One is the Loneliest Number

Loneliness outnumbers us. Loneliness outguns us. It is everywhere. It lurks in every shadow, just steps from us, like some phantom bankruptcy, ready to stain every happiness on to which we cling. It preys equally on those who are alone, and those who are not. It stalks both the happy and the depressed. At this very moment, millions of bad decisions are being made based on the influence of loneliness.

But do not be deceived, for loneliness is not some malevolent third party out to get us. No, we were born with it. It was with us on our first day of school. Remember it? It was there for every failure, every rejection, every misstep we have ever taken. One might even say that we are loneliness and loneliness is us.

Loneliness is not just there to kick us when we are down. It is also there at the start, creating the conditions that put us down in the first place.

Every hour of every day, people are being deceived and abandoned as a result of decisions that were tainted by loneliness. It undermines our sense of self, making us feel less than whole. It then convinces us that the best way to retain a state of wholeness, is to fill the gaps with people. Loneliness drives us to lure other people into our lives, just to mitigate our sense of loneliness. Once abated, we abandon these people to the same fate. Our loneliness uses us like a host to trigger the loneliness in others. And we allow it to do all these things. We are culpable. 

So we are both the victims and instigators of loneliness. It is a venomous cycle that we are fully capable of breaking.

Last summer my inability to break my own loneliness cycle came to a pretty hideous conclusion. I had been suffering bouts of loneliness from the moment Larissa was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It obviously got much worse after she died. There I was, alone at Kipuka trying to hold things together whilst blundering my way through bereavement and launching a business at the same time. I turned to old friends online, some of whom are women, and some of those, unattached. Eventually I met someone lovely but unfortunately, she lived in LA. We saw each other about every two months and talked frequently but briefly online almost daily. It was not enough to tackle my loneliness. And so my conversations with others continued and some of those conversations were inappropriate considering my new relationship. All the integrity I had developed was rationalized away in a misguided attempt to stave off loneliness.

As living conditions at Kipuka became untenable in late May, I packed up the dogs and a few possessions and went to LA to be with her. Shortly after Kipuka was destroyed my inappropriate friendships were revealed. My relationship and another friendship were destroyed in an instant. I was homeless in an instant. I was in a city of millions where I knew almost no one and had no place to stay. It was terrifying and all of my own doing

I was lucky enough to have friends of friends help me out and that bought me some time to process the loss of Kipuka, and this emotional catastrophe of my own making. The extent of loneliness’s  influence over me became clear over the course of the summer. Despite having a better understanding of the nature of loneliness, I could not shake its grip until I admitted to myself the depths of its hold over me and how that was manifest. As I began to uncover the holes in me that I was trying to fill with other people, I also began to understand how radically different my life needed to be if I were to live a less lonely life, and without repeating past behaviours.

The first thing I needed was a sense of home. This had been missing for a very long time indeed and I knew it certainly was not to be found in LA. In September I went to Germany to visit my friend Thomas one last time as he was dying. That visit imparted on me another dark gift that was different from those bestowed upon me by the death of Larissa. This latest, dark gift, helped me visualize feelings, so that I could label them, and set them free. Another gave me the insight to see where I needed to be.

And here I am. I left Eartha with my ex partner in LA as they needed each other. Cosmo has come with me and here we are halfway up a mountain in Italy, seemingly as remote as we have ever been! But we are not. First, I am closer to dear friends than I have been since 2013. Second, I am in a place that is my home, a place I have owned for 20 years. And I have the time and quiet to think through what I should have thought through ages ago. And I am filling my gaps with my own self awareness, another thing I should have done years ago.

Yes, I still feel lonely. But I recognize that feeling as soon as it crops up. And thanks to the dark gift from my friend Thomas, I can easily recognise the feeling, label it, and watch it go away. I now reclaim the power loneliness used to steal from me. And in doing this, I reclaim the integrity I had lost.

Thank you Leyla, for inviting me to see Thomas when you did. It was one of the most important things I have ever done and this was not lost on me then, or now. Every time I use Thomas’s dark gift, a piece of him comes back to visit me.

And thank you Jin, for inspiring me to come back to this story after so many false starts and failed attempts. Your journey, though similar to mine, is not the same. But your battle with loneliness brought mine into such sharp focus that the words finally found me.

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