There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. The one is a physical state which can be chosen, while the other is a state of being and is both physical and emotional. Confusing the two is easy and very often we hear that someone is alone when they really mean that they’re lonely. After all it’s very hard to be alone in a room, but it’s very easy to be lonely when you’re surrounded by friends. The state of loneliness is as pressing to the person who feels it whether they live in a city or in the middle of no-where. It’s the deep down, spirit deep need we as humans have to connect on a meaningful level, to belong to a group that accepts us for who we are and not have to wear the mask that society asks us to.
The consequence of loneliness, extended loneliness, be it from people who you can love and be loved by, be it separation from people who think and experience in the way we do, or simply accept us flaws and all for who we are, the consequence of that loneliness is the slow, quiet death of the soul. Sitting here in Manhattan, center of the world allegedly, I can feel just as lonely as if I was sitting in the wilds of Canada hundreds of miles from another human being. Loneliness isn’t dependant on where you live, it’s the absence of people who feed your spirit.
Once the feelings of being lonely set in the spiral down can be a difficult one to break. Rather than seek out people who can lift us we retreat further our spirit is telling us that there is no one out there so why look? To counter the feelings there are wonderful ways to forget, to zone out, to disappear just from a moment from the feelings we’re experiencing. Alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, all play their part in diverting us for a moment, but when that moment fades and we find our need unfulfilled, we end up needing more and more to sustain the illusion. So we can add physical addictions to the mental ones that we are already experiencing. No life should be reduced to that.
On the side there is also the danger of isolationism. We retreat further and further from a world we are convinced doesn’t want us and in the end it becomes the truth. We are capable of making ourselves ugly to others, repellant to them, just because we are convinced that it’s us who’s the repellant one. The idea that you can destroy a child if you tell them they’re unloveable often enough is very true, the tragedy is that we can also do it to ourselves. If we say that we are lonely, acknowledge it often enough, and find no external person countering it then we can destroy ourselves. Lonely becomes unwanted, unwanted becomes unloveable, unloveable becomes no reason to live. Again no life should be reduced to that.
Society has to take some responsibility in all of this. It’s not good enough to look at the lonely individual and say “they need to pull themselves together.” We live in an age of competition where society judges us by standards that are impossible to meet. We are judged on our job, our home, our children, our relationships, on how we dress and what we think. The competition is with us as we work and when we get home at night. It’s not enough to be ourselves because we have to be a success on every level. To break the cycle of loneliness we must break the conditions by which people are judged “acceptable”.
Perhaps if we as humans became just that and treated each other as the same but different then we would begin to see the suicide and hospital admission rates fall. In breaking from the who are you, what are you, what do you do and what can you do for me mentality we have the chance to breath new life under broken wings. Whether it’s a question of race, or religion, sexuality or job, when we look beyond the labels and meet as two equal beings then great things can happen. When we lose the need to alter one another to suit our own needs then loneliness can be lessened because we are all acceptable. We also need to remember that sometimes when we feel most lonely there are others holding out a hand unconditionally all we have to do is reach back.