Working through loneliness

Curing LonelinessSomeone wrote this in a public post:

I am more alone than anybody can possibly understand, unless they have been as alone as me. And I don’t know anybody else like this. I reach out — people don’t reply. I help people — they turn my acts against me. I volunteer — I’m expected to do triple what I volunteered for, and kicked out when I don’t. I love — I am ignored. I love — and people start expecting things from me.  I help people — I am alone. I love — I am alone. I reach out in friendship — I am alone. I’ve run out of things to do. I am alone.

I felt this person’s pain. I’ve had days like that.

When I feel lonely to the point of serious pain, I naturally want to end that feeling. I want it to stop. I want to replace the ugliness with something more inspiring.

I take out my toolbox of tips and techniques that I have used over the years, and I see what I can do.

One place I often look to for help is from the mass media. I look for a movie, TV show, book, or recordings that will help me shift my mood. If I don’t shift my mood from feeling unloved, abandoned, betrayed, and any of those things, it could mean many hours or even days on end of being stuck in the overwhelm of feeling inconsequential to the rest of humanity.

I have discovered that it is not always easy to find something emotionally healthy for massaging my mind set. I have to undertake a deliberate and focused search to find mentally and emotionally helpful material.

MOVIES ABOUT LONELINESS

Over the holidays I had a particularly tough time of it. I am currently taking care of my elderly father 650 miles away from my house and friends. On one day I ended up watching two movies about loneliness. Both were foreign films.

One was To Hell with the Ugly, a Spanish romantic comedy about the trials of a proverbial loser in love, a likeable but goofy character often the butt of jokes in the village where he lived. Of course this was the movies, so after an hour of so of watching our comic hero embarrass himself with awkward behavior and suffer the pain of rejection, a delightful love interest enters his world.

Feeling lonely when watching others win love, often despite insurmountable odds, does not always make me feel light and cheery. It sometimes cranks up my feelings of envy. I want that good fortune to happen to me.

The second film was Gloria, also Spanish, a drama about a middle-aged divorced mother of two hunting for a relationship that would bring her happiness and self-worth.  This film played heavily on the torment of loneliness. The man who stole her heart and gave her hope for a tremendous life turn-around turned out to be the proverbial high-risk tortured soul who would not leave his family despite already being divorced.

While the movie made a positive statement in the end about self-reliance, the journey was still filled with reminders that life sucks, particularly in the form of toxic middle-aged men. As a middle0-aged man, I did not find this comforting.

Later I saw Don Jon, the movie Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed, and starred in. Don was a youthful womanizer who hosted a steady stream of hotties in his bedroom, yet still found digital porn more satisfying. He was even unsatisfied by the hottest of the hotties. He is saved by an unconventional older woman who introduces intimacy to him in ways he never knew. She shows him that real life is better than porn.

While I applauded the messages behind the film, my perspective as a lonely man was that happiness for Don still depended on the luck of his finding the right friend or lover. If I were to play Follow the Leader to bliss, I would still need to find that special someone.

FLAVORS

Loneliness comes in different flavors. The most commonly depicted flavor in our couples-oriented world is romantic-erotic loneliness — living without a loving partner, especially when there are no prospects. Another flavor is dwelling within a relationship that has devolved into something far less than satisfying.

Another flavor is living in a world of thought that few others get, leaving you feeling alone like a pioneer in a vast wilderness, a stranger in a strange land. Another flavor is feeling abandoned or betrayed by someone (sometimes more than one) who seems entirely uninterested in your welfare. Another flavor is when something really bad happens and you find that you’re facing the bulk of it alone.

When I am in the thick of it, finding relief from loneliness seems especially challenging. It’s as if loneliness sucks up all my energy, and I have little strength left to put on that happy face. I generally accept the premise that my outer world is a reflection of my inner world, and that the best way to tackle problems is to start with me. What am I thinking? What am I creating?

THINGS I DO

Here are some techniques I use to deal with loneliness.

What is the lesson: When I feel stuck in painful loneliness, I often ask myself this: if I am a student in Earth School, what is this situation teaching me? What am I supposed to be learning? I follow that train of thought in my journal. I often think of my journal as praying in writing. I get some good answers as I describe my woes. I can often re-cast problems in a different light, and I can make headway in shifting my mood.

What do I want: Sometimes I have to acknowledge that feelings of loneliness are like smoke signals from my soul saying it’s not good to hang around waiting to be magically saved. I need to act. There’s a difference between let go and let God and God helps those who help themselves. So I focus on deciding what I want or what would soothe the ache. I was taught as a child to be happy with what I had and not to ask for things, so writing out what I want is still challenging.

Take it outside: I can feel loneliest cooped up inside a house (even when that house is connected to the world via the Internet.) To shift my mood, I take walks. Often I take my voice recorder along. Walking, and particularly walking in nature, is a great way for me to shift the mood that is hanging heavy like a fog on my outlook. (No it doesn’t always work, but it often helps.) Meanwhile, getting exercise is good for my health.

Through the lens: My own special secret weapon against loneliness is beauty. I take my camera out and look for beauty. Making beauty a deliberate quest fills my brain with something positive, and the photographic exercise often gets me back on track. There is so much beauty to be found when discovering it is my objective.

Uplifting media collection: Knowing that loneliness comes every now and then, I plan for its eventual arrival. I make sure to have handy uplifting media around. It could be audio or video programs, a positive book, or upbeat music, but not just escape media. I try to keep material around that will inspire me, teach me, or motivate me to get off my butt. I purposely exclude commercial TV, anything with ads, anything dreary.

Leaving the comfort zone: Sometimes climbing out of the rut or overcoming a challenge means climbing out of my comfort zone. I may have to push myself to go somewhere, to meet some people, to find something entirely new. If there is a spiritual or support group or class that fits the bill, I might check that out.

Change a paradigm: Sometimes the message brought by painful circumstances is that it’s time for me to change my thinking, my everyday habits. For instance, if loneliness is the result of me isolating myself in a cocoon, I need to break out of my self-imposed prison when and where it makes sense. I look for my guiding paradigms and make mid-course corrections to them.

Embracing loneliness: Treating loneliness as a growth opportunity is much different than thinking of it as a curse or punishment. Many of my favorite pursuits — writing, computer art, photography, reading — are solitary endeavors. When I am lonely, I remind myself of that. I can nudge myself from feeling rejected and dejected to feeling happy to make some art.

Nurturing friendships: I treasure my friendships and make it a priority to nurture those that are clearly mutual in value. An authentic friend who can be present with you in your pain as well as pleasure is one of life’s best blessings. If I ever take them for granted, I can hear the glug-glug-glug of my sinking joy.

I generally believe that loneliness in all its forms and consequences is a social problem — and one of the most underrated, unaddressed crises of our modern times. However, I also believe that its solutions start at home within each individual. We have to do our part to save our sanity.

Here is a previous article I wrote on loneliness. And this.

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