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Becoming Real: Loneliness

Updated on July 28, 2014

The thing about feelings like grief, depression, and loneliness is that, after they’ve passed, we can’t remember how they felt, really. We know they were bad. We can talk about how painful they were. But, like childbirth, or a migraine, we are graciously spared the actual feeling in retrospect. That’s why I’m going to attempt to write about what I’m experiencing right now, because right now I am intensely lonely.

My loneliness is not permanent. I know that. My teenagers are just out tonight, visiting friends and girlfriends, and my husband is working out of town. One son will come home later tonight, so I am only alone for a few hours, really. Knowing that doesn’t seem to help.

The very first thing I notice is that I want to stuff these feelings away somewhere. I am warring with myself about even writing this. I do not want to feel this and I have become quite skilled at avoidance. Tonight, I have decided to throw myself into my work, my writing. I also stopped at the store to buy myself a few treats earlier so I could convince myself this was special alone time. I don’t usually have a problem with being alone. I am a true introvert, according to Myers Briggs and anyone who knows me. And, truth be told, I was almost tearing my hair out last night when the kids were all home and acting like, well, teenagers. I fantasize often, actually, about running away to a local monastery that I’ve visited before, and living in my “cell,” a simple room with a bed and a lamp and nothing else. But aloneness isn’t the same thing as loneliness, and this doesn’t feel like the solitude I usually crave. I didn’t seek this out and it is unwelcome.

The very worst thing about this is that it feels like it will never end. It is too easy to imagine, in the midst of it, that I might always feel this way, or even worse, and that realization brings despair that almost feels like dread. Intellectually, I know it is finite. I believe that my children will come home again, but with no buffer against the way I feel, my mind betrays me and focuses on another truth, that they will be gone before long, grown and moved away. Just the act of typing that last sentence seems to make it a given and has made my stomach roll and the bile rise in my throat. A memory surfaces, of placing my first born son in the cradle next to my side of the bed; knowing that it was time for him to move to a crib, which would have to be outside of our room. My husband cruelly stated the truth then, when he said, “He’ll be leaving you from now on.” It was true, of course, and I have experienced the same rending of something basic to my being with each step he, or one of his younger brothers, takes away from me. Grief and loneliness feed on one another.

Between thoughts, my left hand is clenched and thumping on the arm of my chair. I didn’t realize I was doing it, but this feeling is overwhelming and seems to be seeking an outlet. I want to want to do something. But I don’t do anything at all. All the things that I put aside when others are around, aren’t going to happen now either. The paralysis leads to guilt. With the guilt, there is also a more complicated sense of regret, or shame. Maybe it’s remorse about things I’ve done in my life that have brought me to this precipice, teetering on the brink of complete isolation. I recoil from that intolerable train of thought. At least I’m not desperate for the touch of another human being, any human being, as I have been before. Not yet. Maybe that need for touch, and warmth, is being met by the four kittens that are currently climbing all over me. Soon they will pause for a moment and then all narcoleptically collapse at once for the next four hours. The kittens do make things better, but, unlike them, I won’t let myself sleep. In my mind, sleep and watching daytime TV are equally pathetic coping mechanisms. I begin to sense self-preservation in that thought.

Sitting with the pain of loneliness is the last thing I want to do. Painful thoughts and images keep surfacing and they are not helpful. I’m unable to smile at them and watch them float innocently away. I try to suppress the awareness of the distance between my husband and I, but it won’t be set aside so easily. I’m done with this. I want this ache to be over now, but it’s not done with me, yet. It is so tempting to self-medicate, but I know now the cost for a few moments of peace that come from going that route. Knowing the cost, in the past, would not have been enough to stop me, but there is just the beginning of a burn in my thighs that feels like I might be climbing out of this now. There are things to be learned from the loneliness that has pierced me today. I didn’t believe that a few hours ago, but I believe it enough now. I have to tell myself to breathe, as if I haven’t for a while. The kittens are all sleeping draped over my legs now as I sit in my recliner, computer in my lap. The worst is over.

The Velveteen Rabbit narrated by Meryl Streep

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    • annebcampbell profile image

      Rev Anne Bailey Campbell 3 years ago from Upstate, New York

      Funny. My husband is currently in North Dakota, Denise. I miss him. Thank you for sharing your experience. Now that I've opened myself up to loneliness instead of avoiding it, comments like yours come along and normalize it.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      I remember the first time I truly felt loneliness. It was a very difficult experience. Like you, I didn't know what to do with myself. It was when I realized that my children would soon all be gone, and that one day, my husband would as well. I don't look forward to that time. It has been a number of years since that time. Now, I feel more comfortable with myself than I did before. Although I see additional loneliness in my future. It does not frighten me like it used to. I have learned to find beauty in loneliness.