I can’t even count the number of times where I’d been surrounded by people and felt as alone as if I was the only person on Earth. This was common when I was a young boy, but it haunted me throughout my teenage years and certainly through adulthood. I’ve written about this before, but I like talking about it because I know I am not the only one who is… the only one! I’m always trying to reach out to others to let them know that being this way and having those emotions is not so abnormal.
Human beings are social creatures, and if there’s something “off” in how we tend to socialize we are sure to wonder what is wrong with us. Why can others do it so well and we can’t? Why can’t some of us communicate how lonely we are, why can’t we ask for help, why is it such a shame to experience this loneliness?
Because we’ve been programmed to fit in. And when we don’t fit in, it’s not a huge surprise we find it alarming – and it’s what makes us want to act out (for example, via maladaptive, addictive behaviors), or it makes us so withdrawn we don’t feel as if we belong in this world at all.
As much as I’m curious about finding out about what makes me who I am and why I drank for so many years and felt so alienated, I might never know the full reason. Yes, I concede that having been relinquished and adopted had a lot to do with me having trouble developing identity in the first place, feeling shame and growing up to find solace in alcohol, but, at the same time, sometimes I’m not sure how much I need to know and if I’ll ever have a sure answer. The facts are: I was relinquished and adopted, I felt different from others and I have used alcohol. The speculation and most likely the answer—those are all related. Does it matter? Yes, to some extent, but also no because right now my job is to live in the present and in reality, and self-knowledge awards me that. I have to put myself where I don’t feel like such an outlier.
This means that I practice self-care. This is a popular catchphrase and I don’t love it, but it works in this context. It doesn’t equate self-absorption as some might mistakenly think. I don’t go to spas and shop for toys and go on fancy vacations to “clear my head.” I simply pay attention to myself. I pay attention to those moments when Loneliness becomes a monster that tries to swallow me, and as soon as I see its shadow I try to do something about it. I communicate with my loved ones. I talk to other people in recovery. I write about it (here). I read about it.
In the past, I would be ashamed of feeling lonely (as much as I was ashamed of not fitting in and later, drinking), but now I understand that it’s a passing condition just like an allergy and that I have to take care of it as I would of any other condition. There are prolonged periods of it when it’s like a constant hum in the background, but the more I am aware of what is happening, the better I am at facing it and dealing with it by sharing about it. If I am uneasy or troubled, if I feel anxious or worried or depressed, I know it’s because Loneliness and Alienation are coming to visit. But by being open about it with people I trust, I am able to conquer it, or at least make it manageable enough as not to cripple me.
There’s a slogan in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous—“You’re No Longer Alone” that I used to get stressed over because often I’ve felt very alone having joined AA as an agnostic. Back then, as a godless alcoholic, I was very much Alone. But the funny thing is, with diligence and research, I was able to find my way through and out of that particular aloneness and discovered my people in secular meetings of AA It’s not perfect and nothing really is, but the point I’m trying to make is that we can get a reprieve from Loneliness if we at least try to search for connections; if we are honest and willing to always be in touch with ourselves and with others around us, and not hide behind a mask of false smiles.
About the Author
David B. Bohl, author of the memoir Parallel Universes: The Story of Rebirth, is an independent addiction consultant who fully understands the challenges faced by so many who seek to escape from, or drown their pain through, external means. His story offers hope to those struggling with the reality of everyday life in today’s increasingly stressful world.
Through his private practice substance use disorder consulting business, Beacon Confidential LLC, David provides independent professional consultation, strategic planning, motivation and engagement, care coordination, recovery management and monitoring, and advocacy services to individuals, families, and organizations struggling with substance use issues and disorders.