Lately, the words “I’m lonely” seem to be on this quiet murmuring track in the back of my brain anytime distractions subside and the fog re-emerges.
I’m lonely. It whispers. My heart beats and it sounds again. I’m lonely
I catch the thought and try to shake it away, and focus on the present, but it comes back into the rhythmic reminder that something is missing.
Contradictions and Understanding Loneliness
My loneliness is full of contradictions.
I’m lonely yet I don’t feel like being social.
I feel alone, yet I don’t want to spend time dating.
I’m lonely yet I often surround myself with people, only to zone out of the present and into my head.
Feeling lonely, yet I’m certain that this is better than being in the wrong relationship.
I try to write about it, but the paradoxes of my feelings make it hard for me to understand and share in a way that makes any ounce of sense.
One discrepancy is the belief and image of who I am contrasted against the reality of how I feel.
I pride myself on being independent, looking inward for my own happiness. For the most part, I try to not rely on other people to make me feel a certain way, whether happier, less alone or more complete.
Perhaps I can be a little bullheaded in fighting against the idea that in order for any person (women especially) to be considered complete, we must find a partner. I maybe even accidentally and defensively shove it into people’s faces that I’m OKAY being single and I’m even OKAY being single forever and I DON’T WANT TO GET MARRIED and SO WHAT IF I DIE ALONE?!
Okay, so I’m being a little dramatic. But I think you get it.
I am a person who KNOWS that happiness is something I have to find in myself, for myself, with myself.
And I am! For the most part.
I know that getting into a relationship because I feel lonely is not the right move for me, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to find that connection that is more than just a void filler.
I can be super independent, a loud feminist, and happy on my own, but still want to find the type of deep connection that makes my world a little brighter.
Even as I’m writing this, I see how desperately I am trying to affirm that it’s okay for me to feel lonely. I am trying to rationalize it, and justify it and give myself reasons so that I feel better about feeling the way that I do.
Why is that? Why can’t I just feel what I feel and be okay with it?
For some reason, there is a part of my brain that tells me feeling lonely is something to be ashamed of, and that same part has me scrambling for answers. Answers may be helpful to an extent in understanding my loneliness on a deeper level, but what I really need, and what I’m avoiding is simply accepting the feeling.
It’s okay to feel lonely.
I don’t have to rationalize it in order to be allowed to feel it. I am allowed to feel it, and I have to allow myself to feel it, because you know what?
Avoiding feelings gets me nowhere.
I am a champ at pushing away uncomfortable feelings.
I used to be so good at distracting myself from feelings that I don’t like, that I had to learn to recognize and unlearn the maladaptive coping mechanisms that I had used to build a fortress around myself in order to avoid feelings.
It worked pretty well… until it didn’t.
Do you know what happens when I avoid my feelings?
Those feelings start working out while I lock them away in a prison yard in the deep recesses of my brain. They get bigger and stronger, plotting their escape waiting for an inevitable slip up to occur.
They wait for me to drink too much, for my stress levels to get a tiny bit too high or for my sleep schedule to get a little bit more erratic– because they know that’s when they’ll be able to strike.
In one of these moments of vulnerability, I forget to lock the door, and the feelings that have been pumping iron, escape and go ape-shit.
Take last weekend for example.
I was at a wedding, drinking with people I had only met that day. They all knew each other, while I really only knew the bride and groom. I made friends with a few of the people in attendance, but started drinking early and quickly to feel a little more comfortable around all the people I didn’t know.
Following the wedding, we went to a reception where the drinks flowed, and after the reception the bridal parties decided to all go out. I got decently drunk, and had a really fun evening… up until I didn’t.
At about 1 AM, when we had been drinking for at least seven hours, a switch in my brain flipped, and I started to become hyper-aware of my thoughts:
I want to leave.
I don’t belong here.
They don’t like me.
They don’t understand me.
I need to go.
None of this matters.
I don’t matter.
This moment doesn’t matter.
I should be sleeping.
What am I doing?
After a few quick goodbyes, I grabbed an Uber and went back to my Airbnb.
It is there that the lock to the prison yard failed.
I won’t dive too deep into that evening because I really don’t want to, but my feelings replaced me. Loneliness, anxiety and worry hopped onto my shoulders and sunk me to my knees.
Without the safety net of sobriety, I did not have my reasoning faculties in place to talk myself off a ledge.
My repression of those feelings brought me to a suicidal state after an evening of what was for the most part fun albeit overindulgent.
Emotional avoidance is a coping mechanism, but I don’t recommend it.
How I’m Managing It
It’s normal to feel lonely as a human.
We are, in a way, always alone.
We are the only voice in our heads (hopefully), and we come into this world alone, and we leave alone too.
Alone doesn’t mean lonely though, and being surrounded by people doesn’t meant not-lonely either.
Loneliness arises from a web of complex feelings, thoughts, scenarios and situations.
For me, loneliness rears its head when I don’t feel deeply connected to my community for one reason or another. It comes when I feel misunderstood or different or misinterpreted or out of place.
Lately, that’s been frequent, and there’s a few reasons that I’ve felt some of this disconnect:
Many of the people in my community have found their forever people, and I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten close to a healthy, long-term relationship that feels right.
Feels #1: Quite frankly, that makes me feel a little weird, and a little bit like there is something wrong me.
The majority of people in my community are looking to buy homes, start families, and settle down, while I don’t know if that’s something I even want. Part of me is convinced it’s not something I want, despite still wanting connection and romantic love and a life partner.
Feels #2: It makes me feel a little disconnected and confused, because on the surface, those things seem like contractions.
