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I’m at my most vulnerable when I’m lonely, by far.
Most of my family members are introverts, and can go long, long periods of time without needing human interaction. My sister and father are especially like this, as are many of my extended family members. My mother and I- me to an extreme- are reliant on people.
I rely on people in a myriad of ways. I love getting to know people, building a personality to fit the face that’s been weathered by a lifetime, long or short or the inbetween durations, of whispers, kisses, shouts, swears, scratches, blizzards and baths. I crave intimacy with many people I meet, and some degree of interaction with almost everyone. I adore the little end pieces of people and the story behind a freckle, whether it was developed in Cancun on vacation or atop a New York City basketball court. I don’t just love these things; I’ve talked myself into believing that I need them.
I’m an extrovert, I say, as if that excuses my reliance, as if my ESFJ result that I got when I took a personality quiz at my middle school crush’s request means that I can sit in my neediness with no imperative to improve, even though I suffer as I sit. Who wants to suffer? A person that wants other people, apparently.
When I’m lonely, my chest aches. It melts into my stomach and liquifies that, too, forming one giant, pulsing pain in my abdomen that is cured by outreach. Obsession, compulsion. Loneliness, outreach. There’s hardly a halt between the two, so undetectable that it’s easy for me to choose not to detect it.
That does mean, though, that I can choose to detect the split second when stopping my outreach is possible. I can do it as well as I can stop any other OCD compulsion of mine. Once I have, though, I’m left with the mass in my stomach that aches and aches until it’s burned a hole into me. The hole is vast and the whole process anchors me to my bed, duvet over my face to shield my companion-less body, companion-less shame, from my own sight. How do I compose my life such that unveiling myself in those moments isn’t just repulsive, such that I don’t need to compulsively attach myself to people?
It starts by identifying why I’ve identified as a people-needer. It starts with what my doctors have called emotional deprivation in childhood; I try to use relationships with people, of any nature, as replacements for the emotional hole I was huddled at the bottom of as a child and adolescent. We’re all reenacting and healing from our childhood traumas, all the time. I’m lucky to know mine early in life; it’s the first step towards healing from trauma. Now, with the baseline reasoning established, what does lonely Olivia look like?
Lonely Olivia gets herself into trouble. She enters into friendships and relationships that harm her because she is desperate for companionship of any sort. Any kind word is a life-changer, and when the bar is so low, anyone can throw her a rope, no matter how decrepit the rope or the rope holder. She thinks, subconsciously, that if she can find anyone to utter the magic words, she’ll believe positive things about herself and she’d needn’t do the work for herself. What does keeping herself company look like? She’s not totally sure, not sustainably, and she doesn’t want to find out. The moment she finds herself embedded in solitude she’ll tweet, message someone, call someone, post, repost. On a macro level, she’ll go out with people who don’t make her feel good, date people who don’t make her feel good, spend months and years with the wrong people, but those people provide a service even if they’re not emotionally right for her, or intellectually stimulating, or supportive, or compatible at all; scratch the itch that Olivia can’t quite reach, herself.
My knowing all of this about myself is just the beginning of the battle, but it’s farther than I’ve ever gone in my pursuit of mental health. I never before have understood where my intense loneliness comes from, and haven’t ever had the foggiest on how to begin filling the voids that were opening up all over me.
Because my loneliness is derived from childhood trauma, it is largely stored in my body and nervous system. This means that I can’t talk myself into loving myself, into not needing people, into providing myself with kind words. Sure, intellectually I like elements of myself. I like what I write, I like my hair, I think I’m bright and I crack myself up, among other things. But what is it to truly feel warm when you melt into your bedsheets at night, to close your eyes to a night sky, extending outward and upward, behind your lids versus a black hole that extends downward as far as can be imagined?
That’s a skin, as my Fortnite loving little brother would put it, that I haven’t unlocked yet. It takes a lot of intentional work to unlock. It takes mindfulness in all moments, self awareness when it’s hardest. It takes understanding my trauma triggers and vulnerabilities and working extra hard in their flare up moments to remind myself that I can survive alone, that when I do, I don’t have to despise myself. I don’t have to escape to anyone else because I’d be escaping someone wonderful, someone worth sitting in. As I force myself to think this way, I’ll know how to deeply feel this way, truly experience it in all of my nerve endings, from my tear ducts to my duvet-covered tiptoes.
For those of you who don’t feel comfortable sitting in solitude, try to think back to your early childhood experiences with emotional safety, companionship, and unconditional love. You may be surprised how meaningful little moments of neglect can be. Odds are, the negative moments you remember as a child, whether they be a parent forgetting to pick you up, a parent screaming at you, and/or everything in between, are currently playing out in your life in ways you don’t fully understand. Once you connect the dots, you’ve unlocked your personal journey towards freedom from the necessitation of others.
Other people are cool, I’ll never un-think that, but there’s no one as cool as you, in your world.