Jeremiah 20: 18 Why was I ever born? My entire life has been filled with trouble, sorrow, and shame.
That’s a pretty strong statement. Has there ever been a time you could relate? I remember a time in my own life when I felt this way. It was a time when my family was struggling through the pains of addiction and all of the challenges that go with it. I remember wishing I had never been born because the pain and the loneliness I felt were more powerful than the possibility of the future. In fact I didn’t believe there was a future. The environment around me felt inescapable. I begged God for an explanation. I didn’t understand why I deserved the heartache. What have I done God? What have I done to deserve this? I felt hopeless. I felt alone.
I didn’t feel I could talk to anyone about it. I was embarrassed and hurt. I didn’t know HOW to talk to anyone. I felt talking only made it worse because I was reliving it. I kept it bottled inside. It was years before I came to understand the profound effect it had on my life and on me personally. There were days when I was surrounded by friends and family and I felt completely alone. I felt like an observer, I would smile and participate, but inside I did not feel happy or joyful. I wanted to but I couldn’t. I didn’t know why and not knowing made me feel more alone.Now, looking back I understand the things that led me to that place of loneliness. I understand that I lacked a true connection with my own family and friends. It wasn’t any ones fault; I didn’t know how to connect. When I thought about sharing my thoughts with anyone it made me feel anxious inside. I felt afraid of being judged, afraid of being embarrassed, afraid of being vulnerable. That fear carried throughout the majority of my life. It became an anxiety disorder, a panic disorder, and OCD. I began to try to control everything and everyone because my life had felt so out of my control. Trying to control everything made me feel more alone and more hopeless. The loneliness was overwhelming.
The definition of loneliness is “sadness because one has no friends or company.” I never identified what I was feeling as loneliness because I had many friends and family around. The second definition however is “the quality of being unfrequented and remote; isolation.” In my example, I was isolating myself and didn’t know it. I didn’t understand my inability to share my pain was keeping me in the state of feeling alone. I had no idea the emotional struggle was causing all the other symptoms as well. As it turns out, there are many people struggling with loneliness. In fact loneliness actually causes physiological changes that are as real as pain or hunger. In a Forbes article (June, 2016) they note that in 2010 the AARP did a nationally representative study and found that the percentage of Americans who responded that they frequently felt lonely was between 40% – 45%. That’s not including those out there who don’t recognize their loneliness. A Time magazine article from March of 2015 reads, “the subjective feeling of loneliness increases risk of death by 26%…” Brigham and Young University researchers are tagging loneliness as the “next big public-health issue, on par with obesity and substance abuse”, according to the article. In this day and age more people are living alone, and technology allows us the façade of socializing while ignoring the trend for lack of meaningful connections. Loneliness is becoming an epidemic.
When I began to make truly meaningful connections in a way that allowed me to share my inner turmoil, I began to feel hopeful again. The loneliness that I had resolved to live with disappeared. I began to feel like I had something to offer, something that helped others, something that made all that I had been through meaningful. It gave me purpose. It’s purely by chance, well now I know, it was by God’s grace. I had offered support to a friend who was struggling with alcoholism. I had made an agreement with him to go to a local support group called Celebrate Recovery. At the time I thought I was helping him, but God doesn’t quite work that way. When I got there, over time, I met and developed relationships with ladies who shared similar circumstances to mine. Imagine my surprise when I realized how many other people out there had gone through similar situations. I had found a group of peers I could relate to. I found a wealth of information I could use in practical ways. Mostly I found healing. Connecting led me down so many other paths I couldn’t have imagined. Since then my husband and I try to stay connected to our Church, our family, our friends, and to some degree our community. Now we understand the importance of being involved, of offering our help, and of being available.
It has been a long time since those days of anxiety and loneliness. Every once in a while when I start to feel those old familiar feelings I remind myself that they are just feelings. They will pass. They always do. They no longer have control over me. I give myself permission to feel them, to analyze them, and if they have no purpose, I let them go. I understand now that loneliness is an emotional state caused when we feel disconnected.
Now I work at staying connected. In a lecture by Baya Voce on Ted Talks, she discusses the importance of quality time with people who see, hear, and value you. She discusses the importance of spending time with people who prioritize their focus on their relationships with others to stay connected. She states, “Everything exists to stay connected.” In Proverbs 3:27 it reads, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” Battling loneliness is something we can all do. In Australia the Australian Men’s Shed Association was established as “a community-based movement to reduce the number of men at risk from preventable health issues that may emanate from isolation.” AMSA provides a place for men to gather, work on woodshop projects and connect.
We don’t need a shed to have a reason to connect. Invite someone to dinner at home. Call that person who has been on your mind. Join that group you’ve wanted to join. Bring a friend to Church on Sunday. It is in your power to act.