Friday, February 7, 2014

The Art of Isolation

Loneliness is a friend of mine.
- Rebuild, Relient K + Jon Foreman

I’ve chosen to be isolated in a lot of seasons of my life.

Because of wounds both imagined and very real, because of arrogance and because of fear, because of restlessness and because of weariness, I have frequently spent years of my life in loneliness either self-imposed or circumstance-demanded.

Towards the very end of my time in college living with my parents in Texas, I felt I had finally to a large extent worked past that particular plague, written it off to my teen years and left it behind. I had grown comfortable with my familiar job of four years, the characters that occupied every day’s story at school, the boisterous chaos of rich joy and deep heartache that characterized my family’s home. I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I had a few close friends who had stuck out a lot of life with me and were (and still are) loyal to a degree that blows my mind.

When I moved to Colorado, I encountered loneliness again, but it was assuaged somewhat by having so many longtime friends in town. I lived with a very dear friend and her husband and two kids, and though there were often long hours alone during the day, they were always countered by the noise of the family arriving home-- the boy eagerly asking me to play LEGOs, the girl conspiratorially sharing secrets about school.

Nashville, however, has become marked by a keen blade of loneliness unlike anything I’ve encountered before. I have a few very dear friends who keep up with my day-to-day from a distance, and I am grateful beyond words for that, but many miles separate us from that face-to-face familiarity the human soul was made to crave. I realize now a lot of my past foolishness-- so many times when I was lonely before, although I felt so isolated, I had people I could have called to come get coffee with me. I had siblings who would (and often did) willingly ditch homework at midnight to go get Dr. Pepper from the Sonic down the road. These are options I no longer have.

I heard it suggested frequently when I was younger that once you’re married you are never really lonely anymore, and if you are, you’re clearly an ingrate.

I would rather like to kick that concept into a dumpster and set it on fire.

Being married to Jordan is one of my favorite things in the whole world, but it’s not my whole world. Jordan is many things, but he is not all things. He can’t be all the varying perspectives of a group of friends gathered together, he can’t engage all of the facets of all my interests, he can’t help put on jewelry and share clothes like my sisters could (well he could, but it would get awkward fast). He can’t provide the curious sparks produced by friction with a mostly unfamiliar soul.

I’ve spent a lot of time grieving in typical “you never know what you’ve got til it’s gone” fashion, rhapsodizing on days of yesteryear as if they were unblemished. I’ve also spent a lot of time going to the other extreme: folding my arms, raising a cynical eyebrow and saying “well, I always thought life sucked back then anyway.”

Recently, through a lot of introspection (something I have maybe too much space for right now), I’ve realized that I’m going to have to let this refine me even if it breaks me. Because I’m so unhealthily addicted to what other people think of me (another blog post for another time), sometimes the loneliness makes me feel like I’m ceasing to exist-- like the absence of peoples’ opinions equates to the absence of me. It may be that this stretch is a chance to counter that long-held bad habit.

I think I am sometimes most truly myself when no one’s watching. No friend is around to either approve or criticize my behavior at work. I can post about it on facebook, tweet it, text it, but for every moment I share, there are hours and hours no one will ever know about or appraise. My family isn’t here to comment on and influence my music and movie tastes. My professors aren’t here to praise or question what I read and how my beliefs are being shaped. How I use my time, how I carry myself in this world, are suddenly wide open and stripped down to my deepest motives. Here I find out what actually matters and what I can allow to be painfully but helpfully stripped away. Here, where there is no one who will ever know, I find out exactly how much like Christ I’m actually willing to be.

So I’m learning to defy paralysis by letting this time move me instead-- move me into the truest version of myself. Sometimes it’s as big as writing a song I know no one but me and God will ever hear. Sometimes it’s as small as choosing to put together an outfit I love wearing even though I know no one is going to see it and comment on it.

This is not to deny the reality of loneliness. I’m lonely, and it’s lame, and it’s been tearing away at the edges of my heart, and I have to give myself permission to admit that. But I absolutely get to choose what I do with that loneliness... and I absolutely refuse to allow it to make me less.

And after all, if there’s anything I can learn from my past self, it’s that seasons like this don’t last forever. The way I use the waiting is what equips me to dive into fuller life when the time comes.


MangyCat said...

Let me just say that the phrase "keen blade of loneliness" is dreadfully beautiful.

Also, I think you're right there in that God is going to use this time of isolation for you to discover who you really are--without anyone watching. Some things might be wonderful; others might be awful.

Be prepared for either instance and embrace it for what it is. You are you, and now is the time to help strip away what you might want people to think, leaving what has always been there but merely under lock and key.

And remember that if you ever need to have a check in--I am here to exchange neverending texts with you. ;-)

Eclectic Elegance said...

I felt really, really lonely when I first moved out. No parents to debate with on when I'd be home at night, but no breakfast waiting for me in the morning. All the world and choices open doors, but bills to pay and homework to be done at the end of the day. And sometimes long lonely hours of laying on my bed late into the night with no one to talk to. made me deal with myself. And finally face some of my darkest fears. Now I actually feel like I've actually started enjoying the company of myself.

Before, I hated being alone, hid from my torments with noise and laughter. Now, I don't have to be afraid of my own head anymore. And I'm more at ease around other people because I actually like myself.

Now even my friends' opinions fade a little in importance, like you said. I can just "enjoy my weirdness," as Yukioh and I have been discussing extensively. XD And amuse myself when I'm alone. Sometimes it's funnier than amusing other people (which you know I love to do :-P) .

So...I'm right there with you. :3 *big hugs*