angry, depressed and withdrawn, so my dad provided me with a sense of security and safety. As a 13 year old I translated what my mother told me to an irrational fear of, “if anyone found out about my biological father they would disown me”. So I didn’t tell anyone. I suffered in silence as I lost my identity and began to feel very insecure about my relationship with the only dad I had ever known. I grew up feeling anxious. I was certain my job was to please people, making sure they didn’t regret my existence and trying to ensure they loved me. This one simple conversation forever changed my world.
Finding out about my biological father caused me to grow even closer to the only dad I knew and loved. I considered him my real dad and I thought he considered me his daughter. One day, my mother in her pain and jealousy told me my dad was using me and the only reason he was so close to me was to get even with her. That he didn’t really love me. This destroyed what little sense of belonging I had. I felt confused and betrayed. I couldn’t talk to anyone about this because I had been sworn to secrecy. So I carried the weight of this wound around with me feeling lost and alone for most of my youth.
Today I know better and this is no longer a secret. While I loved my mother we were never very close and she has since passed away. I am closer than ever to my dad and my step mom. I love and admire them so much. Having been through my own trials and feelings of betrayal in my marriage, I have such an immense amount of admiration, respect, and love for my dad, the hardships he has overcome and the family he has built with my step mom. We don’t use the word step, half or whole except to explain our family to a stranger. We are a genuine family and I love all my brothers and sisters tremendously. Yet, even as close as we are, I continue to struggle, on occasion, with losing my sense of belonging. My youngest brother tells me that is Satan talking and I know he is right. But those childhood wounds and traumas can run deep and have many layers. My divorce didn’t help this. Yet I have my divorce to thank for pushing me to build a closer relationship with God and ultimately develop my true sense of divine belonging.
All of us have childhood wounds or traumas and can sometimes get triggered by something as simple as a smell, a conversation, a taste, a noise, a song, etc. When triggered it is easy to lose your sense of belonging causing you to feel unsafe or unsettled in the world. My research on trauma led me to the lovely idea, from Deidre Fay, of building a belonging box to use for reconnecting and coming back to the present. I actually made a belonging book filled with pictures, and art journaling all about me. When I feel unsettled I look through my book. I even have pictures of it on my phone so I can refer to it when I am away from home.
A belonging box can be as small as an Altoid tin. It can be a collage to put in a planner, a slide show, an art journal/book, or a digital collage to keep on a phone. It is a collection of words, pictures, memorabilia or trinkets from the past, present, and even the future. It contains reminders of meaningful times, things that represent love, good feelings, and connection. The research term for what this creates is called a simulated experience. Our bodies can’t distinguish if something is imagined or real. Now there is plenty of research showing us the felt experience from memory affects our body the same as if we are actually experiencing it. Just like when we think of lemons we begin to salivate. The more we focus on something (good or negative) our brain starts shifting, instructing itself to move in that direction. When feeling unsettled I have all kinds of tools I teach my clients, and use myself, to adjust and reconnect to reality and the present. I love using my belonging book, to quickly shift my thinking and feelings into a more positive direction as I continue on my healing journey and support my clients in theirs. Take a little time and give yourself some self care by building your own belonging box in whatever format suits you best.