I have come to find that the feeling of feelings is the first step in surrender and moving toward growth and change, from whatever it is we need to surrender to, grow toward, and change from. Spilled tears, gasping sobs, clutched knees and calls to friends are part of the deal. Moments of self-pity, complaint, and babyish sentiments all have their place in the whole shebang. So, too, do discovery and awareness. Ah. So this is what this is all about. This is pretty big for me. I used to never really feel my grief. Usually, I just felt angry or anxious and very stuck, and even if I cried it didn’t actually clear out what was happening inside of me. It took time for me to be able to access the deeper layers of myself, where I could find release from going through the (e)motions rather than trying to force myself to feel or not feel something. I feel it all today, and sometimes it is deeply painful, but it is not unbearable and is actually sort of tender and relieving. And it always provides clarity.
Last night I had a major loneliness lapse. It came after having plans with friends fall apart and a subsequent desperate attempt to hang out with an unavailable guy. This lapse was overdue, as I have been feeling loneliness creeping up on for me months now under the guises of boredom and restlessness. Don’t get me wrong – I rather like being alone and usually prefer it to crowds and groups – but what I often like even more than comfortable solitude is connecting with one other person, loving and feeling loved, listening and feeling heard. This can be quite difficult to come by. Perhaps my expectations are high or perhaps I am still guarded when it comes to letting people in. Or maybe it’s hard for many people. Something tells me I am not alone in this. I think we are living in the midst of some very strange times and people are far more isolated and cut off from others than we are willing to admit. Nevertheless, lonely did I feel, and sort of embarrassed, and pretty darn vulnerable.
This year has marked significant change for me on many levels: work, financial, living quarters, personal and romantic situations. I went from working full time as a teacher and constantly being around people to tutoring part time and spending far more hours alone. I got back into yoga in a real way, back into AA in a real way, back into (for the first time in years) dating and relationships with men. Through that I stumbled upon more realities of codependence and love addiction and how they are factors in my experiences with dating and relationships as a whole. I became aware of how many of my friendships were set up in a way that I felt short-changed and dismissed, where I was the giver and received very little in return, that I would settle for this and call it good enough. I saw how much I had grown in being able to have a voice and stand up for myself and trust my gut, how much I could practice the stopping of making others my Higher Power. I saw my part in all of this, that it was no one else’s fault or purposeful behavior, that something in me was still seeking out others who would mirror this old sense of inadequacy, this old I am too much, I am overwhelming, I am difficult to love. (We tend to go toward what we were taught was love, that is, until we relearn.) My parents did the best they could, of course, but this was the message that was delivered. I was a sensitive child, the youngest of three, and I think in a way I was overwhelming to my parents. They barely had access to their own true feelings – I mean, these are people who called their divorce good because “they were going to stay friends”- they had no idea how to properly parent a kid like me. I had giant feelings from a young age, and my mother in particular had no idea how to deal with them. I can’t tell you how many times they told me I was hyper-sensitive as if it were a grave offense. Come on, what five year old has control over her sensitivity? It was just in me. Everything hurt so much, and I was taught that it was my fault. I learned to build walls and push people away before they could hurt me. I learned how to go numb.
But then I learned how to undo all of that and start feeling again and start practicing vulnerability and intimacy and connecting with others. Like any practice, especially when you are beginning with zero tools, it has been a bit of a mess. I have pinged and ponged from neediness and desperation to shutting down and isolation and back to clinging and again to pushing away and everything in between. I have trusted my feelings and doubted them deeply and felt completely lost and in the dark as to how to have relationships. I have continually sought out those who do not reciprocate and then used this as an excuse to feel sorry for myself and say, see? Aloneness is safer, but loneliness is painful, and it is in all human beings to connect. I’ve always been after the deeper and authentic kind, not much of a fan of the superficial, and of course real vulnerability is much harder than simply paling around with others. And so here I am, still pinging and ponging, and I guess it’s all OK. The only way out is through, and I have come to trust that the only way to learn and change is through experience and honest mistake-making. We become aware of the way by seeing what is not the way.
