My first day at kindergarten is one I have never forgotten. Mum had driven me there and held my hand as she walked with me to the classroom. And then she left me. I was on my own, without my mum, for the first time in my life, standing in a room with not a single face that I recognised. I was frightened, and I screamed and cried, bashing the door with all the strength my 3- year-old hands could muster. This, I suspect, was my first experience of loneliness.
My home life consisted of my parents, two brothers and two cats. As I grew, I developed friendships. I joined clubs and sports teams. In time I gained workmates, and then boyfriends and went to parties. I got along well with most people. Yet there was often a sense of loneliness, even if I were in a room full of people.
I never imaged that loneliness would follow me into my marriage. But it did. Those 21 years were some of the loneliest I have lived through.
The marriage ended around the same time as many other dramatic events took place in my life, and I plummeted into a period of loss, fear and desperation. During this period Loneliness was never far from my side. When I was binge-eating, she was there. At 2 o’clock in the morning, sitting on the edge of the bed with a bottle of Jamieson’s, she was there too.
Loneliness consumed me and was destroying my life.
Help came through words spoken at self-development course. “Loneliness is not real, it is an illusion. Loneliness is a choice.”
It was many years before those words made sense to me. Eventually I saw the wisdom and truth within them. Loneliness is not real! It is a state of being, and as with any state of being, we have a choice. We can choose happiness or we can choose sadness. We can choose fear or we can choose courage. I had chosen loneliness. I wanted happiness.
Making the choice was the easy bit. Implementing it takes guts. We’re so entrenched in seeking external fixes to our problems. We busy ourselves with work and routines. We are engrossed in our devices or bingeing on Netflix. In my case I drank excessively. I also shopped indulgently. Some may seek drugs or addictive relationships. Whatever it is, we all have our ways of deflecting or avoiding the things we don’t want to see.
External options don’t work. They do for a while. But eventually they don’t. Loneliness always returns and we either up the dosage (ie increase the drinking) or we seek other options.
All the while we ignore the only thing that works:- Introspection. Looking within ourselves. Observing without judgement. Taking courage to see what needs to be seen.
When we look inside, we get to see stories we’ve been telling ourselves our entire lifetime. My stories started in the kindergarten. They continued with the story that my mother didn’t love me. In time, new stories came along. I was the black sheep of the family. Nobody understood me. I was different. For 48 years I had been creating new stories and repeating old ones. I learned how to layer stories upon stories. What I didn’t know was that every story added another block to the invisible wall I was building around me. With enough stories, the wall became a fortress, designed to protect me from the world outside. Everyday my fortress fed me “evidence” of my loneliness.
And then I saw the illusion. My fortress was not real. It was nothing more than a compilation of fabricated stories accumulated over many years, all self-created. None of it real.
I had lost all Connection – with anyone or anything. I had cut myself off from the rest of the world. Nobody had done it to me. I had done it to myself.
It was time to make a fresh choice.
I started with Connection. Real Connection. Not “likes” on social media. First, I had to reconnect with myself. Letting go of the stories helped. I had to see my love affair with self-absorption, for that is not connection. I learned that true connection comes when we consider others ahead of ourselves. I learned to enquire and listen to what others were saying, without rushing to talk about myself. (That’s wasn’t always easy!)
Preethaji, Co-founder of O&O Academy says: “Connection is where you feel the other, and feel felt by the other.” Unless and until that occurs, there is no connection. There is merely conversation.
Only through connection will the illusion of loneliness be exposed. And only then can we choose how we want to live our lives. I chose Happiness. What do you choose?
Gael Gordon lives in New Zealand and is a Professional Coach and Business Consultant. Sign up free to her website www.gaelgordonblog.com to receive her latest blogs.