A year and a half ago I remember sitting in my therapists office asking Where are my people? It was in reference to a specific aspect of my story we were talking about which I will not disclose here because of the stigma attached. I share this piece though because I know I am not the only person that feels this way due to stigma.
This past weekend was a big weekend for me in many ways. First was the women’s march, which I already shared some about. That was certainly a moment for me that answered that question. I rounded that corner downtown and felt my soul sing, Oh here they are.
Attending that rally and being physically and energetically part of this piece of history was so important for me, not just as a woman and a feminist, but as a survivor, as someone in recovery from a lifetime of trauma that is uniquely female, and as a possible future mother to a daughter.
We went back and forth that day about whether or not to go. Our introversion almost talked us out of it because the crowd was going to be so large and that is a nightmare for us. I knew though, deep down in my gut, that I would not be right with myself if I did not do this. I did not just want to be there, I needed it for my own personal healing. As my husband and I talked about it after we left one of things we discussed was how this is something we will be able to tell our children one day we did. We were part of history and before they were even born we were thinking of them.
The next day I woke up early. I was set with nerves because I had plans to go to a spiritual service with a friend from school. I felt good about the spiritual community I found for us to visit but the idea of entering any kind of religious/spiritual building and attending a service made me feel torn between wanting to cry and vomit.
I am taking a spirituality in social work class this semester. I decided on this class because of my own personal need for growth in this area and because I want to be a well rounded therapist who is able to discuss all aspects of a person’s identity with them when working together.
If you have been following my writing for a while then you know I have only started walking down my path towards spiritual awakening in the last year or two. Before that I identified as atheist, and before that I was suffering under the burden of Catholicism being forced down my throat by my well-meaning family.
My friend from class, who come to find out is also a recovering Catholic, felt as terrified about this task as I did. One of this assignments from this class is to attend a religious/spiritual service that is outside of your own religion and then report about what you learned.
Well in a way this assignment is easy for the two f us, because when you do not believe in anything specific all the doors are open as far as where you can go to learn about something new. The part that made it difficult and a bit terrifying is that both of us have the same aversion to religion/church as a result of the heavy handed judgement we experienced at the hands of the Catholic church growing up.
So in order for us to feel safe to do this assignment I did research, a lot of research. After a week of lots of digging I found something that not only did not feel icky but actually sounded kind of good, Unitarian Universalists. The website spoke of their commitment to inclusion, and social action, and love, and community.. They have seven principles that are directly in line with the social work code of ethics that we practice by. When I saw that I thought, this is a church for social workers!
So plans were made and Sunday morning at 9:30 am my girlfriend met me at my house and we set off together in my SUV to go see about a church. We got there early and sat in the car for 15 minutes working up the courage to go in, we were scared, both of us. We finally decided it was time to make the leap and we both got out of the car. We started walking towards the building and an older woman with short silver hair walked by us wearing a I Stand With Planned Parenthood shirt. She welcomed us as she walked by. My friend and I looked at each other after she passed and agreed that that was a good sign. I have that exact same shirt but I would have never dreamed of wearing it to a church service! That was pretty cool.
We walked in the front doors which were wide open letting the fresh air in and we were greeted by two more women. They gave us name tags and we explained that we were social work grad students from the University that were here to visit and observe a service. They were over the moon to hear this! Something that happened immediately after introducing ourselves that my friend really appreciated is that one of the women explained that one of the leaders of their group is a retired psychologist and this woman is also a retired LMHC.
My friend appreciated this woman saying this because it proved to my friend that this woman understood what we do. So many people still think that social workers are all DCF case workers who remove children. The field is so vast and this woman identified us as mental health professionals which was nice.
She walked us into their facility explained a little but about the service so we knew what to expect and then offered to give us a tour after and talk a bit more if we were willing to hang around, we willingly agreed and thanked her for her gracious hospitality.
The service started, we sat in the last row trying to be inconspicuous, it didn’t work. It is a small group (not too small but much smaller than the hundreds that we are accustomed to at a Catholic mass) and it is clearly tight knit so new comers stick out. The thing is though, that was okay. We stuck out but we did not feel like outsiders at any point. Everyone was so welcoming and accepting, it was a wonderful feeling.
The service started with the lighting of a candle by a child and only got better from there. This group does not worship a specific deity, they do not follow any specific religious scriptures. All faiths and belief systems are welcome. They do not pretend to have any answers, it is more about asking questions and bringing in multiple perspectives and philosophizing together. There is no right, or wrong, or good, or bad. It is all GRAY.
I was home. For the second day in a raw after years and years of searching.. I had found my people.
The woman who gave us a tour after shared that she too was a recovering Catholic, and she agreed that she was called to this group of people because for the first time in her life she felt safe to experience her spirituality her own way without losing that sense of connectedness and community. Everything about this service spoke to me. I am not going to go into further detail because this post is long enough, if you are still reading send me your address and I will mail you a sticker of appreciation.
I could not edit this down though because it was too important. The last 6 months, starting at soul camp and my monumental shift that took place there, have brought so much clarity to an area of my life that for so long has left me feeling lost and alone. I have found connection in ways I never thought possible. This past weekend was a huge jump forward in my work and my healing and I am profoundly grateful.
My friend and I were so excited and comforted after our experience with this group that we have decided to go back next Sunday. We want to go a few times together still just she and I before we bring both of our significant others in to check it out. I think because of our past experiences with organized anything in terms of religion/spirituality we are afraid and hugely skeptical of anything that feels remotely related to a church. We need to make sure this feels right on all levels before we make any decisions.
It is hard not to get ahead of myself though and keep from jumping in with a both feet. They have a social action committee that plans activism opportunities for the group.. I mean, how do more social workers not know about this?