Yesterday Francesca posted her thoughtful response to reader L’s letter on loneliness (the title of today’s post comes from Mother Teresa’s description of that condition) Today I’m giving it a go.
Let me tell you the little-known parable of the Volvo and the Cadillac:
Once upon a time there was a remarkably beautiful, witty, erudite goddess of a woman named, uh, Rumcake. She lived happily with a Volvo station wagon named Tilly. Tilly was a good car with lots of safety features, decent mileage and heated seats which were nice to have although not technically all that useful in
Texas someplace that’s not Texas because this isn’t autobiographical.
Tilly ran day in and day out, got her oil changed almost regularly and was well-loved.
Then one day, a classic Cadillac named
Stella Blanche appeared. Blanche was big, beautiful and looked especially good topless, not unlike Rumcake herself. Now, Blanche required a lot more maintenance than Tilly. Rumcake’s grandmother, who had never driven anything but Volvos in her life, was forever trying to convince our spectacularly-shod though WOEFULLY UNDERPAID heroine to sell Blanche because she was too much of a hassle to maintain.
Rumcake then sensibly inquired whether Grandma was smoking the crack.
“You don’t just get rid of something you love because it needs special care. You take care of it. Blanche is beautiful, special and a lot more interesting than any late-model Volvo –which by the way needs maintenance from time to time, too– and although you might get your five-for-five-dollars undies in a budge at the idea of my car spending more than 20 minutes a year in the garage, I know that it’s just a part of making sure she’s getting what she needs.”
Rumcake was, right (as usual) her grandmother was wrong (again as usual) and everyone lived happily ever after. Especially her mechanics. The End.
Now, I know sometimes stories are too subtle for deep interpretation, so let me lay a little church on you:
Sugarlump, you need to get yourself some therapy.
The way I figure it, it’s all part of the Self-Care Package. I’ve got a gal who does my hair when it needs to be trimmed, someone who shapes my eyebrows when they’ve crawled together like a pair of star-crossed caterpillars, and I’ve got someone who helps me out during stormy emotional seas.
I wouldn’t want an amateur to cut my hair or wax my brows, and since emotional wellness is NEARLY as important as getting that perfect “arch of disapproval” etched into the wooly mammoths that are my natural eyebrows, you can bet your pants I’m going to see a professional there, too.
You might benefit from regular meetings, or you might just benefit from occasional shrinkage, like I do. Besides, there’s nothing more boring than someone who doesn’t need therapy.
As far as being lonely goes, well, I think sometimes you’re just going to be lonely, and that sucks. A lot. Hell, I’m NOT shy (were you sitting down for that one?) my idea of heaven is being left alone for a week, but even then…sometimes I’m lonely. I even get a bone crusher from time to time. The key is to have solid foundation under the loneliness that lets you ride it out. I can’t help you with that specifically –that’s something for you and your therapist– but I can say Buddhist nun Pema Chodron’s “Comfortable with Uncertainty” certainly opened things up for me.
I suspect, though, your loneliness isn’t just loneliness for the living. Let’s not kid ourselves, Loneliness is grief. When we are lonely, we are grieving our missing relationships. Sounds a lot of like bereavement to me.
I’ve lost six family members this year, six, including my favorite person, my grandfather. My little brother –my backup favorite person– has cancer (God punished him for having a stupid goatee). It’s been nothing but a cavalcade of suck since this time last year and L, I am grieved.
It’s been a year, almost to the day, since my grandfather went into hospice and I went to stay with him and although the initial shock and sadness is over, my grieving has only begun. That’s the thing about grief: it may change forms –now it aches where it used to stab– but it is there for as long as it pleases, and fighting it isn’t going to help anybody.
I very much suggest finding a grief therapy group or someone who specializes in bereavement counseling. I’m part of Walking the Mourner’s Path, a bereavement group through my church. If you don’t have any program in mind, contact your local hospice, tell them what you’re looking for –faith-based, secular, whatever– and they’ll provide you with information. You’ll find most bereavement therapists suggest starting no sooner than six months after the death, so you’re in prime position.
Seriously though, L, That’s the only rock-solid advice I can offer.
Everything else here is just the inklings of someone, as a therapist, makes an excellent fashion blogger: (BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE)
Now let’s talk about the whole “together” thing.
I can’t speak for the rest of the gang but I am exactly as together as I appear on this blog, which is to say not very. Frankly, I think it’s part of my charm, but the whole thing is really academic to the argument because we all know loneliness doesn’t give a pink-pantied damn whether you’re “together” or not.
What does “together” even mean? Have you ever in your entire life known someone, I mean really known them down to the pop-the-zit-on-my-back, emergency-pregnancy-test-in-the-gas station-outside-El Paso level who was really “together”? Answer: no, you haven’t. No one has, because they don’t exist. Being “together” is a bullshit human construct and it can take a long walk off a short, splintery pier and it can take “I’m over it” with it. Screw ’em.
The sooner you stop believing the external has anything at all to do with the internal (or eternal) the happier you’ll be (no, this does not mean I’m granting novelty sock amnesty; dream on, sister).
Speaking of external, I don’t believe in external fixes. Sure, I’d be way more lonesome without Dozer, my brother and my friends but for as much comfort and joy as they provide (which is lots) ultimately, external fixes don’t work and I can prove it to you in three little words.
Your therapist can steer you in the right direction (and if you feel she isn’t, switch shrinks) but let me leave you with this last bit of counsel:
Be part of something bigger than yourself.
If you think you could die tomorrow and it would be as if you’d never existed, that’s an easy fix. Make someone’s life better. Find something you can do in your community –it’s important you be able to get your hands dirty and see results– and do it.
I know you’ve said you’re shy and tried volunteering. Well, keep trying. There are days I drag myself to my gigs, convinced I’m wasting everyone’s time. It’ll pass.
Shop around if you need to until you find the right fit, but I cannot overstate how important it is to do something bigger than yourself. It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture, but it needs to be something tangible and consistent.
If you are looking for volunteer opportunities but can’t find something that suits you, email me; we’ll talk and get you sorted out, wherever in the world you are.
And finally, by writing your letter, you’ve made a difference in my life. We may never meet, but we are now permanently connected.
If someone reads my response and gets any humor or hope or inspiration then you’ve touched their lives too.
We are all interconnected —whether we see it or not– and along those ties, run the currents of love, empathy and support that are the natural, inevitable byproducts of living in community, no matter how virtual, spread out or messed up.
You may not see those ties, you might not even feel them right now, but like those little cutlets I stuff in my bra on the first date, I promise you; they’re there.
Gin and tonics (and hugs and support),
Your pal Plum