Mental Health

Loneliness: Use It… And Lose It

I was once asked by an interviewer, regarding my book, Moving to the Center of the Bed: The Artful Creation of a Life Alone, to tell her what I believe is one of the most difficult situations faced by those who have lost their life partners, something they might not speak about to others. It didn’t take me long to respond. “Loneliness,” I said. “It’s a difficult thing to deal with and even harder to confess to. Because it inspires pity and no one wants to be pitied.” If I sent out an invitation to all the solitary people in my apartment house that said: “Please come to dinner if you are really lonely,” I doubt that anyone would appear. But if I said, “Hey, you singles, want to get together and meet others who are also alone?” I have a feeling they would come bearing gifts. I may try this.

By Sheila Weinstein
Created Jun 23 2011 – 5:32pm

I was once asked by an interviewer, regarding my book, Moving to the Center of the Bed: The Artful Creation of a Life Alone, to tell her what I believe is one of the most difficult situations faced by those who have lost their life partners, something they might not speak about to others. It didn’t take me long to respond. “Loneliness,” I said. “It’s a difficult thing to deal with and even harder to confess to. Because it inspires pity and no one wants to be pitied.” If I sent out an invitation to all the solitary people in my apartment house that said: “Please come to dinner if you are really lonely,” I doubt that anyone would appear. But if I said, “Hey, you singles, want to get together and meet others who are also alone?” I have a feeling they would come bearing gifts. I may try this.

Truth is sometimes hard to bear and hard to hear. After a life of partnership and all that means, to find myself suddenly alone felt as if an arm were missing, or more closely, half my heart. Loneliness, like grief, shook me mercilessly with its pain and slammed me against a wall I’d built of wishes, self- deception, dreams and hope. And it is also crept quietly around me while I was gazing out the window.

Suddenly alone after a life of togetherness, there stood I on tottering legs wondering how long I would be able to stand before I collapsed. And, anyway, who would know? Or care? That beautiful person who I came home to and went out from, who held my hand and told me everything would be okay, had the audacity to get sick and die and leave me to fend for myself.

Being alone has given me much pain but the truth is that I have also learned what I most probably would not or could not have learned any other way.

First, I learned that I cared…about myself, and about finding a way to live again.

And then, that it is not only we who are suddenly un-partnered who feel the pain of loneliness. It is the human condition, realizing that we are alone in a sometimes hostile and frightening world. That those who accompany us on our journey, our partners, families, friends, are in the same position as we are and are unable to save us, as we are unable to save them. We can only save ourselves. I read the following in Scott Turow’s book, Innocent: “I have friends who believe all relationships really fall under this heading: good only for a while.” The value is in being able to accept that as truth, appreciate what those relationships give and have given us and move on when they end or we end them. Relationships are important in all our lives. But so is solitude.

Solitude is aloneness but not loneliness. It is being in one’s own company, keeping one’s own counsel and enjoying the pleasure of it. When I was finally able to be alone but not lonely, I achieved the richness and joy of solitude. I didn’t need a glass of wine. I didn’t feel the need to be with a friend. I didn’t long for my husband. I was simply pleased to be in my own company doing whatever it was that made me feel more connected to myself and to the Universe. Sometimes just sitting still and being aware of the world around me.

The work of growing into more of who we are meant to be never stops. At any age, the most productive work is done alone. In the silence, hearing only our own breath, and feeling the beating of our own hearts…that is where and when and how we learn who we really are, find our courage and strength and determination, not to mention the creative forces within us. George Eliot said: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

I have often wondered, like most others, what is my purpose on earth, and if I’m fulfilling that destiny. I’ve believed for a long time that my primary task related to becoming myself is to learn how to be alone, for that was always my greatest fear. Life provided the gift of opportunity in a package tied with a black ribbon. It was either learn or die. I learned, and am still learning, to mine the depth and breadth of solitude and emerge each day with the energy and zest for my life alone; to use aloneness to become a happier and more content human; to continue to create and to help make the world a better place; to have more compassion for others and for myself.

I am sincerely sorry for people who need to be connected via electronics almost every hour of every day. I see them on the beach at 6:30 in the morning. I see them on subways, on the street, in restaurants, rest rooms and theaters. They can hardly keep their hands and minds from wandering to their I phones. They seem unaware of or perhaps afraid to experience the value of being truly un-connected to anything but themselves.

Life forced me to learn the rewards of loneliness. And it is bittersweet to say that had I not lost my husband, I would never have really known me. I have turned loneliness for him into love and appreciation of myself. Solitude has been the way into my soul’s journey. That journey is unique to each of us. But what is for certain is that loneliness is key to becoming who we are meant to be. We need to use it and, thereby, lose it.

 

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