Isolation of the Spirit
I’ve been alone and lonely most of my life. I’ve been isolated and lonesome even when I’m in a room full of people—even while I’m in the middle of a crowd of my students or friends who—for the most part—I assume like me as a person and teacher. Alone—even when I’m spending time with someone I’m interested in romantically. Although I believed I’ve been a very honest and open person, I have been isolating and stifling my emotions and true feelings out of a fear of revealing myself.
I’m not talking about the holed-up-in-your-room-crying type of isolation—obviously.
I’m talking about isolation of the spirit. Isolation of the authentic self—the space I created that I didn’t even realize exists between the people that surround me and the person who I really am.
I’ve heard many people say that the opposite of addiction is connection. In fact, I read a recent study in Psychology Today citing “that addiction is not about the pleasurable effects of substances, it’s about the user’s inability to connect in healthy ways with other human beings. In other words, addiction is not a substance disorder, it’s a social disorder.”
As a recovering drug addict and alcoholic myself, I kind of scoffed at this idea as being an overly-empathetic, dramatic and cheesy way to describe addiction.
However, just a few months ago, my guru Brian called me out on my own patterns of causing myself loneliness—a loneliness that has plagued me, not only during my 17 years of sobriety, but—looking back on it—through most of my conscious life. Once I was able to see this for myself, I also recognized that, in living within this isolation/loneliness, I had been continually running in addictive circles—albeit, slightly less dangerous ones than before.
What do I mean by this?
I work very hard on a program of recovery that requires me to be self-reflective and in a constant hurry to right my wrongs as I move along through my life. In doing so, I’ve had many realizations, much growth and a lot of excitement while experiencing life without the alcohol and drugs numbing me. I remained sober and relatively happy for more than 16 years.
When I was just under 17 years sober, I found myself attracted to one of my friends—and I was subsequently frustrated that we were only hanging out together, but not actually dating.
I had mentioned to this person of interest that he was the only one of my friends I would consider dating, but I didn’t ask him out. I followed the easier, softer way—hoping he would reveal feelings for me and ask me out.
When the frustration of wanting to date him, being fearful of revealing it and ultimately stuck in a cycle of stifled emotions became too much, I called my guru for guidance.
In a not-too-gentle way, my guru suggested that, while I had been disciplined in my recovery program and had some success in life, I had probably done just enough work on myself to stay sober—and that there was more self-searching to be done if I was to truly be happy and have peace of mind.
I trust this man in anything he tells me, so I knew he wasn’t discrediting the work I’d already done. Rather, he was dangling a carrot in front of me—a message that more work meant more happiness and more serenity to be had.
I’ve never had a boyfriend. Yet I’ve longed for love and intimacy my entire life. I figured the reason I never had one was because I had no self-esteem growing up as an overweight outcast. And then I was a drug addict/alcoholic mess. Next was my recovery and career that I focused all of my attention on. Or maybe I just hadn’t met the right guy.
My guru had always told me that perhaps I thought I wanted a relationship, but maybe I didn’t want it as badly as I thought—or I would have done whatever it took to be in one. I hated hearing this because the desire for love was so strong, it just didn’t make sense to me that I might not actually want it as much as I thought I did.
This time, I didn’t wait for the dust of my guru’s recent ego-puncturing to settle, and I got to work like I had never done before in searching my soul to find out what was stopping me from taking the steps required to find love.
I grew up overweight and being continually reminded that being gay was wrong. So, I had always assumed my fears around revealing myself to potential romantic partners were rooted in shame and a poor self-appraisal. But realistically, I knew I wasn’t fat anymore and that ‘gay’ was okay. Deep inside, I also know that love is bigger than how much money or popularity someone has. So what was really blocking me from saying, ‘I like you’?
If I wasn’t scared of being too fat, too gay or too poor, then what was I afraid of?
I inherently knew that if I revealed myself to someone and he wasn’t attracted to me—even if he was the world’s biggest asshole—he wouldn’t stand up and mock me for liking him. So what was stopping me?
I dug and I dug, and when I had looked beneath every fear and arrived at the very depth of my soul-searching, it finally came to me: I’m terrified of letting go of control of the way someone might see me as perhaps awkward, goofy, weird and emotional.
That’s the big one. Somehow I feel like there’s something wrong with being emotional and having feelings. Being a human. I was afraid of being human.
Humans make mistakes. Humans are emotional. Humans have feelings. That’s how humans get into relationships with each other.
For me this is profound. I feel like I’ve finally found that thing that had crippled me my whole life: I’ve been controlling the way my entire world sees me—by trying to perfect my image, body, worldliness, sophistication, humour—everything. I’ve been casting an image instead of just being me. It’s within this space I create between my spirit and the rest of the world that my addictions thrive—they arise to numb out my frustration.
Shortly after I became conscious of this, the fears quickly dissipated. Even if I did reveal myself to someone and they didn’t approve of my feelings, would I die? Of course not. So I had been staying alone and lonely because I was fearful of a little potential momentary discomfort?
And not anymore.
I feel like with this awareness, I’ve been catapulted into the real world with the rest of the humans, and my lesser-addictions have all but evaporated.
Of course, this still means more work. It means developing my mindfulness and catching myself when I’m holding back or putting on a show instead of allowing myself to be goofy and awkward if I am. It means allowing myself to be human, despite my fear. It means coming from a place of humility and authenticity. It means trusting that the people who accept me when I reveal myself are the people who are my real friends and potential partners.
And from my point of view, someone who’s a little goofy and able to be emotional, show feelings—and be human—is a lot more attractive than a perfect, sophisticated robot.