I’ve been a twelve-stepper for many years, and what I have found is that after a while, the steps start to work themselves, almost naturally, if you’re open to them. Without really trying, I become aware fairly quickly of my powerlessness over a situation, how, yes I do have faith even when it hurts, what my part is in all of it, and what actions I can take. I feel my feelings, but I don’t wallow or get hung up on some old idea that the universe is conspiring against me and all is hopeless. I know that if I am feeling lonely, I need to find various ways to reach out to others and keep building healthy friendships. I know that if I am feeling sort of desperate and messy and clinging, I need to get centered and give myself whatever my system is frantically searching for. I also have to trust that even in the midst of confusion and doubt, everything is fine and I have many, many blessings. Steps 6 and 7, which are sometimes called the “living steps,” are all about staying aware of our behaviors and reactions, our old ideas, beliefs, and thought patterns, and having the willingness to keep growing and changing and making new choices. And that is right the hell where I am at.
There’s the notion that alcoholics are “extreme examples of self-will run riot,” meaning that we can act impulsively and selfishly, trying desperately to control situations and outcomes, rather than having faith and trusting and letting things unfold. You might call it a hyperbolic state of impatience and compulsion, spiraled from a fear-based, lonely mind. I definitely had this in me when I was drinking and using and acting out in eating disorders. It showed up often in the workplace, especially when I felt fear around how I was being perceived by parents and administration. I still see this in me when it comes to dating – they aren’t joking when they say dating is hard and triggering and not always fun. Talk about patience and faith! Nothing in me wants to wait. All of my past relationships were quick and enmeshing and immediate – we were inseparable and in love in a week. Granted, I was younger and definitely not as emotionally sober as I am today. But I still don’t want to wait, and I still think there is something wrong with me when he doesn’t call or text or want to see me again or can’t show up for me the way I deserve. And then I get mad. And then I am hard on myself. And then I feel hopeless. This is my old stuff: fear, control, fear, judgment, fear, self-pity, fear, blame, fear, self-hatred. Black and white thinking. Comparing myself to others. Thinking it should look or be a certain way. Judging others, judging myself. Telling myself the tired old tale that if only I were prettier, thinner, hotter, cooler, more mysterious or harder to get… then he would be interested! If only, am I right?
Because of these fears, I certainly don’t always let things unfold. I can run too fast away from or toward the person. I can easily lose my center. After all, I am human. No one is doing this perfectly. And when it hurts too much and I have a loneliness lapse, my mind starts telling me all kinds of ridiculous, dramatic tales that often result in me blaming myself and feeling guilty and responsible for simply having what I imagine is a universal human experience. I have to assume that even the most extroverted, popular, surrounded by others all the time people have moments of loneliness and feeling unloved and unseen. So it becomes a balance. Are there choices I can make in my life to have a new and different experience? Of course. But is it my fault in some sinister way that I am feeling lonely and unlovable? No. Come on, that’s way too tough and rigid. Yes, our problems are often of our own making and due to our strange perceptions and wonky thinking, but I’m not going to be mean to myself about it. As the Buddhists say, it’s not my fault that I was born with a human brain. Human brains are no picnic. And that’s recovery right there. Feeling the feelings without judgment or wild story-telling, having faith in the experience and process, and taking necessary action to keep growing and changing. We always think we are supposed to be somewhere we are not, that if only we had done that and not this, things would be different. Minds are prone to guilt, shame, fear, and judgment, biased toward the bad news and the negative. Humans are prone to loneliness, and we have this strange dichotomy of both desiring and fearing vulnerability and connection with others.
What I find when I look inside my loneliness is not some big bad truth that I am lonely for a big bad reason that will never be reconciled due to my introversion, astrological leanings and conditioning from childhood. I am certainly not the only thirty year old without a husband or a baby or a bustling social life. What I actually find is a sweetness and a deep compassion for myself and for those who may be experiencing the same. No one here is exempt from the human condition. No one here gets out alive. I find the truth that I am not as alone as I think I am and that there are choices I can make to get back out in the world while still honoring where I’m at and taking good care of myself. I don’t have to drift into the muck and mire of self-pity and toxic isolation. I also don’t have to run like mad into the arms of anyone who will catch me. I can just be here, with the sadness and loneliness, with the faith and gratitude, inside of it all, full in my heart, fully human.