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Loneliness may now be a bigger public health threat than obesity, according to a 2017 report by the American Psychological Association. And for people in recovery, loneliness accompanied by a tendency to self-isolate can trigger a relapse. Yet the reality is that all of us feel lonely at one point or another. Loneliness is part of the human condition. The question is, “How do you cope with loneliness in healthy ways?”
Here I’ll throw out some answers that will help you cope with loneliness and use it as a vehicle for progress in your recovery:
1. Be mindful of and accept feelings of loneliness.
A regular practice of mindful meditation is one way to build greater emotional self-awareness, so that you’re able to cue into these feelings and accept and even embrace them as part of the present reality. You can’t really attend to your loneliness in healthy ways if you’re not actually aware that it’s there.
On the contrary, lack of awareness is often associated with unconscious efforts to repress these feelings that can make us feel sad or unloved. The temptation is to distract oneself with empty, unfulfilling and in some cases downright unhealthy diversions like drinking or using drugs. Don’t do it. Instead, get connected with your breath and cue in to your loneliness without judging it or trying to fix it. If you’re practicing the 12 Steps, you may even want to thank your Higher Power for these feelings and ask your Higher Power to be with you in this moment.
2. Don’t self-isolate. Listen to your loneliness by reaching out to a friend, therapist, sponsor and/or your peer support group.
Your loneliness is sending you a message—a message that in active addiction you once read as a cue to self-isolate. But that habit is what made you sick and progressively sicker.
Now that you’re in recovery and seeking to live a healthy lifestyle, you’ll need to get into a new habit of listening proactively to your feelings of loneliness. You can start to think of these feelings as a text alert that you receive on your Smartphone. The message reads, “I’m feeling lonely.” That can be the cue to pick up the phone and call someone in your support network.
3. Release any negative self-talk, shame or low self-esteem that you may be attaching to your loneliness.
If you’re already practicing a daily discipline of mindful meditation, this process of release may come more easily to you. (Mindful meditation teaches you to focus on your breath and the present moment, and to let thoughts or feelings that enter your conscious awareness float by as you return your focus to your breath.)
If you’re not practicing mindful meditation, you can still learn to notice and label negative inner reactions to feelings of loneliness. For example, you may discover that when feelings of loneliness come, you then tell yourself things like, “Nobody wants to be around me” or “I don’t have any friends.” If you catch yourself, start talking back to these negative messages and correcting their faulty logic. You can begin to count the people in your life who you know love you, saying thanks for them. Or, you can start listing the positive qualities that make you a person whom others want to be around.
In other cases, you may not notice an actual thought that accompanies the loneliness, but you may cue in to an overall sensation of being defective or not worthy enough for others’ company. This is shame talking. If this happens, push the “off” button on shame. (Sometimes rehearsing the motions of actually pretending to push an “off” button can drive home the point more effectively—the point being that your recovery doesn’t have time for shame.)
4. Reframe those unavoidable periods of loneliness that happen to all of us as opportunities to go on a fun date with yourself.
You are loved and one-of-a-kind: a sacred, unique and beautiful person who is fun to hang out with. When loneliness hits, then, take advantage of it as a chance to enjoy your own company!
You can find more helpful tips for coping with loneliness in this article in The Huffington Post.
But how have you coped with loneliness in your recovery? Share your insights and experience with the rest of us!