Being a parent is so satisfying and hard at the same time. It bares your soul to so many new emotions and feelings.
This week I am in the throws of LONELINESS! 😔
I dropped my son off at the airport for an 8-day visit with a friend. Let’s not talk about it being his first flight alone, or the fact he will be gone for over a week!
Why did I say “yes” to this?
As I pulled away from the curb, my heart fell and a new thought hit me.
I was going to be alone in my house for an entire week.
Taking Off The Training Wheels
Last week I was alone for a weekend, and facing boredom.
That seems to only have been in preparation for this week.
What will I do when he goes to college?
I don’t know why it’s hitting me so much this week. It’s not the first time he’s left for a week. I’m used to week-long skate camps during summer. It’s just harder this time.
Maybe it’s because my stepson is getting ready to leave for college.
Maybe it’s because I’m used to having my son around a lot because of COVID.
MAYBE because it’s literally only 2 years before I am going to be a LEGIT empty-nester!
It’s terrifying. I know I am not alone in this. One of our biggest fears is what the heck are we going to do without our kids living at home??
Forget Being Bored…I’m Lonely
Let’s dive deep into this emotion.
This is not to say that I haven’t experienced my fair share of loneliness in the past.
The worst was when I moved to San Diego in the midst of my divorce. Yes, I have friends here but experiencing life without my kids 50% of the time brought about the deepest feelings of loneliness I have ever experienced. Not to mention, my kids were young at the time. This fear of being lonely, being without your kids, it is this same fear that keeps some women in toxic, even abusive relationships. I’m not saying that’s wrong. Divorce is hard and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, but I think the fear of loneliness keeps us in outdated relationships far past the expiration date.
Why is Loneliness So Scary?
It goes back to biology and evolution…like so many of our reactions today. Just like we are primed to focus on the negative, (I wrote a blog about that a while ago, you can find it here. Just like when our nervous systems react as if we are getting chased by a bear when our spouses do that thing that makes us crazy. We are running on outdated software!
This outdated software tells us that loneliness = death.
This is because in caveman times, if the tribe rejected you, you probably wouldn’t survive very long.
There’s tons of studies that suggest loneliness and isolation is worse than smoking is for your health. I’m sure you’ve seen them. I think these only serve to fuel our fears!
BEING LONELY VS. BEING ALONE
Loneliness is not necessarily correlated with being alone. Have you ever felt lonely and isolated in a crowded room? If you haven’t you probably haven’t ever been the only person of a different race, in a room full of people speaking a different language. It’s pretty weird! Or perhaps you found yourself in a group where you felt like you didn’t fit in either because of your values or your life experiences. Somehow you felt different from everyone else.
You can also be physically alone, like I am right now and not feel alone.
As I am writing this blog to you, I’m engaged in my task and focused. I feel fulfilled and happy, not bored and alone. BUT I am technically the only person here.
So what is it that makes us feel lonely, if it is not the absence of people?
Well, RESISTANCE of course! Just like with boredom! In order for you to have the experience of boredom and loneliness you must be resisting what IS.
At the same time, it’s really natural that looking at a future time and anticipating being alone brings up hella fear. We are biologically wired to avoid this experience because in our prehistoric neural networks this state of loneliness and isolation caused death, which would be very bad for the procreation of the species!
It is our survival instincts that instill this terrible anxiety around being alone, even though when we really dive into loneliness we find that it is really not that bad and that we actually have control over whether we experience it or not. We can engage ourselves in something worthwhile, or we can simply reframe the experience.
I could tell you I was super lonely following my divorce. It would be true, but it wasn’t because I was physically alone.
The real reason I felt so alone was because I felt WRONG for being away from my kids so much. As mothers we are biologically wired to feel this way. If a mom didn’t feel some negative consequence from being away from her young kids for these long stretches of time, our species would not have survived, right?
The reason I was lonely was because I was biologically wired to be with my kids and suddenly that wasn’t happening.
There is a quote from Hafiz that got me through that period of my life, and changed how I view loneliness,
Don’t surrender your loneliness too quickly.
