In honor of National Cheer Up The Lonely Day (being today), Bethany Toews reminds us that loneliness is sometimes just a reminder of what feels good…
Loneliness sucks. Or so it seems, considering how many nights I’ve covered my face in snot and tears feeling how much I didn’t want to feel it. The ten-ton weight threatening to crush your chest. The cavernous abyss offering nothing to grab onto. The impossible combination of heaviness and emptiness and all the dances we’ll do around both. The parties we’ll attend. The faces we’ll wear. The honest opinions we’ll abandon. Just to avoid feeling a feeling. But Bukowski knew, “There are worse things than being alone.” And that is true too. There are worse things and I’ve done a few. I’ve lost my voice shouting over the shouting of other people losing their voices in dark and dingy bars. Everyone hearing half of what’s being said. Remembering even less in the morning. All the countless nights I’ve stayed in unpleasant places well past the point it was any good for me to, just to avoid going home alone.
I’ve lived with men I didn’t love anymore too. Substituting solitude with a dude. A dude who didn’t pay his portion of the rent. Or a dude who started the day with a hearty pull from a bedside bottle of whiskey. A dude who slept next to me for months without knowing I was wishing I was somewhere else. Beautiful, sweet, messy dudes I don’t regret loving because they taught me more about my loneliness. And what lengths I would go to avoid it.
I’ve traveled great distances attempting to escape one loneliness only to meet a deeper and more durable one on the other side of the globe. Loneliness always getting the last laugh. The last say. Me on a busy street in China, calling my ex repeatedly from a payphone. Only the sound of ringing. Both myself and the sky crying. Me in a hot tub in Las Vegas, a few years later, mourning a fresh ex and hysterically talking about how lonely I felt when I was twelve years old. Me on an air mattress in California. Single again in somebody else’s empty apartment. Not so many months ago. Bawling like a baby for every single lonely feeling I’ve ever felt since I can remember and even before that.
Eventually you learn that you can’t lose your loneliness, you can only make friends or forever battle her persistence. She will disguise herself countless ways until you learn to recognize her. Because, it is important that you do.
Loneliness isn’t the enemy. Loneliness isn’t even the opposite of togetherness. Togetherness can sometimes reveal the most painful varieties of loneliness. The why-do-I-feel-so-alone-in-a-room-full-of-people loneliness. The why-did-I-just-say-that loneliness. The what-is-wrong-with-me loneliness.
Nothing is wrong with you. And your loneliness doesn’t want to hurt you. She just wants to get your attention. To ask you what you long for? To remind you what feels good in your bones. To encourage you to seek those things out. To stop doing all the things you don’t want to. To stop saying all the things you don’t mean. Loneliness is an invitation into what’s true for you. Belonging is what happens when we offer up that truth in the presence of others. Allowing ourselves to be seen, acknowledged and loved for who we truly are. Not who we might pretend to be. Not for a diminished version of ourselves we’re hoping others can handle. But for the full story in all its mess and glory.
“Eventually you learn that you
can’t lose your loneliness,
you can only make friends
or forever battle her persistence.”
The energy it takes to constantly filter ourselves is enough to make anyone want to stay in at night. To feel accepted for less than our whole self only turns the volume up on our loneliness. But loneliness isn’t the problem. Loneliness is simply the reminder. The indicator light alerting you that you are longing to connect. Genuinely. With yourself as much as with others. That first relationship — the one we maintain with ourselves — is where we learn what we need in order to love. How well we tend to that relationship informs the quality of all the others.
I can be terribly lonely for myself.
I think we constantly forget to check in with ourselves. To hear the gentle asking of the voices within. “I’m thirsty, I need water.” “I’m tired, I need rest.” “Please don’t drink another cup of coffee or the world will start caving in.” Please call a friend right now, it would be very helpful.” “Please for the love of all that is holy, leave this party at once! You are having a terrible time. Your feet hurt and your underwear have permanently lodged themselves much-too-deeply into your crevices. Go home immediately. Burn these underwear. Put on sweatpants.” When we ignore or dismiss all our inner allies, we fail to stay true to ourselves. Loneliness is what happens when you don’t listen to yourself. Belonging is what happens when you do.
And so you can be alone and not feel lonely, just as you can be surrounded by others and feel like the only person on the planet. Learning to love our feelings for what they are trying to tell us is how we find our way to new feelings. So don’t be afraid of your feelings. Feel your feelings. Talk about your feelings. Ask other people about theirs. We all have them! It’s a wonderful point of connection. In fact, talking about your loneliness with someone else is a really great way to increase your chances of feeling less lonely.
Connection is the cure, not celery juice. Love yourself enough to reach out across the dark distance of saying what is true. Into the light. Risk your truth so you might find your way to that most wonderful of feelings — where you go out into the world and manage to say a real thing in the company of real people saying real things too! When you feel that you’ve managed to share a moment with someone or something beyond yourself. To affirm something your heart always suspects — that we are in fact part of something bigger than just our own pain. That we are each a breathing piece of the living bridge that carries us to the other side of our aching.