I’ve been feeling lonely lately. But to be fair, I think I’ve been lonely for a long time. The difference between then and now is my ability to pay attention to what is already there and begin to dialogue with it.
There was a time growing up when I couldn’t be lonely. It was too dangerous to feel that way. As a little boy growing up in rural Oklahoma, I had no neighbor kids to play with, therefore I was alone much of my early childhood. I learned to play alone. I learned to get along by myself. It was a skill that served me well in the pandemic. While everyone was freaking out about being isolated, I reverted to the skillset that served me as a child.
I knew how to get busy doing things. I knew how to be productive. I painted my house by myself. I began writing music again. I started a podcast (Spotify) or (Apple). I indulged my interest in plants and gardening. I started working out again and losing weight.
I traveled. I wrote a lot. I started a business by accident that is now in its fourth year of growth and development. I got busy and stayed busy.
But underneath it, I was still lonely.
My outward busyness was an effective shield to hide the inner condition that my heart was feeling. This stragegery worked until it didn’t.
I’m grateful for the forces that shaped me growing up. Big Kev is a direct beneficiary of Little Me being shrewd and smart enough at an early age to figure out what it was going to take to survive. I would not be the man I am today without those influences.
But that doesn’t mean I have it figured out yet. I am older and wiser now and have perspective on what the young version of me had to face. Little Me was not able to sort through complex emotions like loneliness. But he was savvy enough to persist and keep it together.
It’s up to the adult version of me to go back and revisit the past and remember what loneliness felt like.
I’ve discovered that this is not an intellectual process. I can’t think it through. I have to feel it. If I don’t, my adult choices won’t make sense.
Alcohol was my drug of choice in my darkest season of depression and self-doubt. It helped me drift off to sleep when my body was wrecked with stress and fear. It was effective medicine until it wasn’t.
I started feeling guilty that I was drinking so much, but I wasn’t that interested in stopping. I didn’t put the two and two together that drinking wasn’t my problem. It was only a symptom of something deeper that needed my attention. My life and everything I had worked for was on a downward spiral towards an eventual abyss.
Shame was my problem, not the bottle.
Once I connected the dots between my shame and subsequent destructive behavior, the solution came into focus.
As any normal human, I want to feel better, and I’ll use whatever I have at my disposal to achieve that end. That’s not hard to comprehend. This kind of clarity helps remove judgment and is highly effective in countering shame.
Through the intense work of a therapist, I started to confront the shame, and the habit of drinking began to release its grip on my soul. I was doing the work. I was addressing the real problem.
As an emotion, loneliness is no different to me. It’s unwanted and undesirable. And I can deal with it by staying busy or finding another soul-numbing drug.
Or I can see it as an invitation.
I get to invite loneliness to have a seat and begin a conversation, however difficult it may be.