April 21, 2016

The Extrovert’s Guide to Going Solo: 3 Tips to Tackle Loneliness.

Ryan McGuire/gratisography

Most things that feel like a curse often contain gifts on the other side.

Loneliness is not excluded from this. It is something we have all felt at some point in our lives.

It makes sense that we struggle with it, as we are by nature designed to be social creatures. Different personality types form different relationships with the experience of loneliness. Introverts tend to do better than extroverts, although this isn’t always true and there are several factors that contribute to how loneliness effects people, such as length of time, where we’re at in our personal development and what resources and people are available to us when we need them.

Because of my career in music and acting, I spend most of my life being the center of attention and surrounded by people. My life felt like The Truman Show at times and I mean that in a very literal sense. When I appeared on ABC’s The Glass House, there were cameras watching my every move around the clock—even when I slept.

Because I was constantly around people, I got used to validating my self-worth based on others. I had no idea how to truly be alone. However, this year I was forced to learn how to be alone, for the first time in my life.

I currently travel around the country facilitating a social and emotional learning workshop called Challenge Day. It’s a rewarding job where I get to work with over 100 different teenagers every day teaching them about empathy and compassion.

However, at the end of each night, I go back to an empty hotel room. And at the end of each week, I fly back to Oakland and walk into an empty studio apartment.

This is the first time I’ve ever lived alone. It’s also the first time in 15 years that I am single—and that’s after going through one of the hardest breakups of my life. Being new to the area, I didn’t have many friends at first and no family around. When you combine all of this, it’s easy to understand how loneliness crept up on me.

At first, I struggled with it.  It seemed like the only two options were to force myself to go to social events or stay home and fall into depression. As an extrovert, I’m used to getting all my energy from being around other people, so I didn’t really know how to be alone. I thought something was wrong with me, so I kept trying to fill in the space with distractions.

After months of living like this, one day I simply had enough. I decided to face my loneliness head on and never could have predicted how it was about to transform me.

1. Learn to do nothing with yourself.

I figure I can’t be alone and happy if I’m not even able to exist doing nothing, and be okay with that silence and stillness. So I began a regular meditation practice, where I would sit in the darkness and allow myself to fully feel everything that I was suppressing. The sadness. The heavy heart. The abandonment issues. The feeling of not being enough. All of it.

As the feelings came up, I could feel the parts of me that just wanted someone to be there to make it all go away. I felt tempted to abandon the experience, and call somebody on the phone or jump online and start scrolling through my feed.

It was a trap. We are taught to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Wisdom comes in knowing that sometimes we have to choose the pain, because it is the very thing allowing us the growth we need to be able to overcome the pain in the first place. During those moments of sadness, I allowed myself to feel the abandoned child that just wanted love and nurturing.

Now I’m not saying anything is wrong with reaching out to others, as it is a gift to have them in our lives. However, we can’t replace self-love with external love and expect to ever fully know ourselves.

In order to balance my loneliness and need for connection, I used an app called Insight Timer. It provided a timed meditation, and when I finished, it showed me all the people who were meditating at the same time. If was comforting to know that thousands of people were doing the same thing at the same time.

2. Learn to do everything with yourself.

If I could find joy doing absolutely nothing with myself, than perhaps I could also find joy by doing everything with myself! I started making small changes until those changes became habits.

I started going on hikes, to the movies and out to dinner, completely by myself. I put music on in my room and danced alone and wrote music and poetry. I quickly realized that I actually enjoy my own company.

Through this journey of solitude, I learned to love myself deeper than I ever have. I suddenly realized that it wasn’t the other person who brought me happiness—it was me. Love came through me. I can choose to be happy. What a crazy, yet simple, realization.

For example, when I went hiking, it was the simple fact that I was out in nature that brought me joy, not the person I was with. While it’s nice to have someone to share things with, it’s not an absolute necessity in order to enjoy these experiences. When I did these things alone, I noticed that I was much more present with how I was feeling. I no longer had to invest my time and energy into somebody else.

I experienced a level of freedom I never had before. I could do what I wanted to do, in the moment, without judgment and without having to integrate somebody else’s energy into my experience. It was beautiful. I was free.

Everything that I enjoy doing with other people, I can enjoy by myself. Why? I’m a pretty rad human being if I must say so myself. And I must say so myself, because the more I do, the more I believe it.

3. Keep things in perspective and enjoy it while it lasts.

I also realized that I’m not going to be alone forever. Who knows? Maybe I’ll meet the person I spend the rest of my life with tomorrow. Or maybe they’re reading this article right now. And if I do meet that person soon, I’ll never get to experience being completely single and alone again.

Knowing that, I’ve learned to truly cherish and value this time and absorb the lessons that come from it. I’m no longer trying to hide from it or rush through it. I’m no longer trying to replace the feeling of emptiness with something outside of me. Instead, I focus on self-love—and when I do, I become full. I don’t see it as a shortcoming, weakness or proof that there’s something wrong with me. It just is what it is, and as always, it’s my perspective that changes the experience.

I recently wrote a song called “It’s Okay to Be Alone,” to help others who are struggling with loneliness. Because it’s okay to feel that the world doesn’t understand us. It’s okay to not have the company of somebody else. While it may not be preferable for many of us, it does give us a unique opportunity to be 100 percent focused on our own thoughts and emotions. It’s actually a gift, if we choose to see it as such.

When we take the time to learn more about ourselves and discover what our truth is when nobody else is looking, we learn to love the person in the mirror without needing the world’s validation.

Don’t worry. The world will still be there when we are ready to connect again. From speed-dating events to sports bars to social gatherings, there are plenty of easy options to help us meet people and make new friends. We don’t need to rush through this feeling and eagerly fill our time up as an avoidance mechanism. Instead, when it’s time to feel lonely, simply be present with it—even the parts that don’t feel so good in the moment. They will pass.

There is only one of you in the entire Universe and nobody like you will ever exist again. And I think that right there is worth falling in love with. What better person to spend time with than our own beautiful, uninhibited selves? We deserve it.


Author: Sevan Apollo Poetry

Editor: Nicole Cameron

Image: Ryan McGuire/gratisography

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