Why don’t I belong?

Last weekend, I had a powerful experience of healing and empowerment through being triggered, and then supported, in one of my most painful spots.

I went to a meditation group I’ve started attending regularly. There’s something powerful there I want, even though the structure is very challenging for me. In order to create a sense of focus and power, we’re asked to sit in chairs, upright, legs uncrossed, and sing songs in another language for several hours. Of course we’re welcome to get up and leave the room whenever we need to, but that is what’s expected if you’re going to be in the room.

After much resistance, I found it more bearable if I put all my energy into the singing. Channeling God and spiritual energy like one would in a black church. For the first few hours I felt upbeat and grateful. Then I got triggered when a leader suggested I sing more quietly, and only in my lower register.

I quickly went into my victim. I heard that I am too much. Too loud. Too messy. Only welcome if I conform to narrow standards. My autism makes sitting still for a long period of time a physical impossibility. Unless I move regularly, the anxiety builds up in me to a literal breaking point. Also it actually hurts for me to sing in my lower register, similar to trying to sing too high. And I feared that if I couldn’t release the anxiety in my body through intense singing then I just wouldn’t be capable of being there. And so for the bagillionth time in my life I felt cast out, excluded, and judged for my inability (perceived as unwillingness) to conform.

My inner child is sensitive to this dynamic, because I was actively excluded as a child. I faced visceral hatred from kids and adults everywhere I went, and I had no idea why. At the time I had no way to understand or change my behavior, leaving me hopeless that I’d ever have friends or belong anywhere. And now, I enter most groups expecting to be excluded at some point, and this experience gave ammunition to this constant (even if unreal) fear.

School and church were hell for me. Confining the voice and movement of an autistic person (or really any child) is equivalent to torture, and the more I was punished for not obeying, the more I believed I was broken. Theatre, dance and music were my only solace. On stage, I belonged. So perhaps this is why my perceived limitation on singing was especially triggering.

I just cried. I cried and cried at this feeling of non-belonging. Like I’ll always be too much for anyone to handle. Like it’s only a matter of time before I’m kicked out, or expected to do something I’m incapable of. I felt angry at neurotypical (non-autistic) people and institutions that think these standards are so easy to follow without sensitivity to how much harder it is for some of us. “Everyone has a hard time staying in their seat” they tell me. Which I’m sure is true, and yet it minimizes the fact that it is excruciatingly harder for people with my brain type.

I went off by myself and laid there curled up in a ball in tears, and asked God why I must go through this. And I felt a deep knowing that I am meant to help others find belonging. That there are many others like me, feeling cast out, like they’re the only ones who don’t fit in. And yet everyone feels this way sometimes. The rules and systems of school and church were designed to create alienation. It impacts some of us worse than others, but it affects us all.

I am determined to change this. I will create accepting communities where people of all neurological styles are welcome. Where there’s freedom of movement and expression for children and energetic people and anyone else who wants it. Where it’s never assumed that something is easy or normal and everyone’s contribution is valued.

This was the commitment I left with. I am grateful to the group for giving me a safe space to process some of this pain and reconnect with my purpose. I intend to go back and revisit this tender spot in me and potentially find healing as I discover that I do actually belong there. Perhaps I’ll even help educate them about the autistic experience.

I will continue to hold and love my inner child, and protect him from people who truly don’t value his energy and spirit, and surround him with people who do. And I promise to do this for other children, Aspies, and neurodivergents everywhere.

We do belong. We belong, together.