by Tom Swift

In 1987, I met Steve. For some reason, I was more myself with him than I had been with anyone since my first BFF, Eleanor. He saw me. And even though he caught the tail end of my self-destructive days, he saw the real me and he liked me. He came from very similar family trauma, so he recognized the hurt, and for the first time in both of our lives, we talked about our experiences. We cracked open. We would sometimes talk for ten hours over the phone. We talked about every fight we witnessed, the loneliness we battled, and the unbearable pain of not belonging.

What started as a friendship turned into a huge crush, then a total love affair. Never underestimate the power of being seen — it’s exhausting to keep working against yourself when someone truly sees you and loves you. Some days his love felt like a gift. Other days I hated his guts for it. But as I started to catch glimpses of my true self, I was filled with grief and longing. Grief for the girl who never belonged anywhere and a longing to figure out who I was, what I liked, what I believed in, and where I wanted to go. Steve wasn’t threatened at all by my soul-searching. He loved it. He supported it.

So, no, Dr. Angelou, belonging nowhere couldn’t be a good thing. I still didn’t understand what she meant.

Seven years after we met, Steve and I got married. He went from medical school to residency, and I went from undergrad to grad school. In 1996, the day after I finished my master’s, I decided to make my clean living commitment official and quit drinking and smoking. Interestingly, my first temporary AA sponsor told me, “I don’t think you belong in AA. You should try the codependents’ meetings.” The codependency sponsor told me to go back to AA or try OA, since “you’re not exactly one of us.” Can you believe it? What kind of shit is it when you don’t even belong to AA?

Finally, a new sponsor told me I had the pu-pu platter of addiction: basically, I used whatever I could find to not feel vulnerable. She told me to find a meeting that spoke to me — it didn’t matter which one as long as I stopped drinking, smoking, caretaking, and overeating. Sure. Gotcha.

Those early years of marriage were tough. We were broke and mentally strung out from residency and grad school. I’ll never forget telling a school therapist that I just didn’t think it was going to work out. Her response? “It may not. He likes you way more than you like you.”

-Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness (2017)