“A season of loneliness and isolation is when the caterpillar gets its wings.” ~Mandy Hale
I feel so alone right now. Like, crawling out of my skin, I’ll do anything I can do to not feel this way alone.
I haven’t felt this way in a long time. Thank goodness I have tools to take care of myself. Let me explain.
My earliest childhood memory is my mother’s empty bed. The sheets are white, untucked, and messy. The duvet cover is loose and hanging halfway on the floor. The room is quiet, there’s no sign of mom, and I am all alone.
That’s when I met loneliness for the first time. When I was three-and-a-half years old and my mom had just passed away.
Loneliness came upon me before I could understand what was going on. It came upon me when I was unprotected and exposed, when I was vulnerable and needy, and it pierced me to my core.
As I got older, loneliness made me feel unworthy and different—as if I was the only person in the world that felt that way. It made me feel flawed and defective, and it liked to catch me off guard.
Being in this headspace was so intense and overwhelming, I would do anything I could to make it go away. I would binge watch television, emotionally eat, play video games, and watch pornography (yes, I just admitted that).
I didn’t have the emotional tools to ride out the discomfort of feeling alone, so I made myself feel better the only way I knew how—by numbing out.
If I had a tough day at work, I’d come home and “escape” my feelings with television. If a girl I was interested in didn’t show interest in me, I’d watch porn so I didn’t have to deal with my fear of abandonment and loneliness.
Upon first look, the solution seemed simple: learn to be comfortable in solitude. Ha! That’s like telling someone who wants to lose weight “Just eat less and move more.”
If letting go of our patterns were that easy, none of us would suffer. This is why healing and self-intimacy aren’t for the faint of heart.
It’s called inner work for a reason. I digress.
What I discovered was that my “pattern” of escaping was actually a coping mechanism. I was trying to help myself, albeit in a not-so-healthy way.
My fear of being alone felt too big to meet, so instead, I used television, food, video games, and porn to help manage it. To squelch the inner anxiety going on inside of me.
And it wasn’t even conscious. I didn’t wake up each day thinking, “I’ll watch porn today to escape my feeling of loneliness.”
In fact, it was the opposite. I would go to bed each night saying I was done with this type of behavior only to repeat the pattern the next day.
It was default programming that was running on its own—until I slowed down to be with what was running it. As soon as I courageously did this, my patterns shifted.
With the help of a mentor, I’ve developed a practice where I connect with loneliness rather than run away from it. After all, loneliness is part of the cast of characters that live inside each and every one of us.
Any time I feel this way, I come up with a list of five to ten questions, like: Why are you here? What are you here to teach me? Will I be okay if I just sit in the discomfort of what’s coming up for me? I then invite loneliness to pull up a chair next to me and I interview my greatest fear. I work on the relationship rather than running away from it.
When I sit with my loneliness I remember I am whole and complete, just the way I am. I often think about my mom during this time and have gone back to that place as a little boy to let him know that he is okay and remind him that his mother loves him very much.
In the beginning I shed many tears, but after a while I was no longer plagued by a constant sense of longing. In fact, I began to enjoy being alone. Go figure!
This got me thinking—what if our patterns of binge watching TV, checking out on social media, watching pornography, etc. are well-intentioned? What if they are here for us?
We humans play this game all the time. We try to manage our feelings through acts of busyness, distraction, overwhelm, food, alcohol, pornography, work, and more. We use something outside of us in order for us to feel better on the inside.
What I’ve realized is that management is a defense—a protector trying to help. It’s innocent and wonderful in its own way. Yet, real help only comes when we go within and meet what’s going on inside of us.
Loneliness doesn’t go away. It’s a part of who we are.
It’s a normal human emotion and can teach us a lot about ourselves. It can teach us patience and the importance of self-love.
Building a relationship with this part of you takes time. It’s a process.
So the next time you feel the twinge of loneliness creeping in, don’t try and run from it. Rather, lean into it and see how your life changes for the better.
Loneliness created the urge to numb my emotions. Learning to be comfortable in solitude strengthened my esteem.
It’s your choice. Self-pity or self-love.
Today I intentionally shift this relationship. Take the beginning of this article for example.
My wife is away on a work trip for the next twelve days, and I’m feeling isolated and alone. Rather than binge watch television or escape via porn, I’m going to reconnect with loneliness by simply sitting with it and see what it has to teach me.
Where are you managing your fears and feelings? And how can you meet them instead?