Cracking Lonely

Isn’t it funny that my cure for loneliness is learning to be alone again?

I used to be so good at being alone. I really enjoyed peoples company, but sitting outside solo with the silence was always the best medicine at the end of the day. I had room in me to let the world in with all its power and beauty. My appetite for that spacious revelry has been bottomless.

In the last year my delicious alone time changed into being alone with all the feelings I didn’t want to deal with. I no longer liked my own company, so I hungered for the company of others. Its that grief that comes up and rests on my chest like a giant bag of warm mashed potatoes that does it. I wanted people to distract me, to help me feel alive again. I fear I may have hurt beloveds in that process, showing up with more need than warmth. I’ll take another helping of potatoes for that!

The kids are wonderful company, but they also have their own way of adding to loneliness. They call me back to my body, call me back to being present, call me back to working my way through sticky mashed potatoes. Kids call us to the mat like nobody else. When I’m avoiding my feelings, I can feel pretty isolated, but when I’m confronted with my feelings and can’t escape, I feel oddly abandoned, and ultimately even more isolated. Kids + grief = isolation … which feeds loneliness.

Lately though, there’s been a change. My grief visits come less often, they’re a bit lighter. I’m able to feel the me around them, the me I really like spending time with. Its like I’m starting to light up the edges of my grief for the first time. It doesn’t make it finite, grief will continue in my life, it just means I can breathe more deeply, knowing there’s still a soul-filled me there.

Surprisingly, freezing my ass off helps.

I start each morning with a challenge, a way to help me cleanse and prepare myself for grief potatoes, kids and the process of light returning. I lay in bed after waking up and breath deep until 5am rolls around (we go to bed early these days.) Wrapping my naked self in a robe I make a hot cup of tea and go outside to my tub already filled to the brim with night-chilled water. I didn’t plan to start this routine at the beginning of the new year – the coldest, darkest and (this year) rainiest month, it just happened that way. Some mornings its 42° in the water, some mornings 36°. It really doesn’t matter. You’re going in, and there is no arguing allowed.

When its frosty cold the first 30 seconds really hurt. I feel those parts of me that want to run and hide most clearly. I think those are also the parts that run from grief. Its great breath training – always come back to breathing, a way to find calm and make shelter in the storm, trust your breath. The choice to return to my heart when a helping of grief potatoes arrives becomes easier. The choice to move into the light when its there becomes natural. Breathe and tilt your head up to catch the stars or the waning moon. You are here, you are alive, breathe. Hop out, towel off, take in the stars, back in for that tea.

There is love here, in between freezing and numbness. There is love here because I become more present.

When I was caregiving I went through daily stress, fear that was present almost every moment. It was mostly around Terry’s suffering, her distress. Being in fight or flight for that long builds up toxins, slows everything down. Cold immersion has moved that reservoir of stress in a way I don’t think anything else could. My entire lymphatic system contracts when I step into that water. The river that is me begins to flow again.

I’ll miss the darkness as the light returns with spring, also the rains. There have been moments curled in my tub when everything stops and its just me and the stars. I feel the icy water and the night sky embracing me in the same way – not gently, but sincerely, full of a kind of frozen celebration of what is hard and good and true in life. There is love here, but it has no patience for hiding or even shyness. Life is just there, waiting for me to show up more and more each time the sun comes up. Some days I stay in just a little longer, wanting the feeling of being suspended there, in all that timeless potential, welcomed by glacial night stars.

It is weird though, choosing suffering after a long period of suffering. But it is a small offering, like an inoculation, this kind of discomfort. Its just a way to remind myself that life is often difficult, taking this sacrament readies me for that, and cleanses the past, freeing me up for the next challenge. I’m making room for life to take up residence in me again.

Tadg and True have felt the shift in me. They know there is a little more of me here to support them, more they can play with in their endless work of getting their needs met and growing up. Tadg is impressed with my dunks, True is oblivious. What they do notice is that I cuddle more, I’m still processing a lot but I get stressed less. I’m almost back to my friendly self – it can be seen on the horizon.

After sitting with my tea and warming my fingers and toes its up to the studio for my Shapeshifting practice. I’m working on a curriculum that combines movement, journeying and animal spirits. The darkness is especially welcome here. I feel so safe doing this work in the darkness, with only a few candles lit. Last month I worked with Bat, now I’m with Seal. I bray my Seal call into the darkness, letting my body become mushy-fluid. Arms become fins, legs become flow, I begin to move in the circle I’ve worked with on and off for the last twenty years. My body is awake and ready. My grief is sitting in the back seat for now, perhaps appreciating the space I’m making for its next visit.

Hmmm, do mashed potatoes dissolve in spirit?

After the kids are away I have more alone time than I have in years – thanks to driving help I finally found. I’m really starting to appreciate it, lamenting when I have to leave home because of bad internet connections or pickup or grief group or yoga (new!) or a run. My life is becoming full with things other than caregiving, and other than grieving. I expect there will be a day when I can’t find my loneliness any more.

I bet I’ll be sitting in ice cold water when that happens.

Blessing to you and yours in this time of great change.