It’s not actually cold in my apartment, but “cold, lonely nights” sounds better than “lonely nights.” Might as well be dramatic about it. The “lonely nights” part is certainly true. Weekends are difficult for me because it’s me spending time with me. To mix it up a little bit, sometimes I hang out with me. I don’t say this because I don’t have friends. I have plenty of friends and acquaintances who would likely spend some time with me if I asked. I had an offer to hang out with a couple friends tonight and turned it down in leu of spending a quiet evening at home. I am not referring to the loneliness associated with being the only person in a room or house. I am talking about the loneliness associated with feeling alone when in a room full of people. I’m talking about the loneliness that comes from not having a person…my person.
If you are having your own cold, lonely night, you have some time to spend with me. Come on a word adventure with me — see if you can follow my train of thought by reading these definitions. On their own, they are just words. Once the concepts are put together, they tell a story.
Lonely: “Producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation” (n.d.).
Desolate: “Joyless, disconsolate, and sorrowful through or as if through separation from a loved one” (n.d.).
Joyless: “Not experiencing or inspiring joy” (n.d.).
Inspiring: “Having an animating or exalting effect” (n.d.).
Animate: “To give life to; make alive” (n.d.).
The story is this: When I am without my person, I am missing the piece that enables me to really experience life. Again, this sounds a little dramatic. Okay…it sounds a lot dramatic. But it begs the question: can we as human beings be truly happy alone? Can I be happy as a single person? “There seems to be a strong stigma about loneliness,” says Dr. Karyn Hall. “Not feeling free to talk about loneliness adds to the problem and to the judgments of the experience” (2013). Hmmmmmm. This sounds strangely familiar. Stigma…shame…not being able to tell our story. Sounds a little bit like our societal struggle with mental illness, right? In an effort to bash one more stigma to pieces, I want to tell you a little bit about my loneliness.
I like how Karyn Hall (2013) describes loneliness as an experience. Yes, I experience the emotion of loneliness…I feel lonely…but I also am in the midst of an experience or journey. It is so much more than just a feeling. It is a living, breathing companion who at times seems to physically smother me like a heavy, wet blanket. When it comes down to it, though, loneliness is a pretty crappy companion.
I have a tendency to jump into relationships with users. Because of my empathetic nature, I give and give, which attracts people who take and take. I have very low self-esteem or appreciation for my own worth, which subsequently leads to relationships in which I give much and receive little. I tolerate them for way too long because of my perception that I don’t deserve any better. If I see a need, I try to meet the need, regardless of the toll it takes on me physically, mentally, and emotionally. The vicious cycle inevitably leaves me burnt out and alone, while my so-called partner is off looking for their next giver.
Once again, I bought myself a one way ticket to Loneliville. My goal with this post is not to have a big, elaborate pity party. However, I do feel a need to acknowledge my loneliness. It’s awful. When I hit rock bottom several weeks ago, it was largely due to the fact that I know how much love I have to give, yet so far no one wants me enough to honor the commitment they have made to me. It is devastating to realize that I have so much to give, but no one to give it to. I feel like the opposite of a panhandler – instead of standing on a street corner begging for money, I am standing there trying to shove $100 bills into passing hands.
Part of me wants to scream, “LET ME LOVE YOU!!!!” I shouldn’t have to do that, right? All this love should attract other people who have equal amounts of love to give and equal amounts of respect for other human beings. In a perfect world, maybe. Unfortunately, that’s not how this world works. Goodness attracts exploitation. Generosity attracts profiteers. Empathy attracts emotional/physical/financial capitalists who only want to know what’s in it for them.
A friend of mine recently helped me see my pattern in a different light. Instead of seeing only good in my endeavors to make another person’s life better by showering them with love, kindness, and generosity, I am actually in the throes of an addiction that could very well cost me my life if I’m not careful. To be an addict means “to devote or surrender (oneself) to something habitually or obsessively” (Addict, n.d.). To be addicted to something means to have “repeated involvement with a substance or activity, despite the substantial harm it now causes, because that involvement was (and may continue to be) pleasurable and/or valuable” (MentalHelp.net, 2019). I am addicted to the false sense of identity that is achieved by being the person who would do anything and everything for someone else. I have convinced myself over the years that if I can give of myself to another, even to the point of being completely used up, then I have worth. I am never just Amber…I am so-and-so’s wife/cook/cleaner/landscaper/[insert whatever else fits]. I put a positive spin on it and say that I am doing so much for someone! Yet, I don’t see the “substantial harm” it is doing to me, myself, and I. I am willing to sacrifice my very sanity and emotional health so that another might be happy.
So here I sit on this not-so-cold cold, lonely night, pondering ways in which I can break this cycle without being consumed by the loneliness necessary to break the cycle. Unfortunately, I only know how to attract people who do not have the ability to give back to me all that I am willing to give to them. In order to learn how to attract a better sort of person, I have to develop an understanding of my own worth. I know that. I see that. I understand where I need to be…I just don’t know exactly how to get there. The rational part of me knows I have worth and that I don’t deserve to be used or treated like my own needs are not important. The emotional (the slightly irrational) part of me aches to feel wanted and needed again. I was made to love others. How do I turn that part of me off while I learn to love myself?
You might think it would be easy to just replace “my person” with a whole bunch of friends who also need love and kindness. But there is something to be said for having someone to come home to after work and vent to about the day’s silly issues. There is something to be said for having someone to sit with while you each read a book or watch TV. There is something to be said for having a person to snuggle up to when it legitimately is cold in the apartment and your freezing feet need a warm place to rest. I miss those parts of a relationship. It’s hard to deny myself those wonderful things in an effort to save myself from the other stuff…the damaging stuff.
My good friend, Amy, wrote some wonderful thoughts about dating and relationships. She suggests that “we need to let go of our expectations and hold on to the reality of what our lives have become… I’m not going to say smile about it, because really, it’s not always easy to be alone” (Thompson, 2015). It’s not easy. But not all things are meant to be easy. I strongly believe that I deserve happiness. My goal now is to believe that personal happiness is not a byproduct of sacrificing all for the sake of another’s happiness. There’s no such thing as second-hand happiness.
Every time I hear the door of my apartment building open, I hope for just a second that it’s my person coming to save me from the demons of loneliness. I envy my neighbors who have more than just their own self to keep them company in the evening or on the weekend. Maybe someday I will have that. Maybe someday I will love myself enough to realize I deserve someone who wants my happiness as deeply as they want their own. Maybe someday.
Addict. (n.d.). In online Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/addict
Animate. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/animate
Desolate. (n.d.). In online Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/desolate
Hall, Karyn. (2013). Accepting Loneliness. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pieces-mind/201301/accepting-loneliness
Inspiring. (n.d.). In online Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inspiring
Joyless. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/joyless
Lonely. (n.d.). In online Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lonely
MentalHelp.net. (2019). Definition of Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/definition-of-addiction/
Thompson, Amy. (2015). Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/Goombasmom/posts/10157179571807845?comment_id=10157180441362845¬if_id=1546607601861178¬if_t=feedback_reaction_generic