Wednesday, July 11, 2012

It's Okay to Feel Lonely

Please don't feel sorry for me because of the title of this post.  I'm "good."  And if you wonder, "I thought she had a family," you are right.  I do have a wonderful, loving family!  But I want to share with you some thoughts I had this morning.

When we have a pain, a physical pain, sometimes we just aren't sure it's okay and so we worry. Sometimes it's the body's signal that we need to do something, so it is wisdom to make sure there is nothing serious that needs to be addressed.  But sometimes - after checking everything out or maybe getting something repaired - we find there is a pain that we just have to live with, either for a little while or for a long time. And sometimes just knowing it's okay takes some of the sting out. Sometimes - not in every condition, but for some - the "knowing" enables us to relax and eases the pain some.

I've found it can be the same way with the emotional pain of loneliness.  Reverting to my reassurances at the beginning of this post, yes, I have so much.  So much love to be grateful for!  So why would I ever be lonely?  Well, some of you will nod and say, she is lonely for her son and for her sister, both of whom passed on recently.  And you would certainly be right. But that isn't the whole story.

I am lonely for the parts of my childhood, the carefree innocence, that I missed because of being abused as a child by a cousin. I am lonely for the warm, close relationship with my mother that I got glimpses of in my childhood and that I yearned for. I am lonely for the years of young adulthood that I largely lost with my parents because I briefly joined a cult and left town, never to return except for short visits...and if I couldn't communicate with my mom very well when we lived in the same house, it surely didn't improve by living a thousand miles away.  I am lonely for the closeness of a childhood best friend, which was lost when we went to the cult, and radically more so, when I left the cult and she didn't...and, although she later left and we resumed our friendship, we rarely communicate.

Is my story so different from that of others? Maybe in some ways; maybe not in other ways. I believe we all have our emotional pain...the loss of a person, the loss of a relationship, perhaps the loss of a dream. I'm guessing that as you read what I've been writing, you don't relate with some of it but that you find you are thinking of your own losses, too, the things or people you miss...or feel you missed out on.

But if you have faith, you won't be lonely, some might say.  "You need to let God fill you."  And indeed, St. Augustine said, "Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and they are restless til they rest in Thee." Yet even our faith, our relationship with the Good God, does not always take away our feelings of loneliness on this earth...otherwise, we would not have saints who experienced a "dark night of the soul".

Like the physical pain, sometimes emotional pain needs to be examined and dealt with. Do we have a problem relationship? Do we need to change something about that?  Or, are we doing things that don't fit who we are?  In a recent job, I was just about as miserable as I have ever been in my life. My boss and I didn't get along. My closest co-worker died, coincidentally at the very time that I was moved to a room by myself, feeling excluded, while I did work that wasn't really in my "gift zone" and grieved.  By reading short Psalm verses, I survived, until I quit (and I know everyone can't do that, but at that point I could, and I believe it was a good decision for my particular situation).  Among other things, maybe it was the first time I really allowed myself to truly grieve a loss, and maybe all my other losses wrapped themselves up in it, like a snowball.

My generation used to laugh at the idea of going for counseling or dealing with the past. I remember a sarcastic joke about "the reason I'm this way is because I didn't get a Tickle Me, Elmo doll when I was a child" (followed by derisive laughter).  Many "inspirational sayings" speak of forgetting your past, leaving it behind. Well, first of all, I don't believe anyone's past ever excuses them to intentionally hurt others. But what about ourselves?  Do we put ourselves down? Are we never "good enough"? Do we ignore our own needs? Maybe some of us need to go back and say to ourselves: Hey, you were always of value. You were always a good person. And most of all: You need to nurture and love yourself.

What did Jesus say? Did He say: Love your neighbor and not yourself?  Love your neighbor more than yourself? No, He said, "Love your neighbor as yourself."  He assumed we would love ourselves! 

So now when I am feeling lonely, two things help.  One is that I try to remember: "It's okay."  I can't go back and eradicate the fact that I was used for someone else's pleasure when I hadn't even reached the use of reason yet.  I can't go back and obtain the feelings of closeness I wished I could have had consistently with my mom.  I can't go back and change the years of rift in friendship with my best friend who was there for me (and vice versa) throughout my childhood.  Nothing I do in my current relationships is going to heal those past pains. By inadvertently bringing the pains from my past into today's friendships I will only hurt today's friendships.  And so, instead of ignoring that loneliness from the past, I can give it a nod. I can say to those feelings when they raise their ugly heads,  "Oh, hello. You're back, huh?  Well, you can have a cup of coffee with me on the front porch, but you can't stay."

What is the other thing that helps? This may sound counter-intuitive, but if I'm feeling lonely, I can gift myself with some time alone. I can go to a Church. I can take a walk and enjoy the beauty of God's nature. I can go out on my balcony and listen to the birds and the bugs. Or look up at the sky for a moment while I'm stopped at a traffic light. I can read a book "just for fun".  And I can feel loved, even beyond the love of my family and friends, knowing that God loves me, and knowing that I love myself.

What do you do - what more can you do - to nurture yourself in those times when loneliness may pop into your day?

2 comments:

Alexandra said...

Great post! I used to be more resilient, but lately I've felt a deep loneliness. I haven't found the cure yet, but it sure helps to hear others feel the same way.

Margaret Mary Myers said...

Alexandra,

Thank you for commenting. I'm glad it helps to know you're not alone. Me too. :)