you belong here.
a Patreon project by Charlotte Eriksson
First of all, thank you for sharing your story with me. And thank you for sharing it straight up, boldly and honestly. I read it on the night you sent it to me and started to write a reply, but sometimes you need to let a story live with you for a while to fully be able to understand it, even more to be able to say something about it. I’ve lived with your story for a while now, turning it upside down, trying to find a universal theme in it.
This essay is what your letter gave me and taught me, and I hope by sharing it here it might bring a wave of belonging to someone else out there too.
Thank you for being a part of this, Dylan.
We all have things that we’re somewhat ashamed of for one reason or another. We all carry shame. I do too, for a lot of reasons, and that is exactly why I wanted to do this project: to open up our human stories to let us all know that WE ALL CARRY THESE THINGS. We all feel those feelings. In secret or in public—they’re there. The actual practical events that lead us to feel those feeling may differ, but the feelings our experiences leaves us with are all the same.
I will not repeat your story because it’s your story and you own it, but instead I will write about the feelings your story might have caused you. Or at least what I think I would have felt.
So I’d like to write about shame and the feeling of being powerless. I’d like to start with offering the thought: what would the alternative to your story and experience be? If you were not where you are right now, feeling as you feel, after going through what you’ve gone through, where would you be? What would the alternative be? Because if you erase one experience, bad or good, you will erase a part of you and you will be someone different. One experience less… that leaves you less… not more or happier. Just one lesson or experience less.
People thought you were someone different than who you actually are. You got blamed for things you did not do. They thought you had done things you hadn’t. You were no longer in control of what was being said about you, how they saw you and who you were to them. You lived with a feeling of being out of control. Powerless.
Like you were no longer the driver of your own car; you no longer controlled how your appearance and name was being presented and taken in by the world. So I wonder, have you learned to carry that feeling? Because if we delete the story of how you came to the feeling of being out of control … that’s the feeling I felt when my older sister got cancer at the age of 21, I was 14. I felt powerless. I couldn’t change a thing. Events unfolded in front of my eyes and I tried to act along but … how do you do it?
That’s the feeling we all feel when a middle-aged white man decides to take up a gun and shoot people who are dancing freely at a country festival in Las Vegas. No one knows why he did it:
That’s the feeling we all feel when the universe throws us a hurricane that destroys cities, towns, someone’s living room, someone’s workplace and childhood house. Last year in Greece I met a wonderful girl called Karen who grew to be like my sister. A brown-haired hippie from California who packed a bag at the age of 16 and moved to the Caribbean with a few friends. She listened to Bob Dylan and only ate foods from the ground. Her paradise island, her home and community, was ruined by the hurricane two months ago and they still have no internet or electricity. Grocery stores, busses and service centers are all closed down. She used to teach yoga at a local studio and she wrote to me the day she got her first class offer. She was happy and excited and couldn’t wait to share the teaching of yoga with her community.
This is all gone now. Weather took her home and safety and there was nothing she could do about it. She was powerless. I am powerless.
That’s the feeling you feel when the person you love the most—who makes you feel like you’re home and like everything will be fine—takes a deep breath, a firm look into your eyes and says “I just don’t love you anymore”.
Our lives and our destinies are suddenly not ours anymore. We’re powerless to what’s unfolding around us and it’s happening in different ways all the time.
I’ve lived with a very aggressive anxiety the last two years. My throat tightens up sometimes when I’m in crowded places, around too many people with too much pressure to smile and be approachable. I’m scared I will let everyone down and instead I choke and can’t make a sound.
When I found out about the terrorist attack in Stockholm earlier this year I had a panic attack right there on the spot, at the coffee shop, because how do you live in a world where things are out of your control? Powerless. Panic.
So I’ve lived with your letter, Dylan, thinking about all this. Thinking, how can we all make this powerlessness become a little more bearable. How do we help each other?
I’d like to offer three things that have helped me lately; maybe they can help you too:
1. Community & connectedness.
When the world around us, the home where we live and the future we saw for ourselves turn into a hostile place where we feel scared and like we no longer can walk softly with a smile, we need to turn to each other to find connectedness. You are not one part on your own: you are one small piece of a larger picture. You have a place in a bigger plan. You are made of water and vibrations, and you can find a deep connection to the ground and the earth where you walk: you are the earth you walk on, literally.
When there is evil and blame being thrown around, we need to find comfort in connectedness: we’re all going through this life together, trying to be happy and at ease. We all want to go on well.
With connection I mean: the feeling that you are a part of something. Part of the universe, part of a grander plan, part of a community, part of a dream.
Also, I mean: a peaceful conversation eye to eye where both people hear each other out. Through a letter exchange with a childhood friend on the other side of your country, knowing that you both will read and write with honesty and passion, caring for each other’s stories. With an author you’ll never meet but who write words about things you feel too: you can feel belonging and like you’re not alone. Like your struggles are universal, as they are, and someone got through them before.
