Reflections on being alone and belonging

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I wrote this post a long time ago.  Reading it back I don’t know why I never published it, but reading through a couple of other posts from bloggers today it touches on issues which I feel are relevant to the difficulties and challenges we have connecting when we are on a path of healing and recovery.

I have been contemplating the tension between these two states of being today: belonging and being alone. I was re-reading a wonderful book on addiction and attachment written by Philip J. Flores : Addiction as an Attachment Disorder. In it he explores what happens when our attempts to bond or connect with others fail or are damaged in our early lives or at any one of a number of stages  along the way.  We learn that attaching can be painful, dangerous or hurtful and perhaps we decide unconsciously that the cost of doing so is just too painful. Feeling this pain of disconnection may be the trigger which gets us reaching for things, or substances to fill the void and thus addictions are born.

This was most certainly my experience. It was not a conscious choice that I made, but one that happened to me unconsciously and took a long time to come to awareness. In his book Flores makes the connection between difficulty in attaching and the use of addictive substances, he also charts the challenging journey of people in recovery attempting to heal narcissistic injuries and defences in order to come into authentic intimate relationship with a self that can bear the tension of being in relationship with others who are both similar and different to them, who may meet or frustrate our needs.

As a psychotherapist, Flores emphasis in his book is on the healing damage through support groups and through the reparative bond of therapy.  A new secure bond in which we are accepted, even for our difficulties and dark side can help us to heal.  Such a bond must be with someone who is willing to forgo control and accept as we are, while challenging us to grow in the damaged places.

Hopefully, it is not only therapy which offers us this possibility of reparative relationships.  In the rooms of fellowships in recovery we learn that we can express who we are and be loved and accepted despite any pain or shame that we carry over our addictions and consequences of it. Therapy, however, when effective provides us with an opportunity to examine within the context of a healing relationship, the conflicts we had in other relationships that may have led us to disconnect and reach for substances.

I have shared before that I have the Saturn Moon aspect. Lately I have become ever more conscious of how I can and do choose to disconnect, even when attachment is offered and of the time in my recovery when I began to pull away from the love people were trying to show me, which could not be totally adequate at that point to my needs, but never the less came from a place of caring. I have been thinking of the fear that I harboured which revolved around loss of self, of being swallowed whole, fear of not being seen, not being understood, of failures of empathy. Was it a case of transferring old pain over what had occurred in childhood onto new situations in the present and so erecting walls of defence to protect the soul against the feared violation?

It has taken me time to begin to understand and differentiate between those who are and are not capable of meeting me and showing empathy and even longer to understand times when my own empathy for those without empathy had fallen short. I think it is really only the past few years that I beginning to feel I have a handle on this difference and on these issues and over this period I now understand I have been struggling with the issue of forgiveness of myself and others.  We are all at some point on the narcissistic spectrum, I guess. And we are all at different points of the spectrum of being able to tolerate a sense of belonging/being in relationship and of being alone.

At times my longing to belong has made me feel so alone, at others my need to be alone has challenged those who wanted to be with and belong to me. I remember following one particularly painful night with my ex a few years ago when frustrations had driven us apart, him to spend the night alone in the bush in response to anger I had expressed at continual frustration of my needs. I shared with him my very real fear of losing myself in the relationship with someone whose continual focus on his own needs and demands threatened at a very deep level my sense of being able fulfill my own. It was, I now see, a recreation of many aspects of my relationship with both of my parents.

The cost of belonging meant in these relationships loss of myself and perhaps even the erasing of that self. The only solution, then was, to be alone and to refuse the contact that was threatening to erase me. It is strange to say but the pull that was occurring to be alone, was perhaps all for the purpose of coming to know myself as a person outside of the relationships which up to that point had defined and (I now see) limited me in order that I could eventually heal the pain of feeling like I did not belong.   It was painful and scary and I had many strange symptoms from that time, when separation was demanding the loss of belonging to anyone other than myself.

Until we have a true relationship with ourselves, until we develop a sense of self, how can we truly relate and feel that we belong? Towards the end of his book, Flores calls upon the work of Martin Buber, most especially he calls on what Buber has written and explored around the I-Thou relationship.

