Thank you for your message, also your courage in acknowledging the loneliness you have been feeling. I hear you and I feel you. Through your words, I could feel how lonely you are and how depressing it is to feel trapped in loneliness.
If you allow me to, I would like to connect with your loneliness by also sharing my loneliness as well. When two people share their loneliness, perhaps we would not feel all so alone. :)
I moved across the ocean a few months ago, to be precise from the US to Japan. A one-way ticket of a few thousand miles away from my friends, soulmates, and the city I've lived in for more than a decade. For a while, I was distracted by the excitement, the settling in. But the mild hum of anxiety underneath it all alerts me of what I've been most afraid of since deciding to leave my comfortable life: loneliness.
Loneliness used to terrify me, it still does at times. I think I feared that if I felt lonely, I'd lose my mind and develop an attachment to an inanimate object or something, like Tom Hanks in Cast Away. I couldn't sleep alone until I was 10 (hold the "Attachment Issues" remarks). I couldn't spend more than a night away from my family until I was 18. My understanding of loneliness was conflated with rejection, inadequacy, and worthlessness. It meant failure, and worst of all, it meant I had to be with myself and only myself.
Loneliness was mixed with boredom. When I felt lonely I suddenly forgot what I was supposed to do. Everything feels so empty and time seems to have stopped. I struggled to find anything that would motivate me or give me excitement.
It's not like loneliness has transformed into a totally benign feeling for me, but I am learning to do things like move across the country alone and not have a panic attack (yet!). And although I'm tempted to pack my schedule and text my friends until I develop carpal tunnel to avoid feeling lonely, I know that would just be a recipe for anxiety and shame.
So rather than trying to prevent loneliness, I'm going to try using the techniques and reminders I have for the past few years to cope with the discomfort. Here they are and I would like to share them with you:
1. Every single person on the planet feels lonely sometimes.
Loneliness, like most other feelings, is there to tell us something important. It's there to say, I yearn to connect. I want to love and closeness.
Our society tends to pathologize it by portraying lonely people as flawed, weak, or not enlightened enough; yet these are unhelpful products of our independence-valuing culture. Loneliness is normal, healthy, and universal.
Remember that the family member you see as the most independent, and both counterparts of the couple you perceive to be in the healthiest, happiest relationships, feel lonely at times. They also feel sad, angry, hurt, anxious, and inadequate at times. No matter what you're experiencing, I promise you there are hundreds of thousands of others feeling that same thing at that same time.
2. Actually, everyone is alone.
I remember a therapist once told me, "The longest relationship you'll ever have in your life is the one with yourself. So why not try to have a better relationship with yourself?" Romantic relationships end, people, die, but you're with yourself always.
Hunter S. Thompson said, "We are all alone, born alone, die alone...I do not say lonely — at least, not all the time — but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important." So remember that: you may be alone, but you are also the only person who can fully be on your team.
3. We are all connected after all.
In Buddhist philosophy, there is no self and no separation between you and me and the air we breathe and the food we eat. OK, I know this might be a tough one to grasp, but hear me further. Think about it: one moment, a plant breathes in carbon dioxide, which becomes part of the plant, which then expels oxygen, which becomes part of the air, which we then inhale, which then becomes a part of our blood. Similarly, one-moment lettuce is part of the ground, then we eat a salad and it's part of us, then.... you get the idea.
We're all connected to each other and to the rest of the universe. Perhaps this is too abstract for you to swallow, and that's fine. But don't dismiss it just yet. Observe your environment for yourself and notice how everything is connected. It will make the loneliness less acute.
4. Loneliness will always pass.
Loneliness makes each second feel longer, heavier: it feels like time is frozen and our pain is eternal. But loneliness, just like any other thought, feeling, or sensation, is impermanent. Uncomfortable as it is, remembers that it will come and go. Remind yourself of this when as you breathe through the discomfort.
5. I can make space for loneliness and practice being kind to myself.
When I'm feeling lonely, I'm tempted to turn my back to that loneliness — to beat myself up for feeling it, telling myself that I'm pathetic. Then I run away from it, perhaps to Facebook or the fridge or the nearest form of chocolate.
But sometimes, if I can catch myself on autopilot, I can look inward and offer myself a soothing statement. Something like, You're hurting right now. You want to feel something else. It will pass, but remember it's OK to feel lonely and means you're human.
In doing so, we create enough space to do react to and ease the pain of our loneliness in a more serving way, perhaps by listening to music, journaling, practicing yoga, or calling a loved one if the loneliness is momentary; or by volunteering, joining a support group or class, or reevaluating the relationships in our life if the loneliness is chronic.
Pema Chodron says, "Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in...When we can rest in the middle, we begin to have a nonthreatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down." So invite your loneliness in.
Thank you for sharing your loneliness with me and allowing me to share my loneliness with you. Although I am unable to take away the feelings of loneliness for you, I can and I am more than willing to be here for you to share your loneliness with you.
Looking forward to talking with you more,