We, here, reading this very text, maybe all of us thinking, “I’ve felt that. I understand”. We can turn to each other. A simple “me too”, helps. A small, “I thought of you today. I hope you’re well”, helps a lot. A compliment, a hug, a genuine ‘thank you’, helps.
Be nice to people. Connect with people and the world around you. Don’t close off.
2. Trust your story, amor fati.
When I lived a year on the uncertain road in England with no money in my pocket and no more belongings than a cheap guitar and some notebooks, I stumbled upon the writings of Joseph Campbell and Nietzsche. They changed my life with a very simple concept: amor fati — lover of fate. What they meant was, you must love your fate and everything that happens to you. Good and bad, you say yes and find what there is to learn within it: strength, grace, learning patience and building a life story. How do you remember to love your fate when your life is falling apart, people are killed, your reputation is stamped upon and you just want to lie down and cry?
You close your eyes and say: “This experience will throw me on a course I never thought I would walk on in my life. I will embrace it with a childish curiosity, because there is nothing that life will ever throw me that I’m not supposed to know how to deal with and get through. The universe is on my side. This is my fate. I can avert my eyes and escape my pre-written story, but that won’t lead me where I’m supposed to be. Everything will feel wrong and out of synch if I start ignoring my nature. I must let nature have its way. I will flow with the seasons.”
3. Discipline will get you through everything.
I stumbled upon this line in some philosophy book this summer. I can’t remember where or when, but there has been several times after that when something happened and I was aimlessly grasping for salvation or a comforting thought, and this line appeared in my head again and again: “Discipline will get you through everything.”
When things get rough, when we lose people or when we’re pushed into a corner of our own lives, when we are out of control and powerless, we have a way of dropping everything we have spent our lives building up. We stop taking care of ourselves; we get destructive; we lose motivation. We stop nourishing our bodies with good food; we stay up all night feeling angry or sad or nothing at all. We drink too much alcohol, lose touch with friends, stay inside for ten days straight and grow too tired to pick up the phone. We turn to drugs or other destructive behaviour, stop going to work or school or become terrible people to everyone around us. And then when your storm is over and you’ve managed to move on from whatever happened, you have also lost everything around you because you let it slip while you were too tired or sad or angry to care. Now you have nothing and need to build everything up again.
Instead, when something bad happens that you know will take some time to get through, you put all your energy into being disciplined: you eat healthy food that will make your mind clear and awake; you drink plenty of water; sleep 8 hours every night; stay away from alcohol or destructive chemicals. Instead you embrace new habits. You start every morning with a peaceful walk in nature; you learn meditation; you buy fresh flowers for you kitchen or redecorate your living room. You build your own temple around you with things and color that make you feel good.
You set up goals for mental and physical health and you stick to them. You learn a new skill: take piano lessons, join a football team, learn programming, a new language… You make it a point to hug people, look them in their eyes and give them full attention in a conversation. You help people, reach out a hand, volunteer. You give the bus driver a warming smile; you give out compliments like you’re made of them; you read educational books about self-development, spirituality, literature, business and learn from people who are where you’d like to be.
Now when your storm is over, you will instead find yourself with an energetic and organized life, fully in order. It’s clean, pure, and ready to be enjoyed again. Your body is strong and healthy and you can now focus on using this experience of yours to learn something. You can use it to build your strength, to create something, to be someone bigger and vaster because you went through hell and back and you’re a better person for it. You didn’t let a storm ruin you: you owned it and got through it like a peaceful warrior.
Don’t give your life to the devil when something bad happens, instead take a deep breath and make a resolve to stay discipline for the next four weeks. Keep going and be the best you can be. One day you will smile again. You don’t have to believe that now, I’m here to be that belief for you. I know you will, just keep going and stay disciplined. Do what ought to be done. One day you will smile again, feel the sun on your skin and once again you will know what it’s like to be grateful to be alive.
We get through the feeling of powerlessness by taking more control over the things we can control. You can always control your own emotions. You can always control your view on things. When things don’t go as you planned them to, will you fall down on your knees cursing the gods and your life and say “WHY ME?!” or will you take a deep breath, like the peaceful warrior you are, and embrace life and say “how interesting, I wonder what life looks like on this side. I can’t wait to see how this goes.”
Amor Fati: love your fate. Good and bad. Life is meant to be lived. No story is a good story without some detours and storms along the way.
This is the first essay from my Patreon project “you belong here”: a series of essays inspired by your real life stories. You can submit your own story, feeling, thoughts or tell me what keeps you up at night: firstname.lastname@example.org
Write “i belong here” in the subject line so I know where you’re coming from.