Lauren Winner’s Loneliness

All week, I’ll be posting about Lauren Winner’s new book, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis. I’m doing so because I think it’s an important book, and I hope that you all read it.

Lauren is a self-confessed introvert, but that doesn’t meant that she doesn’t experience deep and terrifying loneliness, a topic she addresses forthrightly in Still:

I used to say to Ruth, in all those tortured moments before I left my husband, that what I feared most was loneliness. Not being alone, which I often find perfect and peaceful, but loneliness, which makes me want to die, which makes me think I will die, which I will do anything to avoid feeling: call a friend, go shopping; pedal endless, frantic miles on my stationary bike; pour another drink; take another sleeping pill.

What Ruth says is: Maybe I should try to stay in the loneliness, just for five minutes, just for ten minutes. Maybe the loneliness has something for me. Maybe I should see what that something is.

Both my therapist and my spiritual director told me the very same thing.

Like Lauren, I wanted to flee my loneliness. After I moved out of the house with my spouse, I moved into a 3,000-square-foot house, which I rented while the owners tried to sell it. An empty house that I rented and furnished with a few things from IKEA, and a few things from friends. There were entire rooms I didn’t step in; I went for weeks at a time without going into the basement.

I had an old TV on the floor, and the temptation was to have it on, always. Plus the internet. Plus just not be there, in that huge, empty house.

I missed my kids terribly. Just thinking about them would cause me to cry (it sometimes still does, to be honest). To avoid thinking about them, and about what had happened to my life, I did some of the same things as Lauren: go to the gym, go out with friends, drink a couple beers, watch shitty TV.

After the challenge of my therapist and spiritual director, I did the same as Lauren. I’d sit in the loneliness, usually just for a few minutes, and listen to it. There may have been nothing scarier during my divorce than confronting the loneliness, and wondering about why loneliness is such a terrifying experience for me.

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  • Dan Hauge

    Hey Tony, thanks for being willing to post this stuff. I know there are some who would dismiss some of this as ‘TMI’, but I for one think we need to get past that–I think we all benefit from realizing that we aren’t alone in our loneliness, as paradoxical as that sounds. Anyway, while sometimes I wonder just what my own loneliness has to teach me (other than that it’s there, and it sucks), it does help knowing that it’s something many of us share.

  • Vicki

    Love this. I used to be a single adult director ~ ages 30+. I found that I was the only person they had ever heard speak of loneliness. Sad. It is so core to our essence, our being, our humanity. Thanks for bringing it to the surface. We all need to pay attention to our loneliness.

  • Nathanael

    This resonates strongly with me. I’ve spent most of my life trying to escape from negative emotions, only to have them keep reappearing again and again. Only recently have I begun to see that wholeness requires turning toward these emotions, to “sit with” and “listen to” them, as you say.

    There’s a beautiful poem by the Sufi poet Hafiz that captures this thought:

    Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly
    Let it cut more deep.
    Let it ferment and season you,
    As few human or even divine ingredients can.
    Something missing in my heart tonight
    Has made my eyes so soft,
    My voice so tender,
    My need of God absolutely clear.

    (from the audiobook Hafiz: The Scent of Light)

  • Wow. This really moved me to tears. Thanks for sharing this.

  • J.T.

    My God this is a beautiful post.

  • Will

    I’ve been deployed twice to combat zones for 12 months each. Both times the most difficult part was the loneliness. I didn’t understand how loneliness could be painful until I actually experienced it. Facing death on a daily basis was nowhere near as scary as going back to my 6×10 room. This isn’t an issue limited just to divorces. It is present in Soldiers, and I would also guess a hug number of homeless and the elderly.

  • Evelyn

    Imagine being in Eden and all alone with God and just accepting it. Does it sound like paradise? It is what it is.

  • The book is now on my wish list. Great distinction of alone vs loneliness. I like being alone and set my life up for it, but sometimes it can quickly shift to loneliness.

  • Carey

    This concept resonates with me. I am an off-the-chart-extrovert and loneliness causes me fear. But there is such truth in the concept of the loneliness offering us something. A while back I read several of Henri Nowen’s books and I love how he promotes the idea of solitude. I believe that solitude can be found in lonely moments at least when I am willing to sit with my loneliness and stare it down or work into it. That act seems to produce a new shade or hue in my character.