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August 18, 2014

Back at the Bottom of the Well

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 7:24 am

I wake in the middle of the night from some kind of strange nightmare. It has an epic, sweeping, Dune-like scope and is mostly focused on how totally and completely dead I’ll be when, eventually, even the mere fact of my existence will have been obliterated from history millennia ago and there will be nothing left of me in human memory “besides interesting amounts of hair and spit.”

I wake up spooked and quivering and, as you do, I start writing a blog post in my head. Because in the face of death, human beings create. Blogs.

I also wake up with the warm, solid, softly-breathing body of my sleeping lover curled against me, and I mostly lie there in the dark feeling deeply grateful that I am not alone. And thinking fretfully about how much it sucks to wake up from a nightmare into an empty bed — which, at some point, I will. Sleeping alone sometimes is about as inevitable as eventually being nothing but hair and spit.

So, here’s what happens in my head when I notice that I am comforted by the presence of my friend: I tell myself not to get used to it. I tell myself that a fear of isolation is a weakness. That isolation is unavoidable, that everyone dies alone, and that if the thought of loneliness scares me, I need to toughen up. That being with someone else because I don’t want to be by myself is some bullshit. Then, I realize my brain is being an asshole.

My life has been through some pretty big shake-ups recently. I moved to a very small town in the Midwest where I know almost nobody in order to be with a partner who then broke up with me. A couple months later, my aging but very healthy and independent grandfather was killed in a car wreck. I’ve been having a number of health issues that make me acutely aware of my body getting older and beginning to break down in places. I don’t really know what I’m doing with my life, or who I’m doing it with, and that first part is pretty normal for me, but the second part is unusual and a little scary.

I’ve lived with a gnawing fear of loneliness my whole life. I’ve tried to address it by surrounding myself with friends, lovers, family, and becoming an expert in developing strong social ties. On the flipside, I’ve also dealt with it by forcing myself into long periods of relative isolation — the most extreme example being Wintering over in Antarctica — partially to try and look my fear in the face. It never really gets any easier.

But here’s something slightly different from previous times that I’ve faced the looming spectre of loneliness: When my brain started going off about how weak and dangerous my lack of emotional self-sufficiency made me, I told it to calm the hell down. The fear of isolation, much like the fear of death, is not some irrational phobia that I can cure myself of through ill-conceived exposure therapy. Rather, isolation and death are core existential human concerns. Our experience of them partially defines and bounds what it is to be a human on this planet. I can learn to cope better with their inevitability, probably most effectively through a regular practice of meditation and creative work. But I’m not going to “get over it” by chucking myself into some kind of isolation chamber, be that Antarctica in the middle of Winter, or a tour of duty on a submarine (I’ve fantasized about it), or middle-of-nowhere Oklahoma all by myself.

Yes, being with a partner purely because you don’t want to be alone would be a pretty shaky foundation for a relationship. One that, in the worst-case scenario, could lead to an abusive level of clinging. I know people do that a lot. As insurance against becoming that kind of co-dependent, it’s good to work on being okay by myself when company is not available. But having the existential isolation of human existence occasionally punctuated by the presence of a loved one is nice, and it’s okay to appreciate that when it happens. It’s okay to enjoy not being alone, especially if the person I’m with also enjoys being not-alone with me.

(The other disturbing realization this dream brought up for me was that, statistically speaking, the last bits and pieces of my memory left to humanity after I’m gone will probably be stupid shit I reblogged on Tumblr.)

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