Last night at about 4 am I found myself sobbing. Ten days ago I gave up Facebook. Not permanently, but a 30-day fast. (I could write pages on why, but that’s not what this post is about.) I’m pretty sure the sobbing is part of the withdrawal process from what I must admit was, is, an addiction.
Being away from Facebook has shown me I turned to that social media platform almost constantly throughout the day when I had feelings of disconnection and loneliness. Whenever I felt alone, I’d check the feed for updates on what was going on with friends and acquaintances. This didn’t take care of the loneliness itself, just the fleeting feeling of loneliness, which of course always returned, sometimes only moments after logging off.
To a lesser extent, I was triggered to use Facebook when I had the desire to share a thought, insight, frustration. I was a prolific poster and reposter of stories and memes. I wanted attention. I wanted to be relevant.
The irony is that using Facebook, the great global village predicted by my media theory classes 20 years ago, has not solved my loneliness problem, but has made it worse. It’s been nine years and I must honestly say my relationships (except with my parents) are more superficial than they have ever been. I have a lot more friends than I did nine years ago, but fewer friendships.
Is it any wonder, then, that after I stopped using my loneliness “crutch” I’d end up sobbing at 4 am? I’m surprised it took ten days.
Fortunately I instinctively knew that doing something creative, like writing, would help. So here’s what I wrote:
It is about 4 am as I type this, and I’m feeling desperately lonely with no end in sight. I have heard of this being a pretty common hazard of the trail, and one of the main reason thru hikers quit even after making it more than half way to Katadin. The way I feel right now, I would quit in a heartbeat if that would end the hurting.
But I’m not on the trail.
I’m in my bed. In my house. With air conditioning and the promise of a hot shower and fresh eggs for breakfast. With my children sleeping in their rooms down the hall, my boyfriend a phone call away, my parents planning dinner tomorrow night. There is nothing to ‘quit.’ No escape from loneliness.”
After that, I slept a deep, restorative until 7:30.
This morning I googled “combating loneliness as a thru hiker” and the first hit was a post by CDT and PCT thru hiker Russell Mease:
According to Mease, hikers on the CDT have spawned a catch phrase, “Embrace the brutality!” That applies to the physical challenges, as well as the mental ones.
That phrase cuts through my hopelessness.
It is not, “Give in to the brutality.”
It is not, “Get over the brutality.”
It is not, “It’s not THAT brutal.”
“Embrace the brutality” is the ultimate declaration of acceptance. And my time spent with alcoholics working a 12-step program of recovery has taught me that acceptance, not resignation, is the key to all our problems.
Loneliness is brutal. It registers as actual physical pain in our brains. It triggers primal fears related to survival, because humans through anthropological and biological adaptation are social animals. It is also a universal experience; we are not alone in our loneliness. And research is showing social media is making the problem worse.
Last night I made the mistake of googling “loneliness” and what I read gave no practical solutions, other than to find people with similar interests, or join a bridge club. Like I have time for a bridge club. I have three school aged children in three different schools with three different sets of after school activities on every single day of the week. And I am not the only parent, or single parent, in this situation. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who was sobbing at 4 am last night.
Loneliness is not something we can just wish away. It’s not something we can just “get over,” or “give in to,” or minimize. Before I went to sleep, I prayed. I surrendered the loneliness to God. I said, “Please help me, because I am powerless over this.”
Today I recommit to embracing the brutality. If I were out on the trail, I would give myself short goals and then celebrate when I achieve them. I would take time to talk with other hikers I meet on the trail, and practice unconditional love and curiosity and openness. I would wake up early and go to bed early. I would regularly refuel my body, and I would savor every piece of food I put in my mouth. I would take brief rests every few miles. I would sometimes curse and swear and cry. I would pray. I would take zero days.
I can do all of those things as I embrace the brutality of everyday living, including the loneliness. Simply being able to call it what it is and admit my feelings is a huge step.