The Loneliness Experiment – 1a

Four clients today. Light day. I remembered as I was packing up to leave that I try to help people for a living. As difficult as it may be to believe I hadn’t thought of that for a really long time. I don’t think it made me feel good but it still felt important to remember.

I walked back to my car and enjoyed the gentle faded brown of the telephone poles. It amused me that amid the grass, flowers and trees my favorite thing was the telephone poles.

I got to the gym and ran hard on the treadmill. As I ran I thought about my last therapy session. My therapist asked me if I could connect to his love and I said that I felt like I was a tree with dense foliage; that only a few beams of his sunlight could sneak through. As I ran I imagined what it would be like to let in all of his light and I began to weep (weeping while running one’s ass off on a treadmill is not an easy task so a part of me is fishing for admiration). The tears were about…well heartbreak. About how I don’t believe I can survive more heartbreak and, therefore, I don’t want to matter to him because then he’ll matter to me. And then what? What if I find myself counting on him and our sessions and I suddenly can’t afford to see him? What if I put my faith in him and nothing changes? What if he sees me as a lost cause?

I’m reading a book about trauma and there is a case study in it about a guy who gets severely attacked by a dog when he’s younger. His behavioral response to this trauma is to avoid dogs (even golden retrievers apparently). One day the guy is at a lecture and the lecturer’s friendly dog sneaks up on him and places his head on his lap. The guy could intellectually distinguish one dog from the other in his narrative about the incident; but that didn’t keep his body from freezing up. My point is that I can answer the questions I asked up above with intellectual aplomb, but none of that changes the fact that when he checks in about our relationship, my body goes kind of numb; it doesn’t change the fact that I don’t look forward to seeing him.

I’ve spent the last week or so trying, unsuccessfully, to avoid pain. That is, as my friends begin to stand in different places due to choice or circumstance or some combination of the two, my body goes into hyper-arousal (panic, fear, rage) and then, later, hypo-arousal (depression, collapse). My mind is self-aware and has answers: A and N and E and T know the darkest parts of me and still love me. They are on my team. They accept me unconditionally. I love them with every ounce of being. But when I’m struggling with my trauma the slightest movement away from me can feel like I’m being torn apart inside. I’m not knocking my self-awareness. Without that part of me it’s not an exaggeration to say that I would have no love in my life; in fact, I wouldn’t even be alive. But it doesn’t change the fact that my body thinks it’s being attacked by a rabid dog. I become so afraid of encountering these sensations that I begin to avoid them. Not just them but myself. People. Love. And then this turns into loneliness and isolation. And then I hit upon my original pain and fear and rage (don’t worry mom–I’m not eschewing responsibility for myself only naming how your departure–and maybe even your desire not to have me when I was in your belly–was my first major source of trauma). And then I’m not just alone but I’m not even part of the human race. Shame. Fear. Pain. Rage. In no specific order. I have to do something. I have to run or fight or freeze. So I freeze (I lie around and feel helpless). I run and hide (I avoid humanity or act out with food or other things). Or I fight…wait, but that’s it. I don’t actually fight.

In my younger days I fought. I would yell at my dad or blame my partners for my pain and emptiness or even get into bar fights. The fighting got so bad that it led to the lowest moment in my life. And then…I became afraid of the anger and the rage. It became something “bad”. It made me a monster. It became this thing that threatened other people. It was life saving to reach such a low point. It led to a lot of growth and change and to healthier love. It even led to a meaningful career.

A tells me that there is life force in my anger. They are probably right. I can feel that there’s truth in this. But what makes it complicated is that I don’t think I know how to access such a primal rage and turn it into life force. Not yet. My rage led to real acting out. The dangerous kind. I don’t think I’m ready to manage it by myself. I started talking to my therapist about it in the last session. Maybe he can help me make use of the rage in a positive way. And maybe I have to start letting him matter more for that to happen.

This is a loneliness journal. So I guess that what I’m saying is something pretty obvious but, nevertheless, important: I am often lonely because I shut down my heart to protect myself from disappointment; and when I do hit up against disappointment (even normal understandable run-of-the-mill disappointment) I shut down even more and turn to things that will distract me from my sadness and pain and rage–I look for medicine. And not all of the medicine is unhealthy. Some of it is sweet. But some of it is getting really dark. And maybe that is a turning point. But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s scary and uncomfortable.

I feel less lonely right now. Note to self: maybe writing without trying so hard to write well or produce something “good” can help with my loneliness.

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