A search for belonging: A personal exploration of connection
When I was little, I often felt empty and a little lost. Of course, I had no idea why and sort of accepted that this feeling was how we humans were supposed to feel. It was at the local barn, while taking care of the horses, where I felt different than I did everywhere else. There I felt happy and complete somehow. There I felt a connection to something bigger than myself. I felt like I belonged.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized that it was my first experience of true connection.
In my teens, I got bored with the barn. Hormones! I started drinking and chasing boys at a young age in my hometown of Stockholm, Sweden. In my subconscious, I believed that drinking and going to parties somehow would replace that feeling of connection that I had at the barn. Of course, when I wasn’t drinking or going out, I felt even more empty and lost than I had ever felt before. I had tremendous anxiety and fear about my future.
Exploring the world to find connection; photography, travel and art
Beginning in my late teens, I instinctively used other ways to connect that didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary. I would go to museums and look at great works of Art, ride the subway to discover different neighborhoods than the one I lived in. This is when I began my long city walks. As early as 15 years old, I would take the subway to Gamla Stan (old town) and walk all the way home. Old town is a small island in the center of Stockholm that was built in medieval times. Walking around and experiencing this historical place made me feel like I belonged.
This time was also when I began to take pictures. Photography became the way in which I connected with the world around me. If I could frame it, I could experience the beauty in that moment. I felt a powerful sense of connection.
In my travels, walking for hours discovering large cities was how I spent my time. Of course, at the time I had no clue that it was an attempt to connect. I only understand it now, decades later.
The Illusion of Connection: The Downward Spiral of Drugs and Parties
However, even though I had these seemingly meaningful moments of connection, I still spent endless amounts of time searching for something that felt like real connection through drugs and parties. Of course, it never left me feeling connected in the way that can fill our souls. Instead, as for so many of us, it left me feeling more empty, more anxious, and more lonely.
A New Beginning: Finding Community in AA Meetings
In early recovery, at AA meetings, I began to feel what it felt like to be connected to other human beings. The shared laughter, the shared plight of all of us in recovery, and the holding of hands while saying the serenity prayer at the end of a meeting were where the seeds of belonging were planted. The feeling of connection that addicts in recovery feel at meetings, is one of the main reasons why people keep coming back. We know that this is what we had been missing, and we know that this is what we need.
About that same time, I began practicing yoga. It was through yoga that a door was opened to the sensation that a feeling of connection could actually be found within myself.
Through yoga I found the practice of meditation, and through meditation my thoughts started slowing down so that my mind could become still. Meditation helped me clear the weeds of my mind so that I could better understand myself and my actions. Because of this, not only was I able to connect more deeply to myself, but also gradually it led me to be able to feel more deeply connected to the people around me, like my husband and my mother.
Reflecting Back: The Importance of Listening and Communication
For most of my life, whenever someone spoke, I never fully heard them. I never listened fully. In the same vein, for most of my life, it felt as if no one heard me.
There was most often something emotional going inside of me, my mind was always so very loud that I could not hear anyone else. My loud mind prevented me from being vulnerable enough to open up to other people. I was convinced that they were surely going to run away from me if they knew all the dark crazy stuff going on in my head. All this negative emotion caused profound anxiety, a die hard passion for escapism and an iron clad wall around myself.
In fact, most of the time while conversing much of our time is spent waiting for the other to finish so we can begin sharing our thoughts. Unfortunately, if I am thinking about what I am going to say next, and whomever I’m in a conversation with, is also thinking of what they will say next – needless to say this creates an immediate feeling of disconnection.
However throughout the years, I have discovered that it’s not actually when speaking that I feel the most connected to the people around me. The deep feeling of connection and belonging that was missing earlier in life, is now in fact initiated from a place beyond words and beyond thoughts.
The deepest connection: what my horse taught me about belonging and love
It is my horse Battle Boots that taught me how to feel fully connected. In his presence, not only do I feel unconditional love, but also an intense sensation of belonging and connection. I realize now, that the reason I feel this way around him is because he is not ever thinking about anything else and the fact that his mind is always present. It is through presence that we feel connected to other beings. I learned from being around Battle Boots what it feels like to be in that energy and what it feels like to be nurtured by another being. Horses and other animals, we know, live in a world beyond thoughts and beyond the mind. This is the natural state of being, where we are all connected to each other.
Everyday, I go to the forest where there is a reservoir, because there I have the feeling of being connected to nature. I bring my dog, because I am connected to him and he loves it just as much as I do. I take care of my horse Battle Boots, and spend time with him because I know that the sense of connection and belonging is tangible between us. There is a saying, that all horses need their one person, that one person that takes care of them. Battle Boots knows and has always known that I am his.