Last month, I made the painful decision to leave the Unitarian church that has been my spiritual home for seven years. It was over a philosophical difference that really snuck up on me, a lightning-strike realization that we (the church and I) weren’t on the same page. I try to see it the way it’s best to see dating deal-breakers, that saying no to what doesn’t work makes room for what does, but leaving was a huge loss. I’m struggling with a mix of shame, disappointment, and sadness that is very familiar to be because I seem to hit a wall of it at least every few years.
In her wonderful new book Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, and The Revolution Brené Brown says that in order to get out from under disappointment, you have to be brave and really examine the expectations for the situation. So I’ve really given a lot of thought to the conscious and unconscious expectations that keep leading me to be damagingly disappointed by groups, scenes, and communities.
1. A community can’t be a correction for a hurtful family. Just the way I’ve sometimes gone to doms for approval, I go to communities hoping that they can love me into realness, approve me into existence. There’s an underlying hope of “Now that I’ve found/become/befriended ___________, I will finally be okay, will finally be welcomed into the world and find unconditional love. It’s sad to realize that I didn’t have that with my original family as a child, but I can’t expect healing and wholeness to come from anywhere but within.
2. A community can’t replace my own family, flawed though they may be. I live too far away from my family of origin and I don’t have a family to share a household with right now, and that leaves a hole that nothing can fill.
3. A community can’t fix rape culture, because rape culture is in all of us. It is always easier for groups to be angry at the person pointing out the problem than to face the problem itself. I’ll always have to speak up against it, but I’d love to learn to feel safe doing so.
4. A community can’t erase heartbreak. I’ve realized that, though there were other factors, I left the BDSM scene because I couldn’t process the rejections I’d experienced there. I tried to patch each loss with another person, (and the whole thing was an attempt to patch divorce grief) but the grief kept walking me down the same path. After three years, I’m to the point where I can see the loss for what it is, and I desperately want to stop sponging that pain onto other people. It’s hard not to try and numb the loss of Sweetie and the life we created together.
5. A community can’t stay the same forever, and it can’t change as I change. Just the way that, in dating, I have to walk away from a bad match instead of trying to torture the person into changing for you, I have to let go of situations that aren’t a good fit. It doesn’t mean that I have to fear or fight forever, just that I need to constantly let things come and go.
6. A community can’t replace love. I am sick of being single, but I still have some inner work (and a whole lot of book-editing!) to do before I’m ready to start a life with another person, but I have to look loneliness in the eye, to honor it. I have to realize how much I want my own family and stop trying to shoehorn other things into that space.
7. A community can’t come to my rescue. If I ignore my instincts and walk into something that doesn’t work, no principal, no dom, no friend can be expected to “save” me. I am a grown woman, and I want to train myself to hear and respect my inner voice so that I can stop reliving abandonment or having childlike expectations of “loyalty.” We’re all adults being ourselves, and it’s up to me to find out what actually works, and do it.
8. A community can’t define me, erase me, or absorb me. It can’t give me an identity, and any identity it DOES give will feel constraining. The only thing I know I am is me, and I have to find out a way to be solid within myself, so I can stop expecting others to create me.
This has been a harsh, lonely time. The double loss of J. and the church has made for a very sad couple of months. It’s hard to have faith in anything right now, so I’m just trying little things as they come along, letting joy and connection in whatever little windows they can find. I’m also still trying to find help with the walls and wounds I keep running into. I don’t like being back in this Groundhog’s Day of sadness, this most vexing part of the labyrinth, but I’m doing my best to learn as much as I can while I’m here.