And so, I would pretend to be whatever I thought that "normal" was. I was an actress with a plastic smile and a heart full of secrets. My greatest role was that of a happy and confident girl who saw an endlessly bright future for herself. My closeness to others was cloaked in superficiality. Whenever I let myself slip, opening myself up to let my insides pour out, I felt shame in exposing who I really was, even to my closest friends. Those closest to me understood me, but only a part of me. The rest was purely compassion. They listened, they tried to understand, but I knew they were unable to personally connect to the storm that existed within me. Even surrounded by people, I often felt alone. It was only when I was by myself, when I could strip myself of this costume of normalcy, that I finally felt a sense of relaxation. I didn’t have to pretend anymore. I could just exist as me. I found it exhausting to play make-believe as a girl who wasn’t suffering.
I started to pull away from the world. I pulled away from the people who loved me. I pulled away from the people I wanted to know. I spent a lot of my time alone, making friends with the numbness of food and alcohol and television. I existed in a space that just contained me. My days were filled with the trivial responsibilities required of us humans and then I would go home and unravel into destructive behavior in order to ignore the feelings I didn’t want to feel.
I was the girl that didn’t call you back. I rarely tried to make plans. I often backed out of the plans that did exist. Some may say that my alone-ness was my own choice, but I don’t see it that way. I craved people. I ached for human connection. I desperately wanted to be loved. The problem is, I didn’t feel worthy of any of it. I was in a terribly depressed state and I didn’t think of myself too highly. I was incapable of loving myself, and so I never expected anyone else to. I asked for you to love me, but I pushed you far enough away so it was impossible to. I wanted you to fight for me, but I made myself unappealing enough that you didn’t want to. No one believed the girl I was pretending to be. I was translucent.
As a result of my isolation and incessant need to push people away, I didn’t have many friends in Los Angeles. I met a lot of wonderful people, but I never put much effort into developing those relationships. I found it easier to spend time with men. I knew what they wanted from me. Many of them never asked me about myself, and so I didn’t have to lie. I dated a lot over my three years there. I was so desperate for company and distractions that I found myself spending time with men I didn’t care much for. I would sleep with them in exchange for not feeling so alone. There were some that I really liked, one I even loved, but still, I knew they weren’t right for me. They couldn’t understand the skeleton of the sad dark depressed girl that existed under my skin. But I was lonely and I wanted their company, even if I had to pretend to be different then I was. I hoped that their attention would fill the holes that decorated my insides, but it never did. I should never have asked that from them to begin with. Despite what I intended, these casual relationships often left me feeling unsatisfied and worthless.
Fast forward to present day. To where I have a healthy relationship with myself. To where I believe I am worthy of love. To where isolation is ingrained in me and I don’t know how to become someone else. I can’t seem to stop separating myself from the world. With the isolation comes loneliness, and I treat that loneliness with more isolation. A cycle of insanity. I don’t want to be lonely. It’s not a place I enjoy. Yet I find myself doing nothing to change my circumstances. Instead I wrap myself up in what is comfortable. I’m unhappy in my isolation, but I am drawn to its familiarity. I feel safe here. And so I stay. I still don’t return phone calls. I’m not very reliable when it comes to plans. I’m so fortunate to have so many wonderful people in my life in various parts of the country, and yet I don’t often reach out to them. These people are important to me, but I don’t make an effort to keep them close. None of it makes sense, I know that. I logically know what the solution to my loneliness is, but the isolator in me doesn’t seem to care. That part wants to keep me separate. It’s as if I have an impulse to be alone even though that’s not what I want: a separation between my head and my heart.
Isolation isn’t working, that much is clear. It keeps me separate, alone, lonely. I could keep doing it if I wanted, but the results of unhappiness would be the same. I didn’t move to Portland to live the same life I had in Los Angeles. Yes, I moved to a new city, but I am the same person with the same thoughts and behaviors that I had before. I need to change more then my address if I want my life to change; I have to change my behavior. My impulses are destructive and my thoughts can be vicious. The voice in my head tells me I deserve to be alone, that I’m not good enough to spend time with, that food and television will fill the void of loneliness. If I separate myself from my thoughts, then I can acknowledge that these statements are not true, they are simply thoughts created by my mind and I do not need to attach my identity to them. Instead, I can recognize them as fiction and let them pass. The same goes for my behavior. If I can recognize when my impulse is to do something that is in contrast from the person I want to be, I can pause and practice contrary action rather then collapsing into my unhealthy impulses. Contrary action is the deliberate choice to do what you know is the healthy behavior rather then acting out your harmful emotional impulse. Generally, it’s the opposite of the behavior you wish to do. It’s not easy, believe me, I know that. But over time it does lead to more fulfillment and peace.
Halloween came and I was going to do my normal nightly routine of spending my evening alone in my apartment. This guy from my work who I barely knew asked me if I cared to go to spend time with him and a few friends. I wasn’t attracted to this nice man and even though I gave him my phone number, I had no intention of actually hanging out with him. I had better things to do, like watch scary movies by myself and feel sad that I had no friends to spend Halloween with. I got home and had every intention of sending the ‘I’m sorry I won’t be able to come tonight’ text, but then I decided that if isolation makes me feel lonely then I should try putting myself out there and maybe my loneliness will subside. And so, I said yes. Even though I had no romantic intentions with this person I hardly knew, it could be fun to spend an evening getting to know a nice man. We ended up going to a haunted house and I had a really fun time. I’m glad I decided to put myself out there that night. It was a bit uncomfortable taking myself away from the familiarity of my isolation, but I went to bed that night happy, with thoughts of loneliness far from my mind.
I once heard someone say that gratitude is an action. If I am grateful for the people in my life then that means I have to act as such. Instead of separating myself from them as if their significance in my life was minimal, I can put my focus on being the best friend, daughter, sister that I can be. If I am grateful for the woman I have become then I need to treat myself with the love I deserve, which includes not attaching myself to the thoughts that say I am not good enough and instead opening myself up enough to allow other people to love me.
I have experienced what life is like when I hide from the world and it is not one which makes me feel satisfied. No amount of calories or television can replace my desire for human connection and experiences. The unhealthy part of me wants to keep me separate from everyone else and it is time that I stop listening to that voice. It won’t be an easy journey out of isolation, but if I take little steps each day to leave the comfort of my solitude, then I am going forward to a happy and full life.