The Big Lonely

Avoidance and denial, my old friends. Back in the day, we hung together pretty tightly – in fact, we were what you might have called inseparable. I fed them all the emotions I preferred not to feel, and they shielded me from facing the harsher realities of my life. We made quite a team, living together inside the 352 pound flesh shell we built – soft, warm, protective.

Looking back, I know we weren’t exactly happy. But most days we felt like we could face whatever came our way. Or deflect it without much emotional impact. My friends would say, “I’m lonely,” or “I just wish I could meet someone”, and we would respond, “Why dwell on it? You can’t change it, and it only makes you unhappy.”

Man, have times changed. I kicked Avoidance out somewhere around 280 pounds, and Denial, while more tenacious, left shortly thereafter. For the most part, I haven’t missed them. My life has, in virtually every way, been so much lighter (brighter, less weighty, happier) without them. Oh, they visit briefly, from time to time, but its much easier to say goodbye each time. We just don’t have that much in common anymore. Breaking up was hard to do, but I don’t miss them as my BFFs.

Well, except in one way. These days, I’m feeling my feelings. Something that I never really had to do before if I chose not to – Avoidance and Denial (and the protective layer of 138 pounds I don’t carry now) took care of that for me. I’ve alluded to this in previous blog posts, mostly as one item in a list, or as something that I was acknowledging but didn’t want to get into. But here’s the honest truth: I have never felt this lonely.

How strange to say that at this point in my life. After all, I am – truly – happier than I have ever been. I have better, more fulfilling, relationships than I ever expected. My family and friends are with me, daily, enriching every experience and showering me with love and blessings. From the midst of this embarrassment of riches, I feel like an ungrateful or spoiled child to admit that I am still lonely. And yet, there it is.

Many times, I have refrained from talking about this, because I don’t want to appear pathetic, or upset my friends, or worst of all become a broken record on this point. Talking about my loneliness makes those who love me uncomfortable, because they can’t fix it. Instead, they try to cheer me up with stories about those who found a soulmate when they least expected, or by sharing their belief that one is waiting just around the bend for me, or by urging me to turn my eyes and heart to God.

Let me tell you this, so I can get it off my chest once and for all: I will be 50 years old this summer. I have never been part of a couple (not in the sense of two people who live together and make decisions together). Certainly I have given and received love, but never at the level of true intimacy which requires full participation and commitment from both people. And I have wanted this. Even when Avoidance and Denial helped me to hold the longing in check, and hide the depth of my loneliness from others (and, to a certain extent, from myself). So there is a reservoir of emotion which grew wide and deep all those years I had it dammed up. Without my old BFFs, I am swimming in it.  And for crying out loud, don’t bring up God right now, because the anger I’m not directing at myself is being quite forcefully directed at him. Right or wrong, that’s how I feel.

And there you have it. Once you stop denying that you have feelings, and start feeling your emotions, you feel them all. You don’t get to pick and choose. And the truth is, its really ok, even experiencing “The Big Lonely”, or deep anger. In one song, Lady Antebellum sings, “I guess I’d rather hurt than feel nothing at all.” I would amend that to “I guess I’d rather feel it all than feel nothing.”  And feeling my own anger or loneliness is a small price to pay for also feeling the joy that I sometimes experience with those I love – or for the contentment that mostly suffuses my days.

Joy and Contentment – way better BFFs than Avoidance and Denial, at any price.

Anticipation

Any minute now, my sister will be arriving to spend the night. Any minute. I’ve been telling myself this for an hour or so now. Still, no Annie.

Why is it that the things we so eagerly anticipate are the things that seem to take the longest to arrive?

This feeling is so common to the human experience, that we have aphorisms and proverbs that speak to it. The idiom in English is: a watched pot never boils. Before telephones were mobile, and came with us everywhere, my mother used to tell me not to just sit there waiting for the phone to ring – that the surest way for the call to come through was to get busy doing something productive. I can remember many times throughout my life when the anticipation seemed endless, almost unbearable. Who could stand to wait for Christmas, or summer vacation, or your birthday?

Funny how often this kind of eager anticipation is followed by an emotional letdown. Graduated from college? Hooray…now what? Christmas is finally here? Yippee…I didn’t get what I wanted. The New Year’s Eve party, trip to Vegas, prom…not really as much fun as the emotional hype leading up to them.

And yet.

Here’s something I’ve noticed recently. The ratio of events I’m eagerly anticipating to events that meet or surpass my expectations is getting better. Compared with my expectations, the following events surpassed anything I anticipated: my reunions with various old friends this past year = more meaningful and loving; The Oprah Tribute Show = better and more emotionally touching; time with my sister Anne = more fun and relaxed than a quick visit should be. And each hard fought pound dropped = more internal satisfaction than I ever expected to feel this far into my weight loss odyssey. (It took Odyssius ten years to make his way home from Troy, so I think odyssey is an appropriate word choice here!)

What I find myself wondering is whether I have learned to manage the anticipation, and keep it to a reasonable level OR if, instead, I have matured into a better understanding of the right life experiences to anticipate? Recently, I asked a friend if he felt let down after a series of big events in his life concluded. His response, “No letdown.  I don’t get letdowns too easy.  I’m very content…” struck me as a little too sanguine at the time. But the more I think about it, the more I come to believe he’s onto something. For me, it is less about being content than it is about living fully in the moment that comes – whatever it holds, no matter the advance hype. The good or great times can be fully enjoyed for what they are. And the other moments, even the difficult ones, can then be taken in stride without losing equilibrium. Being content isn’t about experiencing flat emotions (as my younger self suspected) – it is more about aligning oneself with the big picture of one’s life, instead of the momentary frame.

In her song, “Anticipation”, made famous by its use in the Heinz Ketchup commercials, Carly Simon writes about anticipation getting in the way of living her life right now – she’s late to meet her lover because she’s thinking about what might be. By the end of the song, she arrives at this conclusion: “So I’ll try and see into your eyes right now/And stay right here ’cause these are the good old days.” We could all choose worse credos to live by.