The Importance of Community in a Non-Vegan World (Lessons from a Young Motorcycle Rider)

 
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I've become obsessed with this new podcast called Kind World, a show in which they tell very short 8 or 9 minute stories in which people were helped through random little acts of kindness. I listen to it while I walk the dogs in the morning and I tear up every single time! If there's one trait that I value the most in people it's the ability to show kindness to others. This show tells us harrowing tales of grief, loss, fear, struggles, and the people who came along, usually unexpectedly, to provide a little shining light. In the episode I listened to today, a little boy came home to his mom with an injury on his head after a bully at school had slammed his head against a wall.

The boy had been and was being bullied daily at school. At home he would think about being bullied the next day. At night, he would dream about being bullied, and eventually, he started dreaming about ending his own life. Not knowing what to do, his mom enlisted the help of a a man who had a motorcycle club, i.e. a group of friends who would ride their motorcycles together everywhere. This man started paying visits to the boy, talking to him, taking him out to eat and chat, and on the very dreaded first day of school, the entire motorcycle club got together, got the boy on a bike and rode all the way to school in a perfect rolling mass of Harleys and helmets. 

I want you to listen to the full story here because there's so much more to it and I can't even do it justice, but suffice it to say, there's a huge difference between heading into a scary situation alone, and having a full on troop that have your back. The difference was not having the bullies see that a whole motorcycle squad could come after them if need be, the difference came right down to the fact that this boy no longer felt alone. He had support.

This boy had discovered the one thing that helped him deal with that horrible and violent situation at school. He needed a posse. He needed community.

 
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I've been so blessed throughout my life to find my little tribes of people. People who really get me, accept me exactly as I am, and who stick by me, giving me everything from perspective on things, to a frame of reference, to people to talk to, complain to, people to help me, people for me to stand by and protect (a big one for me, and you'll see why a bit later), to the simplest act of just being there to be my friend and show me kindness and support.

Coming from an ex-bullied, very shy introvert, you know that when I tell you community has meant everything in my life, I mean business. I completely related with this kid feeling invincible when he had a swarm of cool motorbikes and their riders in tow. 

Yes, the boy from the story and I share the past of being victims of bullying, and although this was horribly painful for me, as a child, having everything different from everyone around me was even worse (it was also the reason for the bullying, but that's a story for another day).

I was born into a very atypical family, at least where I grew up in. No dad in the picture, single mom with a physical disability, being the sole only child I knew, having a very small family that mostly lived in another part of the world. I was bad at sports, was in and out of hospitals with my mom, was an extremely shy and introverted kid, I was very short, kind of nerdy, had glasses since the age of 4 and had very different values and belief systems from everyone else around me (partly because I come from a family of artistic hippy rebels). In spite of having a family that was completely made up of non-traditional super cool people, all I wanted was to be like everyone else. I wanted to be normal.

All of my life circumstances made it hard to feel a part of the world I grew up in, but not for long.

I credit my mom for so many of the wonderful things that have happened in my life, but right there, almost at the top of the list, is the community she built for me, and how in spite of it just being her and me, it felt like I had all the support and friends in the world. She taught me very early on that your friends really do become your family.

She built this little community around us in the place where we went to the beach in the summer, where all these friends spent their holidays as well, and I remember this place as creating the happiest moments of my entire childhood, away from hospital visits, the fear of losing my mom, even my shy nature. Here I was able to be myself, I rode my bike for hours on end, climbed every tree I could put that first foot into, we made bonfires with all the friends that had now become family, we got together at the beach, for dinner, for breakfast, to watch the puppet theater productions I would do as a kid, and to eat the tart cherry jam empanadas I would make and sell to them as they watched the show. It was truly, my first sense of community, and I still cherish these people so much and have them in my life in spite of them living thousands of miles away.

 (My little beach family, watching our little puppet theater productions. I can't believe I still have this photo!)

(My little beach family, watching our little puppet theater productions. I can't believe I still have this photo!)

After my mom died, and especially in the last few years of her illness, I had met Carlos who had introduced me to his tribe of friends, I also made my own after leaving high school (not quite finding it there, but certainly finding it elsewhere), these people were my lifeline during the most difficult times of my life. They probably don't know just how much of a support they were, since on the outside I was going about life as usual, smiling and making plans, but the inner grieving was long, painful and required so many of those little acts of kindness from them. When someone knocked on my door unexpectedly to see if we wanted to grab some food together, when Carlos and his friends just hung out in my house playing video games or having some beers and talking. When people would rush over to try some of the new foods I was making. It was these small moments, these simple acts of companionship that made this extremely shy introverted grieving "kid" feel like the rug wasn't being pulled out from under her.

These people also let me take care of them, feed them whenever they walked through the door, help them whenever they needed me. A very weird part of grieving a parent who has struggled with a long illness, is the very strange fact that you feel naked without having someone to help and look after. I missed having someone who needed me, and my friends helped me release this feeling by just being there, on the receiving end, and also helped me learn how to ask for and accept help for the first time.

Then I had to leave all these amazing people behind and move to Spain (thank God for Skype!), and in Spain I found another version of my motorcycle club (sans the bikes). It happened naturally and slowly, and when I invite them over, usually for food of course, we actually call it our family dinner! As if I hadn't gotten lucky enough with all these little communities and people I was a part of already, I found another tribe to feel so much a part of, I feel I've known them forever, and even harder than that, I feel they know me and accept me exactly for who I am.

Being a part of these communities of friends was the only thing that cured the desperate desire I had as a kid to fit in and be "normal". As is usually the case with these types of things, feeling good when you have an unusual and different life doesn't come from fitting into the existing mold, it comes from finding people who you can be yourself with, who have shown you love in spite of being different, and even because of it.

