I struggle with loneliness. I think a lot of people do. We are so *interconnected* in ways in this modern day society, and yet, so many of us still feel so painfully alone. This is something I experience, and to a rather intense and overpowering degree at times. It has certainly gotten better over the past few months of my recovery, AND that doesn’t mean it no longer hurts like a mo-fo too.
Most of the time when I am with close friends, family and even colleagues, I tend to be okay – at least comparatively so. If I am having an especially difficult time however, it can be more challenging to come out of the distress no matter who I am with. For me, this is the worst kind of loneliness, and I call it loneliness amongst a crowd. Fortunately though, at least for the most part, being around people recently has been helping me invaluably. I place a huge amount of value on the connections I have in my life today. In fact, I probably live for these connections.
The thing is, it isn’t realistic to expect to be surrounded by people 24/7. I am lucky with the structure I have at the minute as I am with people most hours during my day. But being alone, at least for short bursts of time, is not something that can (or even ought to) be avoided.
The scary thing is that it is during these times I struggle the most, at least based on past experiences. It is when I am alone that I find myself sinking into a seemingly bottomless pit of distressing feelings and subsequent urges. It is when I am alone that somewhat ‘old’ emotional and cognitive experiences come back to haunt me with a vengeance. It is when I am alone that I am most likely to “screw things up” for myself and perhaps too those around me. It is when I am alone that I tend to fall apart; either internally, externally, or both.
Is it really a surprise that my cravings for bingeing, for self-harming, for engaging in other ineffective behaviours, become so pronounced when I’m physically alone, considering this loneliness is so excruciatingly painful? Of course not. It makes total sense. The loneliness is so debilitating to the extent I would *rather* destroy myself through avoidance-based self-destructive behaviours, than simply sitting with the feelings.
Last night however, and like many post-treatment-in-Boston nights, I did something new and effective. I relied heavily on my skills to get me through my feelings of loneliness as well as the desire to overeat. I was home alone with around four hours to keep myself company and four hours to (try and) stay sane throughout. I didn’t jump straight into ineffective behaviours such as rummaging through the freezer for ice cream, delving into unexplored drawers for easily-abusable medication, or stalking old therapists on social media. Instead I made a serious and conscious effort to use what I’ve learnt over the past few months and actually put something effective into place to help me get through the evening – without worsening the situation.
I also wanted to prove to myself that I could rely on my own skills and the awareness I have at least on occasion, without having to call my therapist for crisis coaching so urgently. Instead I texted her to let her know what was going on for me and informing her about how I was managing it – and this in itself enabled me to stay skilful and keep myself motivated to not go downstairs and raid the cupboards! And to increase the dependence on myself to get by, instead of on someone outside of me to cure me of challenging feelings – which long-term would simply be counterproductive.
I split a few hours into 15-30 minute slots. I went on my Balance/ Wobble Board in an attempt to ground myself first of all. Then I practiced the E in ACCEPTS for Opposite action to Emotion (of loneliness, sadness & anxiety) by writing a blog post about my Birthday – one of gratitude, happiness and freedom from distressing feelings. (I purposefully didn’t talk about what was going on in that moment because the aim was to be effective, healthily distract, and not enable my cyclical thoughts and feelings.)
I then listened to some upbeat songs and was Mindful of the lyrics and the music. Another 15 minutes went by during which I used the A (for Activites) in ACCEPTS (distraction techniques) by Mindfully colouring in my Secret Garden colouring-in book. I continued to practice Mindfulness by trying to describe to myself what it was I was experiencing – feeling, thinking and sensing – without going into judgmental or self-defeating thoughts. I did some Self-Soothing by getting into my PJs, repainting my toenails and then dabbing my favourite lavender-scented oil onto my pillow. I employed a ton of Cheerleading Statements and Encouragement (the E in IMPROVE) by gently using words of reassurance like “You can get through this”, “It’s going to be okay” and some slightly more amusing words of wisdom like “YOU GOT THIS SHIT!”.
Lastly, after getting ready for bed and practicing focusing on the Sensations (the S in ACCEPTS) of the taste of my toothpaste as well as the coolness of my oscillating fan, I put myself to sleep by reading my book – “Man’s Search For Meaning” by Viktor Frankl – for half an hour or so. (A book I would highly recommend, by the way!)
I still felt lonely but it wasn’t the desperate yearning type of loneliness. It was more a sad and raw loneliness which I was both a) able to honour and validate and b) somehow get through without causing any harm to either myself or anyone else. It wasn’t the animalistic, visceral, I’m-going-to-surely-die sort of emotion I had been experiencing earlier during the evening. It was a lower-level sadness which co-existed alongside the genuine belief that it would pass and that perhaps I would feel okay again in the morning.
And I did.
And also, on a side-note, I got through the unbearably hot weather today with my scars – the kids with their innocence and happy-go-lucky sprinkler-playing selves, and me in my sleeves with a whole lot of anxiety and sadness. Unbearable it was, but get through it I did. And hopefully the weather will be slightly more manageable from here.
Thank fu*k today is over. And ironically, I can’t wait to be alone.