I’m single and living alone for the first time in my life, as a 32-year-old woman, away from my hometown and without internet or TV at home. The loneliness is a struggle, but I have my spunky, fuzzy calico cat and hundreds of books to keep me company. I’ve been going out a lot more lately, mostly to music shows at small venues. I’m ready to start meeting people and making friends, but it’s pretty difficult to do. I feel like I need to start wearing a sign around my neck that says, “It’s okay to approach me.” Maybe I should just try making eye contact and smiling. When I do happen to catch eye contact with a stranger, I will generally smile (I don’t smile at drunk or obnoxious people because they drain me with their ever-flowing streams of verbal diarrhea and need for acceptance or attention), but the problem is that strangers often avoid eye contact in the first place.
When you enter a room, it’s natural to look around and see who is there — whether it’s to see if you know anyone or what kind of energy is in the room. We all do this, so I know people notice me, but I often feel like I’m not seen. The urge to have my existence acknowledged and witnessed is strong, as it is with most everyone else. That same desire is the reason this blog exists and why social media is so pervasive. We’re all bumping around each other shouting, Look at me so I know I exist! Descartes postulated, “Cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am), but in reality most of us feel, “Videor ergo sum” (I’m seen, therefore I am).
As my meditation and spiritual study progresses, I’m becoming more comfortable with “Conscio ergo sum” (I know/I’m aware, therefore I am), but I find myself facing a lot of ego cravings every day. Yesterday the only thing I wanted was a hug. When you live alone, you’re not touched and humans neurologically and emotionally need physical contact. It releases happy hormones, such as oxytocin, reduces stress levels by suppressing cortisol, increases immune system capacity, and triggers the neurological reward system by producing dopamine and serotonin. Maybe that sign I wear around my neck should say, “Free hugs.”
I stopped for some food at a local bar after a show Wednesday. I’d skipped dinner and I was starving, but I was also hoping for some kind of human interaction. I’d been traveling for work, so most of my exchanges the past four days had been either professional or fleeting small talk with strangers (although a coworker did invite me out to happy hour while I was at my company’s global innovation center — I never thought I’d be so grateful to be included in “drinks after work,” something I had no interest in at all when I had a boyfriend). The bartender was really friendly, introduced himself, and shook my hand twice: hello and goodbye. His handshake was warm with just the right amount of pressure, and while I should have been satisfied with that and thankful for the interaction, I spent all night and the next day fantasizing about receiving a hug from him with the same kind of friendly warmth.
During my Thursday night yoga class, I usually set an intention of where I want to direct the energy I’m moving and channeling, but last night I wanted to get an answer to a question, What can I do with this loneliness? As I flowed through the led vinyasa sequence, I struggled against my fixation on my loneliness and need for a hug and tried to just be present. Slowly my desire began to fall away. I had a couple of realizations about my preoccupation with (especially male) attention. I’m going to try to relate them to you in the most open and honest way I can, but this shit is hard to talk about.
[This is also not at all what I intended to write when I sat down. I had the idea to write something lighthearted about how I fill my time with cooking, music, reading, and writing and that I’m completely happy living alone and without TV or internet. Instead, you get heavy revelations about loneliness and attachment. The article I wrote about my victim mentality took two weeks to come back to when I got up from it, so I don’t want engage in that kind of escapism again. I can always edit things out later. I’ll probably edit this entire paragraph out. Okay, here we go… where was I?]
Oh, yeah: five realizations about loneliness and attachment:
1. Fantasizing about being embraced is a form of escapism.
By daydreaming about how I could get the friendly bartender to give me more attention and even affection, I was placing the burden of my loneliness on another. Since it was difficult to deal with the empty longing I felt in my hollow heart space, I transferred the responsibility of improving my emotional state to someone else — a near-stranger. Indulging in fantasy (I’ve always been a vivid dreamer; my parents and teachers both called me “space cadet,” and I used to wonder when they got together to decide on the nickname) is a way for me to escape from the difficult emotions moving through me. Instead of being HERE and NOW, I was outside the bar, folded into a warm and loving embrace that is not a part of anyone’s reality but my own.
2. My established pattern of attachment and codependence is a result of past emotional neglect.
Several of the articles on empaths and HSPs (highly sensitive people) I read stated that hyper-sensitivity is generally developed as a response to emotional neglect in childhood. I dismissed this at first, because I consider myself to have had a happy childhood and fortunate to have two parents. My mom stayed home with my younger brother and I until he was in first grade, and then she worked for the school system so she could be home when we got off the bus and during summer vacation. She was always there for us. She can also be overprotective and controlling, though. I assumed her constant presence meant she was very attentive to my emotional needs. Now I’m not so sure.
Parents have the tendency to want to protect their children from negative emotions (and all difficult or dangerous situations). It’s a very natural inclination, but to deny children the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to process these feelings is to set them up to be dependent on others for their continued happiness. I see this with my nephew. When he throws a tantrum, my mom runs after him and begs him to allow her to console him. He needs to learn to process disappointment and frustration on his own, or he will always be seeking comfort in other people. I imagine this was a frequent occurrence in my own childhood, too.
Now, as a 32-year-old woman, I’m experiencing loneliness and I don’t know what the fuck to do about it. In the past, I would dial up an ex-boyfriend or fall into bed with an until-then platonic friend, but I’m endeavoring to break that pattern. (So far, so good, y’all, but it’s been rough.)
As for my dad, he worked long hours to support us and was never physically affectionate on weekends when he was home. Last Friday, he asked me for a hug after a funeral, and I was caught a little off guard. I generally do hug or kiss him goodbye after visits, and he squeezes me reluctantly or too hard and grimaces like I’m infringing on his space. I know my dad loves me, and his reluctance concerning physical affection has everything to do with his own upbringing and nothing to do with me. Regardless, a lack of affection in childhood from my male parental figure has likely contributed to my craving for male attention in adulthood.The hug he gave me last week was one of the warmest and kindest we’ve shared. I think he’s been doing his own inner work lately, and I’m proud of him.