 
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I can tell you that when I truly surrendered to my "not typical" status, life became so much better. Although there have been many things that have contributed to this, one of the main things that helped me gain confidence and be able to surrender to the fact that I was always going to be different, was going vegan. It was what I now see as that moment your parents throw you in the deep end of the pool so you lose your fear and start swimming. That's what going vegan felt like for me. It was the last little drop of water in an already filled to the brim glass of "different". Time to pay the piper and accept it.

I've told you many times before that the biggest gift veganism ever gave me was confidence, and for an extremely shy introvert, that is like saying you won the Tour de France of self development. There's nothing more awesome or more helpful in this life than accepting and loving yourself for who you really are, getting to know yourself well, and having the confidence to live your life exactly as you want to, head held high, even if that looks very different from everyone around you. That's what veganism gave me, every time I had to explain to a bunch of glaring eyes at a dinner party why I wasn't eating the shrimp. Every time I had to answer tough questions, every time someone made a joke about carrots screaming in pain as they passed through a grater, and every time people would look at me with that very familiar stare I knew very well from my childhood. That stare that tries to say "oh that's nice dear..." but that actually looks more like "what planet did this one come from?". 

Here's the thing though, being different, or making a different choice, whether that's being vegan, living with a disability, living with mental illness or physical illness, living in a larger body, or in a smaller body, being gay, trans, a man or woman of color, none of this has to come in a vacuum of gladiator power. You don't need to stand alone covered in armour trying to stand tall in spite of how heavy it is. If there's one lesson I've learned through a life of not being ordinary, it's that everyone needs a clan. When I was younger I thought this would only happen when I found a group of equally misunderstood kids, people who shared the same traits as me and the same life circumstances, but really, this never actually happened. What actually happened was that I found people who were very different from me, but that were full of kindness, and that accepted others as they were, and truly understood that that was as normal as their own choices. 

When we go vegan in a non vegan world, it can feel overwhelming, lonely, difficult, like no one understands or believes in what we're doing, we can feel like little ants in an elephant stampede, constantly bracing ourselves. Everything in my transition to being vegan was helped thanks to the fact that I had community, and one of the first things I tell people who are struggling with making this change is to find one. 

Ironically, my biggest cheerleaders in this arena are not vegan at all! They're friends who love me and respect me, who love exploring vegan restaurants with me and even make us vegan meals when we go over to their houses, in spite of the fact that they themselves aren't vegan. They've supported me because they're my peeps, not because they share my same lifestyle. I also found lots of vegan support early on. Since I was the only vegan I knew, and had not yet discovered the booming vegan scene in my city, I went online to find some fellow vegans and that was incredibly helpful.

When you find your motorcycle club.... Vegan or not

Finding other vegans helps because you hear your own story repeated over and over again and feel less alone. It helped me so much to know that many people were struggling with the social aspects in the beginning. It felt amazing to know that I wasn't the only one that was profoundly affected by the scenes of animal abuse I saw. It felt great to be able to ask some local vegans what brands of vegan cheese they bought! Or when there was a vegan meet up near us so we could get together and talk about food for 4 hours. It felt like I wasn't alone on this journey. 

Finding non-vegans as my tribe was equally important. It made my journey and my life not just about being vegan. It gave me the sense of being a part of "normal-town" without letting go of what makes me me, and is different from everyone else. It gave me friends I had other things in common with, who I could talk about all of the other things I'm passionate about, and it's taught me a whole lot about accepting others where they're at as well, without judgement.

 
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Just like the little boy in the motorcycle club, all we really need is to find something we have in common (it can be as teeny tiny as our love for weirdly flavored popcorn), and find people with tons of kindness and acceptance that will just get to know you and accept you as you are. Trust me, there's a community out there for you (and we're linking to some online ones below!). Sometimes it will come from a group of vegans, other times it will come from your need for support in other areas of life. Many friends and people I know have found the most supportive communities to help them while being parents in Al-Anon communities rather than parenting communities. Some people have found help with dealing with an ill family member from their knitting club instead of the hospital's support group. Some vegans have found support when going to a fully vegan meet-up group, others have found this kind of support from childhood friends. Whatever your story and circumstance, finding community is as important for a vegan (or whenever you're going against the grain on anything) as understanding your nutrient requirements, taking vitamin B12 or knowing how to order at non-vegan restaurants. It's what I like to call Vitamin C (C for community!), and it can help you so much on your quest to going vegan. 

It sometimes takes a little time to find your peeps. Websites like meetup.com or the ones I'll link to below can help so much. There are plenty of vegan meet ups happening every day, but you can also pick anything else at all to find community and a starting point of connection. There are groups for people who love hiking, dancing, beer sampling, movie fanatics, candle making, cooking, extreme sports or regular sports, and of course, animal rights and veganism. No matter where your community comes from, we can all relate to going through difficult times, and we can definitely all celebrate the good times too, whether we're all vegan or not. All it takes is finding people you can be yourself with, that in turn feel free to tell you about their struggles and difficulties. It comes from a place of authenticity and respect, when you find people who can respect your choice and find joy in it with you, even if they don't follow along.

Vitamin C!

 
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Just like that little motorcycle rider, sometimes all we need is a few friends behind us, and even if you can't find it in person, now we can find it online in the many vegan friendly groups and forums, on this website, in our online program, in the comments section of a blog you love. Here are some links to forums and websites where you can find support, meet ups for all your passions, facebook groups and more:

Here's to you finding your own little motorcycle club! You'll always have one here at Brownble.


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