Most weeks, I notice a theme being discussed by my clients in their counseling sessions. Perhaps that’s the “collective unconscious” Carl Jung talked about, but it’s very real. The theme this week has been loneliness — how to face it without being swallowed by it. For many of my clients, loneliness is intolerable. It’s painful or uncomfortable. It leads to ruminative thinking such as: There must be something wrong with me. I can’t count on anyone. People are unreliable. I’m not worthy of friends.
The voice of disordered eating (Ed) has a lot to say about loneliness. Ed used to LOVE to tell me how few friends I had (when all evidence pointed to the contrary), how unliked I was (unless I lost weight), and how unworthy of love, happiness, or success I was (unless I looked a certain way). Ed allowed me to sit with that loneliness and be miserable. The only time I wasn’t lonely was when I was engaged in behaviors that Ed told me would gain me love, success, happiness, and friends: restricting, counting calories, exercising excessively, looking into new diets, etc.
So, I find it no surprise this week that I hear Ed’s voice louder than usual. What’s been different this week? My partner has been really busy, out of the house more often than usual, leaving me alone to entertain myself. I’m pretty good at doing that and generally don’t feel lonely anymore. But there are times when I do feel lonely and Ed uses those opportunities to prey on me. When my stomach rumbled hungrily last night after I got home from work and faced an empty house, Ed said, “Ignore it. Feeling hungry is a good thing. You might even lose weight. If you lose weight, people will notice and you’ll be liked more.” It’s sick. It’s absolutely wrong. And I know it. Fortunately, I was able to ignore Ed’s voice, but the power of loneliness felt very real.
I pray this day that all my clients can find healthy ways to experience their loneliness without being swept away by it or engaging in self-destructive behaviors. Certainly mindfulness exercises can help. Perhaps I need to restart my own practice of mindfulness.
Peace, joy, and health,