“A vast, unsoothable sense of loneliness”1 was my unwelcome companion for many years after my parents’ divorce. A deep sense of longing accompanied the loneliness, which I called “the wanting” when I was a child. Though I have always been introverted, I longed for connection and relationship that often seemed out of reach. Today I will write about loneliness; tomorrow I will write about the longing.
There is a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. Most of the time, “alone” is a comfortable state, which I enjoy daily when I walk outside or write in my journal. As an introvert, I need those quiet, solitary activities to refresh and recharge me after a day of social interaction. I needed that as a child also. When I came home from school, I didn’t want to play or socialize. I wanted to read or rest first to regain the energy I needed to interact.
Loneliness, by contrast, feels painful. Something is wrong when I’m lonely. Either I haven’t reached out to people for relationship, or someone has denied relationship to me. This is the state that was most familiar to me as a child. I had a constant desire for focused attention, which was not offered to me by my parents often enough.
Mom’s attention was divided by her work schedule and her ministries. I felt I couldn’t compete with her ministries, because she was serving God. As an adult, I see that she had a need to establish her own social life, and it is not my place to judge her. What I know is my feelings, and I felt it was difficult to connect with my mom on a one-on-one basis when she was so busy doing other things. I stopped trying to connect when she got busy, but the need remained for many years. This dynamic was a primary contributor to my feeling of loneliness.
Another aspect was my connection with my dad. We didn’t see him that often, and when we did, Dad offered attention as a package deal to both me and my sister. I understand how this was easier for him, now that I am a parent of three children. One-on-one time requires much more effort within our intact family. My point is that I craved one-on-one time with my dad too, and though I understood how it was impractical for him to meet that need, my need didn’t go away.
As a child I dealt with my loneliness by turning inward and by turning to food for comfort, which I will write about in future posts. I withdrew into private worlds of reading and drawing. I lost myself in those inner landscapes, much to the consternation of my extroverted sister, who wanted and needed a playmate. I drew many ideal scenes of flowers, peaceful family gatherings, and often I drew a mother and daughter embracing. I’ve included one of my drawings from 1985 above, the same year I wrote about in my previous post. Here’s another one:
The mother gazes lovingly into her daughter’s eyes, listening intently to her chatter. That was the ideal in my mind as a child. I can’t fix what happened in my past. But I can offer that kind of focused attention to my own children now and redeem the pain I so often felt.
- Judith S. Wallerstein, Julia M. Lewis, and Sandra Blakeslee. “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce.” Hyperion, New York: 2000.