By Hazelden Author ~ Rosemary O’Connor
(An exert from my book “A Sober Mom’s Guide to Recovery” (Hazelden Publishing 2015)
When we cannot bear to be alone, it means we do not properly value the only companion we will have from birth to death—ourselves. — EDA LESHAN
Loneliness is one of the most difficult human emotions. It can feel like a hole in the bottom of your gut, or a deep, aching longing in the heart, or both. The addict runs from loneliness in many ways: through drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, bingeing, purging, overeating, gambling, busyness, and overworking. These quick fixes do the trick at first, but as with all addictive behaviors, the high or distraction quickly wears off and we’re back to feeling lonely and isolated. We pick it up “just one more time”—the drug, the alcohol, the lover, the credit card, the carton of ice cream— and then we’re left with that deeper hole of self-loathing and demoralization.
Loneliness is the deep spiritual longing to connect with a Higher Power, ourselves, and other human beings—the very things that our addictions had cut us off from at an emotional level. It has nothing to do with the number of people we have around; we can feel just as lonely in a crowded room as when we’re at home by ourselves.
When I got sober and first felt the feelings of loneliness, I was even more terrified. I had no idea what to do with this feeling—other than drinking. To admit to another person that I felt lonely was out of the question, because I was busy making others think I had it all together and was doing great.
Learning to be alone was scary, the last thing I wanted to tackle. A mentor of mine suggested I do things to honor myself. She had me buy myself flowers; take myself to the movies and dinner alone (oh boy, that was hard!). Each time I practiced one of these new behaviors I came out on the other side a little bit stronger, with a little more self-confidence in the bank, knowing I could survive the difficult feelings of being alone and not drink or use.
Many clients tell me they have no idea who their “real self ” is, or what they like and don’t like. When we’re not connected to our own spirit and have no idea who we truly are, we try to attach to another person, hoping they’ll make us feel whole. It’s like walking around with an empty cup with a hole in the bottom, going from person to person saying, Fill me up. We look down at the cup and can’t understand why we feel so empty.
I needed to learn to be quiet and connect to my Higher Power. I needed to learn to slow down and just be with myself. I needed to get to know me.
Getting to know myself was awkward at first—all new healthy behavior is—but I kept stretching myself with my alone times. And it paid off. I was no longer lonely when alone as I discovered the tender spirit within, the inner child who’d been waiting for me. My favorite alone times were the drives I’d take up the coast with just the view and me! These drives turned into overnights, then weekends. I took myself to Hawaii for five days and I even went to Spain and spent three days alone, barely speaking to anyone with my very poor Spanglish. I discovered there actually was someone home inside, and I met her and liked her!
Tools for Overcoming Loneliness
- Breathe! Sit quietly with your eyes closed. Breathe deeply into the part of your body where you feel the ache of loneliness. Keep doing this even if it feels like it’s going to kill you. (Rest assured: no one has ever died from sitting and breathing into an aching heart. What does kill people is running from this pain by acting out an addiction.)
- Ask yourself out on a date. We can spend a lot of time and energy trying to find someone who wants to do something with us like going to the movies. Take your Big Girl self by the hand and march up to the box office, buy a ticket for one, choose exactly where you want to sit, and enjoy the movie.
- Make a list of things you’d like to do. If you don’t know what they are (like most of us in early recovery), think of what you liked as a child or wished you could have done as a child. Did you ride a bike, roller skate, dance, hike, put on plays, paint, or play an instrument? Choose one today and do it.
- Pray this prayer: “God, please take away my emptiness and loneliness. Illuminate the dark places within me and guide me with your light. I know that I matter to you and that I am on this Earth for a purpose. Please show me my purpose in life and guide me on my path today.”