“The Cure for loneliness is solitude” — Marianne Moore
Many wrongly assume that solitude and loneliness are the same state of being. Both are characterized by solitariness, but the resemblance ends there. Loneliness in grief, is a form of isolation where one feels that something is missing. Loneliness is not a choice. When my husband Peter died, I was thrust into loneliness. Loneliness is a negative state of discontent, marked by estrangement and aloneness. I felt excluded, unwanted, unimportant, and my self-esteem hit rock bottom. I considered loneliness a very harsh punishment, a state of deficiency, a state of estrangement, and an unwelcome awareness of my aloneness. Even when I was surrounded by loved ones, I still experienced loneliness. Loneliness sucks!
Solitude, on the other hand, is the state of being alone without being lonely. Solitude is a beneficial and constructive choice. After Peter died, and still to this day, I often choose the quiet of solitude to work through my grief. Solitude helps me read books on grief and digest the material. Solitude gives me the time to organize my thoughts into essays which help in my process. Solitude has become my sixth sense for finding a path to restoration. Solitude is a positive time for inner reflection. In solitude, I have found sufficient company. In solitude, I have learned to cherish myself.
After Peter died, I was so lonely that I couldn’t bear the silence. I turned to Amazon Echo for music (mostly the music from Hamilton); I turned on the television for background noise; and I reached out to friends for comfort. The suddenness of my loneliness brought back childhood memories of abandonment. I felt like the little girl waiting for my mother to come home to make me a complete person. The loneliness catapulted me back to unhappier times where I felt unloved. Peter was my good parent, my lover, and my other half. Now I had to look to the little girl inside and make her feel loved again. I had to transform my intense feelings of loss and loneliness into comfort for that sad part of me. I had to make friends with my inner self. In my solitude of reflection, I had to find a person inside of me with whom I could enjoy just hanging out. I had to find my best friend within this lanky body I call home.
Transforming loneliness into solitude isn’t easy. I began by talking to myself a lot. I’m not talking about the conversation you have screaming at your computer. I am talking about asking yourself “is it dinner time yet?” I found myself talking to the characters on television shows. I found myself commenting on a great fried egg on toast I was eating. I had to find a friend in me. I had to draw sustenance from the quiet. I had to regain a perspective on my life to restore my soul.
The loneliness of grief is devastating. It requires a huge amount of time and effort to power through. You have lost pieces of your heart and you must rebuild yourself. Once you have accepted that you will never fill the void of your loss, you can start finding a love for your inner self to help you adapt to your new life as a singular person.
I recently formulated a list of suggestions for coping with loneliness and opening oneself up to the goodness of solitude:
· Reach out to friends and family who give you solace. They are the ones who don’t dispense with platitudes, and diligently listen to your story of woe without any judgements.
· Don’t expect others to guess what you need. Tell them point blank if you need a hug, or a ride, or just an ear.
· Be honest about everything. If you need some alone time, ask for it. If you need your lightbulb replaced, ask for that.
· Have a good cry. Let it all hang out.
· Find some good solitude time to remember your loved one and then cry again.
· Don’t lash out at others in your pain. Be mindful that they don’t know what to say to you.
· Join a support group. They are the only ones who really get your pain.
· Identify your loneliest times and see if you can alter your routine. My worst times are the weekends, so I make plans well in advance to insure I am not alone too long.
· Make a comforting meal. Cooking can be therapeutic.
· Make daily to-do lists. The routine will help you move forward. By all means, add a little retail therapy if that helps!
· Journalize. Writing is empowering as a tool to discovering your true feelings.
· Take walks or work out. The endorphins work wonders.
· Embrace solitude. It can be an adventure. Use the time to reflect, remember, or just be happy with me, myself, and the new I!
“Language has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude” to express the glory of being alone.” –Paul Tillich