These words conjure up different things for different people.
On the one hand, they can evoke feelings of freedom, adventure, inner exploration, choosing our lives and spending time doing whatever it is that makes our souls happy.
On the other hand, they can evoke feelings of isolation, loneliness, fear and insecurity. They can conjure a heavy feeling of absence—of something missing from our lives.
For me, the words “single” and “alone” usually conjure up feelings of freedom and choice and adventure. Most of the time, I feel comfortable with my life. I deeply enjoy it, and I try to make it enjoyable for my children.
I’m trying to raise kind and happy humans, and I know that to do that I need to be one.
When loneliness comes for me, it does so suddenly. It comes howling through the air and steals my breath. I can go from perfectly contented to feeling like I am starving for affection.
At times like these, when we feel intensely alone, it’s difficult not to think of all the what ifs. It’s hard not to miss the relationships that have ended or the people we love who don’t love us back and didn’t choose us. It’s difficult not to long for those people—or, more accurately, to long for the way they made us feel and the futures we imagined with them.
What I miss the most sometimes is just someone else’s presence, or the feel of my head leaning against a shoulder. I miss kisses made up of equal parts heat and warmth—the kind that can lead anywhere or nowhere at all, but always stop time.
When the loneliness rises up for me, I sometimes fear my days will be measured by the number of weeks that have passed without being kissed, the number of months when I’m not being held and how much time has elapsed between the most casual touches.
Some mornings, the lack grabs me by my throat before I am even fully awake. I sit inside the cold walls of this prison and long for more than this.
Loneliness goes so much deeper than just the absence of physical affection. At times when it creeps up on us, it’s also replete with a longing for connection, for conversation, for some kind of assurance that someone sees us. It is a difficult emotion to heal alone, and some types of loneliness go so deep, and last so long, that they are difficult to heal at all.
When we feel the deepest loneliness—when being alone feels more like a prison than freedom—here are a few ways we can help reset, or at least weather the storm:
1. Acknowledge how we truly feel.
We spend a lot of time denying our loneliness. We feel like admitting it makes us weak or pitiful. Loneliness is as valid a human emotion as any other, and of course we’re going to feel alone when we are, in fact, alone.
We need to stop submerging this feeling inside of guilt and shame and let it just be one emotion of many we’ll experience.
2. Use this time of feeling lonely to take care of ourselves.
I sometimes neglect to eat well when I’m feeling lonely, which contributes to me feeling tired and run down. We need to eat nourishing food, get as much rest as we can and generally take better care of ourselves when we’re feeling alone. I’ve been known to take long baths, give myself a facial, watch a Hallmark movie and drink a glass of wine when I’m feeling lonely.
Instead of focusing on just one area of self-care, I try to do as many self-care rituals as I can to give myself some emotional comfort. Pampering myself helps me remember my own value.
3. Find an outlet to ease our suffering.
I know what you’re thinking: companionship and sex top that list. But in the absence of those outlets, we can find other ways to express ourselves and work out that energy. I love to run. It surprised me to discover exactly how much I enjoy it, because it felt like torture when I started out. I just wanted to lose a few pounds, and instead I discovered joy. I also lift weights, practice yoga and meditate. I hike when I can. If you’re not an outdoorsy or athletic person, artistic expression is also a fantastic outlet. Drawing, coloring, painting, writing, creating—it doesn’t matter what form it takes.
What matters is that we find a way to express our creativity and our life force in some way. It’s therapeutic to find ways of expressing that energy.
4. Provide ourselves with perspective.
When we’re lonely, it’s easy to want to contact an ex or go back down a road that we know isn’t healthy for us. But we need to stop. The truth is that nothing is stopping anyone from being with us. They aren’t coming back in because they don’t want to—or if they do want to come back, it’s in a vague way that doesn’t inspire actual action. So close that door or burn that bridge, because if they wanted to be with us, they would. We need to start being here in the present moment and creating a future from that—not trying to re-write our past just because we’re sad or lonely.
Gaining perspective also means remembering the positive aspects of our single lives. There are freedoms inherent in being single, and this can be a time to pour our energies into creating the kind of life we want.
We can follow our dreams and shape our days. We can decide how we’ll spend what free time we have, and we can really focus on who we are and what we want. A relationship can distract from all that, particularly less-than-healthy ones. Being single is often a gift, but one we take for granted when we wish we had a Someone.
Loneliness is one of those emotions that will ebb and flow. I find it strange how often I am contented with my single life, yet will suddenly get sucker-punched by loneliness. I feel deeply unhappy, briefly, when in reality I’m mostly happy, with the occasional bout of sadness, frustration and loneliness.
I have to remind myself that loneliness is as temporary as any other emotion, and I need to learn to allow it to come and to go again with as little judgment as I would apply to feeling hungry or tired or irritated.
When we stop judging our own loneliness, we can begin to feel it. Then we can learn to take care of ourselves through it, knowing that it’s going to go away again and that we’ll be alright. We can express ourselves and gain perspective and accept that it’s okay to feel this way.
It doesn’t make us less than. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s just another thing that makes us human.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Image: Tommy Tong/Unsplash
Editor: Toby Israel