For the most part, dating makes me feel very lonely. I feel this lack of desire to listen actively because it’s a drain going through the same questions and same moments over and over again with different people. But at the same time, there is a large part of me that wants to find that person– I just don’t want to go through the work of getting there. I’m too exhausted and too busy and too disinterested.
Feels #3: Again, this makes me feel confused on what my actual priorities are, and what I actually want.
Now, the logical and rational part of me knows these aren’t all true, and that they are just tiny snippets of a much larger pictures.
Logic in Response to Feels #1:
Ultimately, I know there’s nothing wrong with me. There are a million and one reasons why each of my relationships didn’t work out. That doesn’t make me unlovable. And I am weird, but that’s not a bad thing. I like my weird.
Logic in Response to Feels #2:
I know I feel disconnected, but I know I have a huge network of people whom I do connect with on a deep level, even if it doesn’t feel that way right now.
Logic in Response to Feels #3:
I know I am confused too– and that’s pretty normal and okay. Adulting and being human is confusing. Period. I’m not alone in feeling confused. Especially when it comes to dating and life choices and priorities and all the different paths we have to choose from.
I know the confusion, the loneliness the disconnection will pass and I know I’ll figure it out, but why does knowing these things not make the loneliness go away?
Because that’s the issue– I can’t make the loneliness go away by trying to get rid of it.
Trying to make it go away by shoving it under an explanation, is just another way of locking an emotion in the prison yard until it’s strong enough to escape.
Ok… So… what do I do about it then?
The Good News: Loneliness is Just a Feeling
Loneliness is like any other feeling.
It’s not better or worse than feeling angry, sad, unhappy, excited, disappointed or calm. It doesn’t carry more weight than any of those other feelings, unless we let it.
We can choose to manage our feelings.
We do it everyday.
They’re managed when we don’t explode at our colleague or boss for making our jobs harder.
We control those feels when we don’t burst into tears when the store is out of our favorite Halo Top Ice cream.
We manage those emotions every time we don’t throw a tantrum when we have to wait in line at the car dealership for two hours.
Managing loneliness is exactly the same.
I am just now figuring this out. But that sentence gives me hope. It makes me feel better. It reminds me that I don’t have to feel this way and that I won’t always feel this way.
So. I am starting to manage it.
And here are a few ways I’m doing it right now:
After last weekend when I came home and felt that rush of loneliness and suicidal ideation, I couldn’t ignore the fact that drinking makes it nearly impossible for me to manage my feelings anymore.
It’s so easy for the thoughts to pile on top of each other in a slippery slope, and drinking makes it really hard for me to dig my heels in, regain my footing, and get out of the avalanche.
On top of it all, it is not abnormal for me to feel that way, and those feelings come more often than not when I have even just a couple of drinks.
Alcohol makes it hard to stay rational and balanced.
That out-of-control, overwhelming desire to end my life feeling I had on Saturday is not something I ever want to feel again.
I do not feel suicidal when I am sober. Drinking is not ever worth risking my life. I do not ever want to accidentally make a permanent mistake because of what drinking does to my brain.
2. I’m not avoiding feeling the feels.
In my extensive experience in emotional avoidance, I’ve realized how counterproductive not feeling the feels is. I’m still not good at allowing myself to feel and label emotions, but I find that when I do, it’s much easier to move on from it.
It’s time to feel the loneliness. I want to acknowledge it. It’s time to allow it to air out and to not feel shameful or guilty for feeling it.
3. Mindfulness Meditation
Are you tired of hearing about mindfulness meditation yet?
It’s okay if you think it’s bullshit. I’m terrible at it, but it really helps, especially in times of crisis.
For example, the night after I had that emotional, drunken breakdown, I had trouble falling asleep. I was thinking about those same thoughts, thinking about what it meant and what was wrong with me, and was berating myself for feeling that way.
Cycle of Thoughts
I was starting to cycle through the thoughts in a similar way, one piling on top of the other and sinking me deeper into myself. To try and stop it, I decided to interrupt the merry-go-round of worry, and do some mindfulness meditation.
After scrolling through YouTube, I found a mindfulness meditation, pressed play and after a few moments of looking at my thoughts, the following thought entered into my mind:
“I may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m sure as shit going to be my own damn cup of tea.”
For some reason, that calmed me almost instantly. I started repeating it, almost like a mantra, and with each repetition, I could feel the obsessive questioning cycle clear up and calm down.
4. Building a relationship with myself (still)
I think this is huge. If you’ve been following me at any point in the past year, you know I’ve done a lot of work on this.
When I read over this post, and see the explanations for why I’m lonely, I realized a lot of my reasons are rooted in this doubt and uncertainty within myself.
The loneliness is a thin layer that conceals a thick as fuck layer of doubt I feel on whether or not I’m focusing on the right things, making decisions that are good for me long term, or heading in the direction I want to go.
Those worries show the underlying mistrust of myself, and that’s definitely something I have to keep working on. I think even the phrase that showed up for me in the mindfulness meditation was hugely indicative of what I need: to know myself, to accept myself, to trust myself, and to just fucking be myself regardless of what anyone else may think or approve of.
Building a relationship with myself is a continual work in progress, but I keep learning and I keep getting closer and I keep making those decisions that are in my best interest.
I think learning to trust myself may be as simple as that. I just need to keep making good decisions for myself, and eventually the trust will come. Simple, yes. Easy, not always.
In the beginning of this blog post, I wrote– I’m lonely.
Those words do me a disservice. I am not lonely– I feel lonely.
That recognition and remembering that it is JUST a feeling makes all the difference in my control and power over the feeling.
It is just a feeling, and I am more than my feelings.