Loneliness is everywhere. It’s a form of invisible suffering, a universal part of being human. It’s also a significant trigger toward the hunt for compulsive sex and the fantasy to be rescued. “I feel so alone today.” “My life is busy but I feel hollow on the inside.” “There are a lot of people in my life, yet I feel lonely much of the time.” As I listen to my clients and my fellows in the twelve-step rooms, these are some of the shared sentiments.
It doesn’t matter how many friends or family you have around, loneliness effects all of you at one time or another especially during the holidays. In American culture, self-sufficiency and independence have generally been identified as a gold standard for success in life, while asking for help and relying on others is often discouraged. In my childhood home, asking for a hug wasn’t even on our emotional radar. Instead, we were lonely planets orbiting around each other without any significant emotional contact. What do you recall from your childhood?
Angela has been a fixture in the rooms of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous for the past three years. She takes her program seriously and shows up regularly to three meetings a week. Although she treasures regular contact with her sponsor and other recovering women, she still describes the “hole in the soul” as intolerable at times. Angela dreads the hour before she falls asleep as the inevitable time of profound isolation.
Growing up as an only child with a single parent, Angela learned to do things on her own. Since she was a small child, she stepped in to help her busy mom. Doing the laundry, cleaning the bathroom, and vacuuming the rugs were part of her household routine as far back as she can remember. They rented one side of a duplex in a suburb of Atlanta, and Angela was a latchkey kid who responsibly did her chores and homework every night. Instead of playing with the neighbor kids, she was very obedient and finished all of her tasks dutifully.
As a teenager, Angela started to get attention from older boys as well as men, and she began to fantasize about a “knight in shining armor” taking her away from her Cinderella life. She always loved films where the despondent, lonely girl lived happily ever after, and this became her fantasy and her obsession. When Angela turned fourteen, her fantasy overlapped with “real life” when an older high school boy took a liking to her. He fit the fantasy profile—older, handsome, wealthier—and when they had sex, she believed the relationship was forever. To her dismay, he broke up with her after a three-month stint leaving her devastated.
This unrequited love and deep disappointment set up an ongoing pattern in her search to be rescued. Fast forward fifteen years and Angela was still entrenched in this quest for the “knight” to rescue her. Angela’s best friend, Tonya had been attending Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous for several years giving Angela a sense of how the twelve-step program benefitted her friend. Tonya invited Angela to go with her to a meeting, and from the time they read the common characteristics, Angela knew she was in the right place.
In Part Two we will take a closer look at some strategies toward processing loneliness.