Let it cut you more deep.
Let it ferment and season you
As few ingredients human or divine can.
Yes, that time was hard. I felt like I was forever being fermented. It was also the first time I ever thought of loneliness having a higher purpose rather than just being torture. It was during this time that I realized I could USE loneliness almost as a spiritual practice.
In time, as most divorced women will tell you, I actually grew to enjoy the time alone away from the constant barrage of questions and power struggles…and the time off of so much responsibility. But it took years.
I thought back then that going through the divorce was going to better prepare me for when my kids left for college. After all I was already used to them being gone half the time, what’s another half? Right?
NOTHING PREPARES YOU
I’m here to tell you that was not true.
I did NOT have an easy time when my oldest left for college in 2019. Even now it’s hard for me when he goes.
Again, I think it’s due to biological wiring. Until the past 50-100 years it was NOT typical to live in another part of the country than your whole extended family, right? People did it. But it was rare. We are wired to live in a tribe with a bunch of other humans all sharing the responsibilities of survival. It’s not natural until recently that our kids would move away and never live with us again. There are pros and cons to this, but it feels very unnatural to the more primitive parts of us.
So what do we do?
Honestly, I don’t know.
I feel pretty lonely and sad this week without my son!
I think it’s about changing your relationship with loneliness and sadness.
TIPS FOR THE LONELY DAYS OF SUMMER
1. Increase Self Care.
This is the key to everything, but it especially helps loneliness. When I’m alone at night I will often give myself a mask, take a long Epsom salt bath and do a Castor Oil Pack. I light candles and listen to inspiring lectures or books or music, whatever. Do what helps you to feel cared for by yourself. You can also schedule a massage, which sends messages to your unconscious that you are not alone and are deserving of special care.
2. Stay Present.
One of the things making my loneliness so much more difficult this week is that I am clearly “future trippin.” I’m fast forwarding to two years from now and asking myself “how are you going to deal with an empty house after he leaves??” Well that is just adding to my suffering! Right?? Why not tell myself “I’ll be fine in 2 years because I am going to be that much more adept at being alone then!”
When we are just lonely in THIS moment, it’s not that bad, right? It’s when we multiply it out times a million that it becomes overwhelming.
And on a related note, while you’re being present…
3. Explore Your Loneliness.
When we feel uncomfortable emotions our first instinct is usually to run! Instead dive in deeper. Not by thinking about how lonely you are though! That’s just gonna make it worse! Thoughts feed emotions. Instead, Dive deep into the body. Where do you feel it? Is it in your chest? Your heart? Your hands? If it had a color, what color would it be? If it had a temperature, what temperature? Texture? What does your lonely part need from you?
4. Use Your Loneliness for Good!
Let it inspire you to broaden your life in some way. Maybe you want to expand your social circle…or maybe you want to give back to some cause…or maybe learn a new skill or hobby?
Join a meetup group, take up pickleball, start a book club. There are many ways to expand your life experience with a bit of effort…especially since we’re now off quarantine!
You can also do double duty by picking something that combines all three. You could take up a new hobby or skill, like knitting for example, enroll in a class to expand your social circle and then give the cool scarves you learned to knit to a homeless shelter. Triple whammy!!
Let loneliness inspire you!
5. Reignite Your Gratitude Practice (Or start one!)
This is also the solution to everything. All your problems get better with gratitude. Gratitude literally changes everything. I wrote a blog about that a few weeks ago AND I have an awesome challenge that you can start anytime. Here’s the link:
What we appreciate, appreciates!
Isn’t that such a good quote? I got it from Marianne Williamson in my inbox today! Had to use it!
Anyway, I hope this helps you feel like you have a strategy for coping with loneliness next time you find yourself in its grip!
PS: Did the title of this blog get that old Motels song in your head?? Do you remember it?? Hit reply and let me know!
Also, hit reply and let me know if you plan to try any of these strategies, if you’ve tried them before or if you struggle with loneliness at all anyway?
Look forward to hearing from you!