By Traci Wells-Ali
Belonging is our natural human instinct.
I have watched both my children be fully dependent on me to give them what they need, when they need it- their natural instinct as a species to rely on another human being to help them to learn, grow and ultimately survive.
Through the early years the environment and nurturing that a child is exposed to will shape them into the adults that they will become.
It takes another human being to create security and confidence whilst a child is discovering the world around them.
As we grow we are told to be independent and discover ourselves. To not rely on others and to be happy in our own company. But we are social creatures. Designed by Our Creator to thrive in packs. To teach, as our prophet Muhammad, May peace be upon him, taught those around him when the Quran was revealed to him.
If he had not shared this revelation with his fellow brothers and sisters, the message of Islam would never have reached so many people.
Belonging is a fundamental part of being human.
Belonging to a family, a tribe, a community.
Throughout my life, I have always lacked a sense of belonging. From an early age I have felt disconnected in some way from those around me. Whether it was family members who “just don’t get me” or teachers that didn’t bother to find the time to motivate and inspire me; I was consumed by my teenage mind, overwhelmed with emotions and hormones, unable to make sense of the intense feelings I had about myself and the world around me.
As I reached my early 20’s I had spent most of my teens in a constant state of darkness, using socialising and alcohol as a way to escape the realities of life. Leaving me deflated and dissatisfied, the search for happiness never seeming to satisfy my need to belong.
Moments of inexplicable despair that the world and everyone I loved was against me, resulted in low self esteem, attempting, and alhamdulillah failing, at self harm and an eating disorder.
Through the dark, drunken haze I fell into a long, torturous relationship. I was codependent and unable to see my self worth to give me the courage to break free. Fifteen years of disappointment and emotional pain, of trying to feel like I belonged, of getting married and having children, like “normal” people. Only resulted in a divorce and the label of “single mother”.
I struggled on.
I was relieved to be free of the toxic, abusive relationship whilst hanging my head with remorse as to how I could let myself get into this mess in the first place. I felt deflated. Like a party balloon once colourful and full of life, shrivelled and flat with no purpose, and worse, no sense of belonging. I focused my mind on the reasons I had chosen this path, chosen to escape the torment on my heart, unaware that this path was chosen for me by my Creator.
If I just keep the wheels steady on this bumpy, uncomfortable road I will reach the end.
Then suddenly, out of nowhere, a corner appeared in the road. A sharp unexpected corner that I was scared to take in case it sent me completely off course, with no way to find my way back. I waited, assessing the direction I needed to take. Maybe I should break hard, stay where I am, stay where it’s familiar, where it’s safe.
Or maybe I should follow the path. Something told me I should press onwards. Keep going.
It’ll be worth the struggle.
So I took it, slow and steady. Cautious and calm. I found the corner was surprisingly smooth; it felt right, like I could manage it with ease. Sometimes it felt too sharp, too much for me to take, but I persevered.
Once around the corner the darkness gave way to a beautiful light. A morning sunrise that caused my eyes to squint from the glow. The soft warmth making me feel safe.
It embraced me.
I embraced it.
It felt natural.
It felt like fate.
I felt like I belonged.
Nearly 2 years since I converted to Islam, I still have moments of complete disbelief that Allah (swt) chose me and found a way to bring me to Islam. The most unexpected of plot twists in my supposedly “normal” life. It has hit me like a cool ocean, awakening me, enabling me to see everything in this world in a clear light. The questions giving way to stillness and calm that yes I have a purpose, and yes I belong. Something is guiding me and there is a reason for all of the heartbreak.
And then the niggles irritate the back of my mind.
On days of self doubt and darkness, through tiredness, through the haze of parenting and frustration, through the loneliness. Shaytan whispers, “You don’t belong. How can someone like you belong to Islam. Who are you kidding!”And the struggle returns.
Loneliness is scary. I feel it in all it’s glory during dull winter days, after a long, challenging day with a child and a baby; confined to the small walls of our home, when I haven’t seen a single human being, other than my darling babies, who I am so blessed to have.
Fighting with the emotions of gratitude and patience and the frustration with yourself that you can’t always cope, you can’t always be the person you really want to be. When you believe you are the only person in your world that feels the way you feel and finds the daily slog such a struggle.
Inevitably, feelings of belonging come back to our connections with other human beings.
Connecting is the key to keeping the humanity in all of us alive and well. So I make a conscious effort to connect. With the mums at the school gate, with the lady in the supermarket, with the old lady living alone next door. It helps to know that we aren’t alone, and in helping a fellow human being relieve their own struggle of loneliness we may just realise that we all belong…to Our Lord, Our creator, The Wise, The Loving, The Friend, Patron and Helper and to Paradise, we are almost home.
“It is better to sit alone, than in company with the bad; and it is better still to sit with the good than alone…” Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him ( hadeeth collected by Bukhari)
About the author: Traci Wells-Ali