3. The only thing I can do with my loneliness is to be with it.
Escaping from negative emotions, shoving them down, and bottling them up is not a sustainable way to live and will eventually result in debilitating anxiety, rage, or depression. Speaking from experience, my repressed emotions have often materialized as seasonal depression. I’ve done a lot of emotional work this past year, and didn’t suffer as deep a depression as I normally do. The biggest and hardest contributing factor to this is experiencing and staying present with emotions as they arise.
When the day came for my boyfriend to move out, I let myself have a big, ugly cry after work. I didn’t start any self-pity mental talk, which could have spiraled my disappointment and heartbreak deeper and prolonged it, but I did let myself grieve fully. The break-up went surprisingly smoothly from then on, and since I wasn’t harboring my negative emotions, I didn’t take them out on him by saying something nasty or hurtful. Being present for myself allowed me to be supportive for him, and we’ve managed to remain friends.
When reminiscing about past relationships more recently, I discovered I was still clinging to some baggage from a previous failed romantic endeavor, so I spent an entire evening allowing myself to experience those emotions. It was pretty rough, because that relationship ended over five years ago, and I didn’t realize how much I was still holding on to. When you let your feelings fester, they become more difficult to let go — more deeply rooted. I grieved a five-year-past failure for a few days, feeling pretty low, but now when I think of that person I don’t feel anything other than vague fondness and a wish for their well-being. The old wound I’d been licking for years has finally healed.
In this same way, I need to be with my loneliness now. Escaping into a rebound relationship or a one-night stand will only cover over the desolation, burying it deeper and inviting infection. By placing my hand over my heart and telling myself that I don’t need love, I am love I can stop the nagging narrative. Breaking habits is hard, and the pattern of tumbling into others for support and purpose is the oldest and deepest groove I’ve worn in this life.
4. I am enough. I am whole. I am Love.
Yoga and meditation help me tremendously to cope with this crazy human existence. It’s so bizarre that we are inextricably interconnected and yet can feel so completely isolated. When I sit on my mat and let the scripts and thought patterns subside, I remember that I am everything and nothing at the same time. When I listen internally I hear the hum of the universe, OM. When I open my heart, I can feel the intricate and beautiful web that connects all beings on all planes. And I know I will be okay.
5. I need to set boundaries for myself concerning substances
I have decided to stop using cannabis and to limit my alcohol consumption to one drink, taken only in social settings and without getting drunk. When I will be able to act in accordance to this decision, I don’t know. I really enjoy having a smoke and reading poetry on Sunday evenings. The reason I feel like this needs to stop is I have absolutely no discipline or willpower for the rest of the day or longer afterward, which leads me to eat things that upset my sensitive digestion system, blow off practicing my sax and writing, and neglect household chores. While I’m not willing to swear it off entirely, I need to make sure it’s not a habit and doesn’t interfere with the lifestyle I’m trying to develop for myself.
Most social engagements are centered around food and alcohol, and I want to be around people more now that I live by myself. Furthermore, I like to support venues, restaurants, breweries, and distilleries that are independently owned and operated. Since I’m on a restricted diet (SCD/GAPS), the best way to show support is to buy a drink; however, when I get tipsy my decision making skills suck. I am sure to fall back into old behavior patterns if I have more than one drink in an evening. Since I really enjoy bourbon, I’ve decided to allow myself a single whiskey, neat, when I go out or have people over. I’ve started keeping track of the whiskeys I’ve tasted, looking up reviews, and developing my palate. It’s fun enough that I don’t really miss craft beer anymore (I’m a liar; I miss beer and chocolate so much), and since I’m actually tasting the whiskey and not drinking to get drunk, I can nurse a single pour for an hour or more. Nobody tries to pressure me into getting another drink. It seems that drinking whiskey neat garners a measure of respect, so no one messes with me.
This has been really therapeutic to write, and I think I better understand what to do with this loneliness. First and foremost, I can’t wait to see my cat tomorrow! I left her with my parents while I was away for work. I was kind of surprised how empty the house feels without her, but after reading articles about the importance of touch and stress hormones, I understand why now. As an added bonus, I’m sure to get nephew cuddles and hugs from both of my parents. I’ve never looked forward to visiting home more.
On Sunday, I’m going to go write at the coffee shop and take a yoga class. I may even ride my bike there. It should be a good day of exercise, being around other people, and moving some kundalini energy around.
The third thing I want to do is see if my health insurance will pay for a massage. A massage sounds really nice, and now that I know it accomplishes more than releasing muscle tension, I can understand why people find them so therapeutic.
Lastly, I plan to apply to be a Hospice volunteer. It’s something I’ve been called to do lately, and I feel like I’m ready to take action. I’d like to talk more about why I feel called to companion the terminally ill and dying, but this has already been quite a long reflection, so I’ll save it for another time.
Thanks again for witnessing. I hope that these words will find another lonely heart and help them through a time of need.
- “Human Connections Start With A Friendly Touch” by Michelle Trudeau on NPR: Morning Edition.
- “Touching makes you healthier” by Norine Dworkin-McDaniel on CNN: Health.
- Be Here Now by Ram Dass (This is an Amazon Affiliate link, which means I get a tiny percentage if you purchase the book.)
- “Free Yourself From the Narcissist/Empath Pattern” by Lissa Rankin on Uplift.
- “Why Spending Time With Friends Boosts Your Oxytocin” by Debbie Hampton on mindbodygreen.