I sat at my kitchen table, the midday sun streaming through the window over the sink, on a hot and humid 4th of July. My son was playing with the neighbor girl next door and I convinced myself that I had important work from the office that needed to be done. But that was merely the excuse, the rationale for why I sat there, alone, with no offers from friends (I had none, really) to lay on the beach or to enjoy patriotic festivities that afternoon or the fireworks to come that evening.
I can picture those rays of light and the dust motes suspended in the stifling heated air while I puffed myself up into a weakly pathetic semblance of self-importance – reports from work and other papers spread out before me – but my heart, my spirit was broken, or nearly so as images of my sisters and their significant others and people that I knew from work, laughing and smiling and surrounded by friends and family – with carefree abandon and that elusive quality of fitting in and feeling oh, so comfortable and at ease – indiscriminately thrust relentless daggers into both my heart and my psyche.
I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so incredibly alone as I did in that moment. Alone and lonely, lost, defeated, unsure of where I wanted to go with my life or how to get there. Wondering, in moments of gut-wrenching pain, just what it was that was wrong with me, trying to figure it out: why did no one want me? I was simply struggling to find hope and love and purpose, companionship and intimacy of the noblest kind – and acceptance.
My twenties were difficult. Married at eighteen, then divorced at twenty with a small child in tow, I was just too young, so naïve and incredibly clueless. But wanting, always wanting. It was the most difficult and disheartening time of my life, sometimes punctuated with fun and laughter, a few good times – some forced, some naturally occurring and far, far too many misguided. I was truly my own worst enemy. Mistakes? I cringe to recall the many stupid, humiliating and self-destructive moments from those years, the failures on so many levels. My son, especially, deserved so much more.
Somehow, I did make it through those rough years. Life improved for me once I started making better choices, exercising more sound judgment which in turn fed my rock-bottom self-esteem. That’s not to say I didn’t still go down the wrong path from time to time. I continued – don’t we all? – to make mistakes (and do still). Perhaps I was just a slower learner than most people, though, when I was younger, a very slow learner. In any case, spending time in a solitary fashion was something I eventually began to enjoy unlike that bleak yet sunny Independence Day. Lunch or movies or a walk in the park – by myself – was time alone to unwind after work or to think through my problems or simply to savor the moment, often in the embrace of the woods that I so enjoyed. Over the years, I developed a taste for this ‘me’ time.
Some people that I love, that I care about are faced with their own realities of being alone and feeling lonely. I can’t speak to what they want for their lives but like most of us they probably just want someone to love, to spend time with, someone to love and accept them for who they are. However, no one can do for them what only they themselves can do to fill the void.
While it’s tempting to burrow oneself into the false comfort of cynicism, negativity and self-pity, a positive outlook and cheery disposition will always win the day. As difficult as it may be to do otherwise, isolating yourself and feeding your wounded soul with junk food, alcohol or drugs and not being physically active does nothing, really, to further your cause. Eat healthy, get proper rest, drink lots of water, incorporate exercise into your daily routine and, perhaps most importantly, find or nurture something to feel passionate about!
Listening to others, too, is so important – really listening, actively listening – and not just sitting there nodding while contemplating what you wish to say next or thinking about your own concerns or troubles or what you plan to wear to work the next day or what color to paint the living room. Truly listen to others. Make (and maintain) eye contact. Show a sincere and genuine interest in what the other person is saying. When you exhibit kindness and show others that you care, not only do you elevate yourself in their eyes, but you will do so as well in your own.
That said, I do recognize that there is the flip side to this where people will take advantage of such thoughtfulness and consideration, people who have no concept of returning the favor, of reciprocity. They will monopolize conversations and never, not once, stop to extend to you the same courtesy you’ve shown them. These are Takers, my friends, and I seek to avoid them when and where I can. Difficult, however, when you work with said Takers or, worse still, when you’re related to them!
Despite all your good efforts to do right by yourself, to be a good and kind person, to put yourself out there, LIFE still happens. We have to learn how to roll with the punches. My favorite prose is the Desiderata. It contains so many nuggets of goodness and wisdom. One that comes to mind, now, is this:
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue or loneliness.
And yet, in the quiet and never-ending stillness that comes with day after day of a forced solitude, it can be soul-wrenching to be, always, so alone. In those moments, like the countless ones I endured in my most fragile of days, I held on to a mantra – two of them actually – that continues to guide me these many years later. One: Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Forward momentum. Don’t give up. And two: Things change. It’s impossible to know where life will take you. There were times, far too many I’m afraid, where – were it not for my son – I may have contemplated my own Final Solution. Thank goodness I did not! My life today, it’s good. I’m happy. I’m content. I’m at peace. And even when I’m alone, I rarely feel lonely. A cherished solitude, that which helps to nourish and feed and provide a quiet comfort, allows me moments of gratitude and contemplation. I welcome it, I seek it. For it was not always so.