For the last couple of months, I have been privileged to work at a treatment center for adults (18+) whose lives had become unmanageable due to alcohol or other drugs, and are now seeking to learn healthier, smarter ways to cope with this crazy world in which we live. I was drawn to this place because of its holistic approach to treating addiction and other mental health dis-eases, complementing the individual and group therapy sessions with yoga, meditation, acupuncture, massage, healthy food, art therapy, gym time…
When a new client arrives, and when a client’s stay is coming to an end, a ritual is performed. An opening and a closing ceremony are held, where all of the clients and the therapists and program assistants welcome the newly arrived, or honor the departing client. Each ceremony is unique, and the closing ceremony is tailored to reflect the person’s personality, spirit, and the way he or she has grown, and has affected the others in the facility. It is a moving, beautiful way to honor him/her, while also allowing all of the participants to share how much the connection with this person has contributed to their own journey.
My family and I have been in the Northern Virginia area for eight months, and while we have by now figured out where the light switches are in the house, and discovered with amazement each new flower that has bloomed in our yard this spring, we still don’t quite feel rooted. I know that this takes time (I am working on Radical Acceptance with this fact), and won’t happen as quickly as the mint I transplanted to my garden have taken hold. My son is in 8th grade (I know, enough said). My daughter, in 11th grade, was just sharing with me over lunch how she has met a lot of nice kids at school, but how different this transition has been from her previous ones. Last year (10th grade) she went on her own to South Africa for her spring term, and after extreme homesickness for the first week, she quickly started to feel like she belonged. She was in a dorm with a group of other girls who were hours or continents away from home, and they quickly developed a bond, glued together by the intensity of their common situation. Our conversation about this tied into the themes that have been swirling round my head for months - belonging - connection - community - rituals. And how, when these human needs are not fulfilled, the result is often poor physical health, depression, anxiety, addiction.
I spoke with a counselor at one of my kids’ new schools last week and pointed out to him that while the school does a great job with producing high scores, in my opinion they were missing the boat in terms of social emotional learning. I explained how hard this transition has been on my son, and I cannot imagine how hard it must be for kids who are less self-confident, and I wondered how many kids were falling through the cracks? I assured the counselor that I understand the need to reach certain measurable goals (scores), but I am dismayed that there is not much effort that I can see, to build community. I (diplomatically, I think) suggested that they look at ways to build time into the calendar for activities where the students can do something fun, work toward a common non-academic goal, make connections. I also suggested that they start a program where existing families agree to adopt a new family for a year, so that the new kid has a guaranteed friendly face, and the parents aren’t floundering and wondering what they don’t know because they don’t know what they don’t know. When I was talking to a friend about it all, I pointed out that middle school is a rough time in general, and most educators shy away from that precarious stage, but like any challenge, it can be a great opportunity for positive change (and if we aren’t being intentional about positive change, negative change will easily step in).
When I think of the sense of belonging that my children - that we all - crave, I reflect upon the opening and closing rituals that bookend a client’s stay at the treatment center. Wouldn’t it be amazing to provide and prioritize an activity that provides our kids with peer acceptance and validation? We all, our children and our own inner child, long to be seen, heard, and accepted. Wouldn’t it be cool to build it into our school culture? I see the magic this type of framework works in adults through recovery groups and my place of work. Why wait till dis-ease and rock bottom force a person and family to take extreme measures? As an adult, I have experienced the type of authentic connection that is built through activities that in some ways are like, or incorporate rituals: Ragnar Relay races, participating in marathons and triathlons with a group of friends, attending She Recovers conferences and recovery/support groups and meetings, etc. These events and activities provide an opportunity for authentic communication, creative expression, physical exertion, intellectual growth. In short, they feed the soul.
As I point out in the podcast where I was just interviewed, I believe the best way to solve a problem is to prevent it in the first place, and I think that something as simple as creating rituals that cultivate belonging, will create positive ripples with long-lasting effects. Let’s start to think of ways that we and our schools can feed our children’s souls - because they are starving for a sense of belonging and meaning.
Wellness coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.