I can feel incredibly alone in a room full of people. Terribly alone in a sea of people. Utterly alone in a world of over seven billion people. Such is the way of an introvert. Paradoxically, often the best way for me to keep loneliness at bay is to spend time alone. I can be all by my lonesome and not feel the least bit lonely. I know, it’s a real head scratcher. The most heart-wrenching form of loneliness though, is feeling irrevocably alone in the company of the one person in the world who vowed to love you the most. I’ve felt that too. That flavor of loneliness is what made me give up for all intents and purposes on my marriage many years ago. I didn’t leave the marriage, but I did give up on it. And that did not work out so well for me.
You do see the problem though, don’t you? Not feeling any loneliness as a result of being the only person in the room, but instead, feeling an unbearable amount of loneliness while in a room, in a house, in a marriage with your spouse? Too much time in this state can beguile you into thinking you might be better off not staying in this kind of marriage. The safety on the trigger that I am loathe to even rest my finger on is the experience of living through multiple divorces as I was growing up. As a result, for me personally, divorce has always been a, ‘hell no!’ I just can’t stomach the thought of it, let alone do it. Here’s the weird and wacky thing I did instead. I just said, “oh well.” As in, oh well, I tried, so hard, to fix everything and I couldn’t, so I’ll just suck it up and endure this excruciating form of loneliness forever because I’d rather be miserable than divorced. Another head scratcher, I know.
The lack of true and genuine connection is the thread of commonality used to sew the patchwork quilt that’s made up of all the varied squares of loneliness. So many of us own one of these quilts. They are each uniquely patterned and then finished off with a thick binding; woven of dispositions, behaviors, choices, and circumstances that add to their heft and weight. Sometimes these quilts are just too heavy.
All the parts of ourselves that make us feel like a deficient lone wolf can pile up on top of that already too heavy quilt and weigh us down and drive up our internal temperature even further. Under this deadweight, we can become convinced it is just us; whatever the ‘it’ is. If thinking that we’re the only one is part of our quilt’s pattern, that blanket of burden can make us feel like we’re trapped in a sweat lodge. The kind of sweat lodge operated covertly in the desert by a wack-job brainwasher. We can become too delirious in this indoctrination to make our way out.
One of my “I’m-sure-it’s-just-me-isms” is having the suckiest bedtime hygiene routine ever. There is one step in my regimen and that’s to fall between the sheets. Without washing face or brushing teeth, no q-tipping, no cotton-balling, no towlette-wiping, just nothing. I’ve done this more nights than I haven’t. Like all but one. It’s not always that I’m beyond exhausted and out of gas, it’s often that I am stunningly lazy and I just can’t even.
Another is never being able to remember if different friends of mine have met in the past, and so I proceed to introduce them to each other on eleventeen different occasions before I finally pick up on the most understated of eye rolls, sympathetic head tilts or gentle admonitions of, “yes, Jodie, we’ve met, we were both bridesmaids in your wedding, remember, hon’?” It’s not that I’m not paying attention. It’s exactly that I am paying all my attention and I can’t catalog and store all the receipts in my cluttered and overflowing brain.
Another is having to say no to an invitation to a gathering because my triple-introvert batteries have not been charged up with enough necessary alone time to be able to surround myself with other people and be able to enjoy the experience and have the experience enjoy me back.
Those quirks we have, those things we do or don’t do, that we’re sure no one else does or doesn’t do, they like to whisper and point their fingers and narrow their eyes at us til we feel the shaming heat of their stares. They’re tricksters and they lie. I’ve heard from enough shame-resistant braves who bare their souls by telling their truths to be able to tell the difference between the mirage of loneliness I often perceive and the reality of togetherness that always exists.
One of my favorite authors; a woman, a mom, and a warrior I have huge respect for, wrote that she NEVER flosses her teeth and even brushing them is but an occasional activity she partakes in. She thinks going to the dentist twice a year allows her to call it good, that it’s their job to take care of her teeth. I can guess what you’re thinking, but her teeth are actually beautiful. A blogger I adore wrote about the always present greasy, grey dust under her oven. A female character in a TV show bemoaned, “I’ve got a cyst on my big toe and so I just can’t wear flip-flops anymore.” A newly published, stay-at-home mother and writer I champion penned that motherhood for her is both too much and not enough, all at the same time. A singer/song-writer I jam to cautions her name is, “no”, her sign is, “no,” her number is, “no.” Mine too, girlfriend, mine too.