The attainment of a sense of self in childhood requires someone to be present for who we really are, rather than primarily concerned with turning us into someone we are not to suit the other’s purposes. When this development task has not been achieved the healing onus falls upon new relationships and perhaps, if we choose it, most specificially a therapeutic (but not necessarily only) relationship.  However, new relationships we unconsciously choose may trigger old issues. What happens if we attract a therapist who cannot be present for us to unfold who we really are, to develop a self, but instead makes demands of us to be other, to be not a beloved thou but an it/object to fulfil their ideas and purposes? This has happened to me on several occasions now and both drove me back to being alone and evoked the deepest wounds of my childhood.

Maybe these were essential lessons in my growing up? Maybe they were part of the karma/dharma of my Saturn Moon?  I am not really sure.

As a Neptunian myself I have a strong urge to merge, to lose myself and feel the beautiful sense of connection that comes when barriers and boundaries are dropped for a time. Music is one way in which I experience this lately. And yet I also have a very strong Saturnian Moon side that seeks solitude and aloneness and finds a sense of great completion and wholeness through pursuits such as writing and reading.

To the self who is not us we are an other, and in being that other we may through that otherness threaten them with the recognition of an essential aloneness which is essential to face and which contains deep within it the painful possible sting of sadness, lack and pain.

Entering this aloneness brings us face to face with the deepest bittersweet poignant pain of our ultimate separateness that can only be bridged temporarily. For everyone we have ever loved, we will one day loose, but we what we will never loose is the memory of how special and sweet it felt, if only for a time to have belonged and connected in such a way that for a time knowledge and experience our separateness and aloneness was obliterated in the warm fire of that connection whose tender memory will remain with us, a glowing ember to warm our lonely moments until we die.

Making peace with loss/aloneness involves the capacity to realise that although we are alone we can call to mind times of belonging which make our present aloneness less painful. Once we have opened up to the possibility of being alone, of opening deeply to the potential pleasure and threat of experiencing both the longing and pain of loss and disconnection, we have also relaxed defences against the pain loss of connection brings, defences that functioned to keep us isolated and alone in our hearts, reaching for the comfort of substances that only obliterated, rather than deepened consciousness and provided cold comfort.

Our longing and desire to connect to that which we hope to, but can ultimately never possess or be forever a part of completely, opens us to the awareness that our life will be forever a dance between experiences of being alone/separate and belonging/connecting. Allowing ourselves to be an I separate and alone at times and seeing and honouring others a “thou” rather than demanding they be an “it” to support our demands facilitates a letting go and letting be of the other person that rather than a restrictive, tightening and imposing, allows releasing, loosening and unfurling. It facilites a growth in separateness, self and consciousness that paradoxically enables a great degree of connection. This free and open space and way of negotiating the voice between being alone and connecting feels to me a lot like love.

In my life I have experienced the depths of loneliness.  At times they were so acute I longed for extinction. But in time they passed.  However they helped me to understand why someone would take their own life, long to end the pain that cut them too deeply within or made them feel like cutting themselves just to feel there was someone alive, deep within, still breathing though suffocating under the dead heavy weight of a pain too nebulous to express.  I have even been able to connect with others when in the midst of these feelings by talking about them a fact which has somehow saved me at critical times.

In the depths of feeling separate there was still some kind of connection playing out, and the separateness experienced made the value of later connections all the more precious when they arrived as gifts unbidden, unexpected.

Life, in the end has asked that I engage in that dance and in dancing it come to understand the fleeting impermanence of it all.  Endings, leavings, losses have been tinged with bittersweet sadness and hollow pain at times.   But on some level they returned me to the depths of me even in the quiet solitude where there was no other witness, they gave rise to poetry and tears, rages and fears, dreams and songs and led to the recognition of the deeper humanity of it when mirrored in the songs, poems, tear, rages and fears of others.

Being alone helped me know how precious it can feel to have moments of belonging.  Belonging made me realise at times how precious being alone is, how essential to the nurturing of my spirit.  And in truth it is all a dance.  One that I am not always in control of, one that demands of me, at times more than I am capable of.  And at others gives me moments of sublime beauty made even more precious due to the contrasting times of loneliness, separation and suffering that went before.

4 thoughts on “Reflections on being alone and belonging

  1. Such an honest and thought-provoking post. “…connection whose tender memory will remain with us, a glowing ember to warm our lonely moments until we die” – so beautifully said. Lovely post.x

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