Solidarity does not assume that our struggles are the same struggles, or that our pain is the same pain, or that our hope is for the same future. Solidarity involves commitment, and work, as well as the recognition that even if we do not have the same feelings, or the same lives, or the same bodies, we do live on common ground.”
― Sara Ahmed
E-Stranged, as a blog, is an anomaly of sorts. Unlike many communities that mark clear lines in the sand between “us and them” “those who left and those who were left” “dumpers and dumpees” “estrangers and estrangees” – I have worked hard to create a space where anyone and everyone could come together to think about and talk about estrangement, regardless of how the estrangement happened.
In part I made this commitment to not further divide those who are already divided, as a means of resolving the personal tension of being both an estranger and an estrangee; in other part because I recognized that regardless of how we get to estrangement, we all suffer and we all need to move forward and / or heal. This then is the glue that has held this blog and community successfully together for several years now.
Across the years many people have suggested to me that it was not possible to bring two “factions” together to coexist harmoniously (mostly) but I am here to say it has indeed been possible, and I am proud of the accomplishments and solidarity of this community. We haven’t always done it perfectly, or even well. There have been missteps and mistakes, hurt feelings and leave-takings and all of them have been opportunities to reflect, learn and grow. I wanted to share some of the things that I have learned along the way about how estrangers and estrangees can co-exist and create and participate as part of a healing community.
How Estrangers and Estrangees Can Get Along
1. It’s so important to remember the number one reason we end up on this blog – we are experiencing estrangement. All of us are in different places with our journey and the way we approach and navigate those journeys are personal – unique to us, certainly with common themes, struggles and triumphs – but uniquely our own. Whenever we find ourselves polarized by the differences in our community – it’s worthwhile to pause, reflect and regroup – what’s going on for me? Where am I at with my journey? What do I need to do to look after myself and my business? As much as we are here to find community, we are firstly here to advance our own journey.
2. Take time to notice that you are participating within a community of people who are all learning, reflecting, healing, growing and moving forward with their estrangement. These people were already working on themselves and their estrangement – that’s what brought them here, just like you.
3. The “we” that has been created here, people who are estranged, have been or are caught in the grip of a powerful force that often pulls us away from our centre and leaves us feeling alienated and alone in our experience, regardless of how we arrive at estrangement.
4. Often it is hard to listen to and accept the stories of those who sit on the “opposite side of the fence”. We may need to embrace our own healing, need to move forward in our own journey before we can truly sit in solidarity. This is not a personal deficit, it is part of healing. It’s okay to take a step back from community to focus on our own journey. It’s okay if other people need to do that too.
5. Dig into your own roots. If you are an estranger, you may benefit (for a time) from aligning yourself more closely with other people who have found it necessary to estrange. If you are an estrangee, you may benefit (for a time) from more closely aligning yourself with other people who have had people estrange from them. This alignment is part of the process of claiming our own journey. It doesn’t mean we will never be able to sit in solidarity with people who have come to estrangement in ways very different from our own, it just means we can’t do it today.
6. Own your own story, your thoughts, feelings, experiences and don’t transpose them over top of the thoughts, feelings and experiences of others. Speak in the first person “I think” “I feel” “I have experienced…” Be yourself, be honest, be where you are.
7. If you are ready to hear about estrangement from different perspectives, some very different from your own, be prepared to be challenged, triggered even. When someone who is an estrangee talks about the experience of being estranged from and the behaviour of their estranger and how it has impacted on them – it can be very difficult not to take this personally. The same follows if you are an estrangee – it can be difficult to listen to the many reasons people have made the decision to walk away from relationships without taking it personally. It can be painful to hear how estrangement has played out for others – it can act as a challenge for us to consider our own actions and sometimes it can make us feel that we are “bad” people. Own up when you discover another piece of the estrangement puzzle that leaves you questioning. It’s part of the journey.
8. Try not to look for validation or emotional support from people who sit on the “opposite side of the fence” – they may feel ambivalent about you, happy on the one hand that you are a part of the community, annoyed on the other hand to hear about your struggles with estrangement, particularly if you are in a place of blaming others for it. You may find that you will receive support and encouragement from people who have come to estrangement in different ways – but it’s important to remember that often our energy is needed for our own journey forward and healing.
9. You might have to go out of your way to build and maintain community and connections with people who sit on the “opposite side of the fence”. Our society likes to polarize and separate people, put them into boxes and define them in ways that makes it difficult to find shared experiences. Refuse to be a part of that.
10. Try to avoid the trap of “knowing what is good for them.” Other people are the only ones who can figure out what is good for them. We can share our thoughts, feelings, experiences and resources but we cannot assume that they are the “right” or “only” thoughts, feelings, experiences and resources. Other people may not be interested – what we have to say may not fit for them.
11. It is not okay to present your own agenda, or to suggest in any way that those who sit on the “opposite side of the fence” do not understand or see the big picture.
12. Remember that when we sit on the opposite side of the estrangement fence we may not see the impact of estrangement as clearly as the other group can. When people point out that our attitudes or language feels demeaning or diminishing to them, our first response should be to believe it. When we are criticized or “called out”, it’s a good time to listen, reflect – seek to connect rather than justify, rationalize or excuse. Learn to be accountable, apologize when warranted and change our behaviour when we need to.
If we choose to participate in a community where there are differences, we are going to make mistakes – a lot even! Be prepared for that.
13. Last, but certainly not least … listen, listen, listen, listen, listen!
We here at e-stranged, should be proud of our community and the efforts we have made to come together in spite of the different ways we have come to estrangement, to support one another in our efforts to move forward, heal – to claim the happiness we deserve and to build and enjoy positive, caring relationships.