All of these truths twin with mine. They play Red Rover and Ring Around the Rosie on the playground and then they dance around the Maypole together. They gather around the campfire and harmonize sweetly, late into the night. The pleasing warmth put out by the combination of smoldering embers of sameness and sticks of red-hot truth is just right. And in that glow, I’m able to eschew that heavy and burdensome quilt.
If you listen, if you pay attention, if you notice; you’re never really alone, it’s never just you. Especially when you want it to be! I kid, I kid. For reals though, there is nothing new under the sun. And that’s some wise, wise shit right there; wise shit that I did not come up with. It’s a little snippet from a big book about Jesus. I heard it for the first time during a Bible study about fifteen years ago and it’s been my go-to, calming mantra ever since. Deciphered, as almost everything in the Bible needs to be so that we can say, “ahhh, ok, got it now,” it simply means you are not the only one. Nope. You’re just not. It’s not the only occurrence, whatever “it” is. It just isn’t. Your weird, flawed, and broken do not belong only to you. They just don’t.
“What has been will be again, / what has been done will be done again; / there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9 (ESV)
I think the entirety of the Bible is meant to explain to us we are not alone, but that particular statement from Solomon is what brings it home for me. The cyclical nature of human life on this planet was lamentable to Solomon. I flipped that record of lament over and I sing the praises of the lack of newness, the shame eraser of sameness and the comforting similarity of shared circumstances in regards to humanity instead. Perspective, Solomon, perspective.
By the grace of God, I don’t feel that crushing, irrevocable brand of loneliness anymore. But Jesus, that was a long haul. After I chose to give up on my marriage, on restoring the severed seams of true and genuine connection, and just went through the motions of being a couple, my husband made a choice too. During this bleak and barren period that neither of us knew how to fix, he chose to have an affair. And if I thought I was lonely inside our marriage before being cheated on, well, I guess this is what they mean when they say things can always be worse.
I write publicly about our odyssey now because I wasn’t the first to do so, the media was, and that does not sit well with me. Also, because writing is facilitating my healing like nothing else has. And my healing is helping Erik heal. As I grow stronger, so does he. Let me tell you, from watching it go down first hand, it’s clear nothing has ever broken him as badly as breaking me. And further, I write openly about this all too shaming subject because I believe it can help some of you heal too. I know intimately the comfort some of you will glean from the sameness of our stories and the lessened loneliness you will revel in from the similarity of our circumstances.
One of the very hard things that came from the very public airing of our story was a number of friends reaching out to me to tell me they had suffered through infidelity in their own marriages as well. Initially, it didn’t help me to hear it. With each revelation it just made me feel sadder and more defeated in coming to understand just how common this pitfall is. Their stories melted the pieces of my already broken heart. Eventually, my focus shifted to the knowledge that many of these couples had somehow gotten past this too often unspeakable hurt and devastation. Those that were the most altruistically articulate about their stagger through the labyrinth of unfaithfulness were the ones that helped me the most.
What plagued me deeply in the early days of recovery was knowing that I was not going to leave, but not knowing how I was going to stay. My heart’s desire is to reach those who are treading water in that same despicable state by tossing out to them how I did it, how I stayed. In case, just in case, my story can serve as a life preserver and give them some hope of making it all the way to shore.
My power, my resurrection, my ability to overcome is in striking the ‘un’ from speakable. I own each and everything that happens to me and with that ownership, I’m choosing to make my truth speakable. In thoughtfully deleting two simple letters, I’m moving onward, via the routes of forward and upward. For me, allowing this part of my story to remain unspeakable would leave me unmoored. And I’m not down with that.
Sharing our stories is our best weapon against loneliness. Our best chance. Our best.
Feature image: My mama’s quilt, nestled with my great-grandmama’s quilt. They are not made of loneliness, they are made of love.
Second image: Hallie Utter Photography; on a beautiful night at a gorgeous fall wedding last year. Weddings make me feel good, good, good!