A [be]-longing

Growing up, I was a quiet kid. Not the awkwardly quiet kid that gets picked on or shoved in lockers (though, that did happen to me that one time.) No, not geeky quiet, because those kids actually belonged, to each other, at least. I was the kind of quiet kid that was basically invisible.

I was good in school. Never really struggled with the work, so I could hang with the honor roll kids in high school. I became one of them for a few years. I was just smart enough to not get noticed. Not so smart that they were calling my name out when awards were handed out, but smart enough not to be on the teacher’s radar.

Stealing a line from The Three Bears, I guess you could say I was “just right.”

Looking back, I realize I have always been a bit of a chameleon. Put me in a room of people, and watch me conform. (Step up, ladies and gentleman, watch her conform.)

This past six months has busted open something inside me that has me pushing back on my desire to fit in, blend in, go with the flow, be part of the collective. I think I’ve finally, 55 years into my life, figured out who I am. What I believe in. What I don’t believe in. What I stand for and what I won’t tolerate. And I’m feeling rather fierce about it.

I’ve always avoided conflict. My feelings easily hurt. When in a place where the conversation is primarily about a topic that I disagree with, I’ve always kept quiet. Don’t rock the boat. Just smile and don’t contribute. It’s fine.

No more.

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to realize, I don’t have to fit in. I don’t have to be one of them. Yes, they are entitled to their beliefs about mask-wearing, gun control, (God-help-me) political leadership — but I don’t have to nod and smile. I can leave. Leave the conversation. Leave the gathering. And even leave the friendship.

While we all tend to have this desire to be accepted and brought into the fold, I think what I’ve learned these past few months is that it’s important for me to have friends that align with my spirit. I’ve spent too much time compromising my own values by not taking a stand and making my personal beliefs known to those who call me a friend. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we do have to want the same things for humanity.

Quitting alcohol has changed my life (and me) in countless ways. And one of the biggest changes I’m noticing is this: I feel free to be me. Just as I am. Drinker. Non-drinker. Whatever. And here’s the kicker: I was the one stopping myself from being the best version of ME. All those years I spent trying to belong somewhere, and in the end, I was already there.

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