“I’ve Seen Lonely Times When I Could Not Find a Friend” ~ James Taylor
One of the most famous singer/songwriters of all time, writing one of the most heartbreaking songs of all time, lets us in on his loneliness.
How can someone that famous feel lonely – ever?
It’s common to everyone – rich, poor, famous, insanely famous – nobody gets a break from this emotion – one that, many times, feels impossible to deal with.
As someone in their early 50’s, I’ve experienced it multiple times. Some of these episodes lasted so long I began to wonder if it would ever end, while I’ve had other moments where I felt anything but lonely.
Currently, life seems fine, but I expect the next few chapters of my life to be just as marked by lonely times as the previous chapters have been.
But that doesn’t scare me. I don’t like feeling lonely, but I’ve learned how to deal with it, and to expect something good when it ends. Following are some tricks, truths, and challenges to help you if you’re struggling here.
1. Don’t Medicate it.
Loneliness is one of the most immediately painful emotions we experience. Unlike anger, jealousy, disgust, etc., loneliness hits hard, and the horrible feelings it stirs up are almost impossible to get away from.
Understandably, many of us try to find a quick escape, even if it’s a risky one.
Alcohol is a common go-to. It has an equally immediate effect, transporting us to a place where we at least remember that life isn’t so bad.
I come from a family of “big” drinkers who can frequently be found drowning life’s unsavory parts with booze. I have extensive experience here, and some thoughts about using alcohol to relieve the pain.
We all know that alcohol won’t eradicate the problem, it’s only a temporary fix. Our loneliness will be waiting for us after the buzz wears off.
But it will be bigger.
Somehow, our lonely feelings are exacerbated by the thing that we thought would make improve the situation.
Food is the #2 remedy of choice. Somehow, eating, especially unhealthy eating, gives temporary relief, but it has the same effect as alcohol. When the feelings come back, they’re stronger. In the same way, if we’ve tried to find comfort in food, our desire for more food with be stronger.
Food, alcohol, video games, movies, porn, exercise, work, etc., can all be used to distract us from the pain of feeling alone. While some of these activities aren’t inherently evil, they simply don’t work.
You can’t deal with loneliness by medicating it.
And medicating it adds the problem of addiction, making this a bigger problem than it needs to be.
Stand up to It.
Pain is good, usually a doorway into a better life. But in our culture pain is frequently viewed as a bad thing, which is why we run so quickly to unhealthy escapes when we feel lonely.
I’ve found that facing the pain – not running away or trying to medicate it- actually feeling it – helps. To be sure, that’s difficult to do because, well… it hurts.
But the pain that comes from feeling lonely can make us stronger if we’ll face it. This is like any other challenge in life – if we don’t run away, our character is affected. Strengthened. In facing our pain we grow up, becoming much more likely to act like an adult when things get difficult.
Strong people weren’t born strong, they became that way by responding appropriately when things were difficult.
Refusing to run from our pain is one of the best, quickest ways to improve our quality of life.
From experience, I can attest that facing your loneliness, sitting in it, letting it “hurt,” won’t kill you. If you can muster the courage, sitting in this pain can change you like nothing else. It will at least make your next bout with loneliness much easier.
You’re Not a Loser
A depressing thought that comes up for me in lonely times is the fear that there must be something wrong with me. If I was a “normal” person, a person worth loving, I wouldn’t feel so alone.
But that’s not the truth.
One of the challenges in how to deal with loneliness is forcing ourselves to believe the truth:
You’re not the problem.
You don’t need to change your look, your style, your manner, your status, your material inventory, your political views, your religion, or lack thereof. The most wealthy, beautiful, popular people in the world struggle with this.
Loneliness is a difficult phenomenon to explain. We’ll all have chapters in life where things “work out,” and chapters where they don’t. It’s a weird truth, but simple, and reliable.
Make Sure You’re Connected
While the occasional “lonely” chapter is part of a normal life, there are times when our loneliness is caused by isolation, and that’s something that we can control.
“As John Cacioppo, a researcher in the field of loneliness, points out, loneliness is on the rise — from 11 percent to 20 percent in the 1970s and 1980s to 40 percent to 45 percent in 2010. So you are not alone in feeling lonely. Perhaps the recent breakdown of connectedness can be related to the decline of family connections, higher divorce rates, people moving more frequently, the decline of church attendance, or declining participation in organizations like the PTA and labor unions.”
Take a quick inventory of how you spend your day. If most of your time is spent working and vegging out in front of the TV, you’ve become isolated, cut off from others, and you’ll need to re-engage.
Here are some ideas to get you started in the process:
Go to church: That’s a non-starter for non-religious people, but some churches are great places to connect, serve with others, and make some decent friendships.
Check out a Meetup: What do you like to do? Great news – the world is full of people that like doing that as well. But how do you find them?
Enter Meetup, an online resource devoted to getting people of common interests connected. Here’s blurb from their site:
Meetup is about connecting people with something in common. From activities you love and hobbies you want to try, to ways you identify yourself and who you want to be, a Meetup group is a community. A community of people who come together because they care about the same thing.
Volunteer: Homeless shelters, inner-city schools, gardens, and a host of other non-profits operating in your city are always looking for volunteers. Serving with a group of people, even if you’ve never met them before, is a great way to rub elbows and find new friends.
If you have become disconnected from others, you’re going to have to ask yourself what happened. We tend to excuse ourselves from this with “I’m tired,” or that we don’t have time, but it’s usually more complicated than that.
Friendship can be difficult, full of that pain-that-builds-character that we talked about earlier. By adulthood, we’ve amassed quite a collection of unhealed hurts that have left us disinterested in building more friendships.
99% of the time friendships won’t kill you. They’re guaranteed to be annoying, disappointing, boring at times, and downright difficult, especially the close ones.
Solid friendships are part and parcel to a good life. And if you’re loneliness isn’t the “normal” kind, if it’s driven by a disconnection from others, friendship is the only way out.
Get back in the game.