making a home of loneliness

words and art by raviya

Solitude as a home is a fairly new concept for me, but I’m no stranger to loneliness; I have lived, endured and grown in its deepest depths, in its darkest crevices. I have certainly built some sort of a home in this dark cave, but unwillingly so, for a long time. I’ve spent most of my life feeling alone and saw the passage of time as a means of crawling out of this darkness.

In the depths of this cave, making this aloneness a home lies in the lighting of a candle and the flicker of its flame. Something stirs, something undeniably alive — it brings within a warm, soft glow. This warmth expands and reaches out to the corners of that dark cave and floods it with light.

Learning to love your solitude is that candle in the dark in the cave of despair: it arrives when you stop desperately trying to claw out of that strange place but embrace the darkness that has always belonged to you. But making a home in these cold depths is where the struggle lies. How can you make a home of something unknown to you, something unexplored and unloved?

Throughout my lonesome teenage years, I carved out my despair in the hundreds of pages of an assortment of journals. I felt inexplicably alone and felt I had nowhere to go — no place to rest my head except the cold cave of my own loneliness. I wished desperately to be seen, found and understood. I wasn’t alone on my own volition, it was something I felt was thrust upon me and I carried it with shame. I longed to rid myself of the shame I felt in my aloneness for I was embarrassed by the emptiness of my life.

of course there is nothing the matter with the stars

it is my emptiness among them

while they drift farther away in the invisible morning

w.s. merwin, “in the winter of my thirty-eighth year”

At fourteen, after moving to a new town to start high school, I felt more alone than I had ever felt before. Middle school was but a memory, though one I clung to fiercely as I’d left behind the friends and the town I’d known for those years of my life. In middle school, I felt for the first time what it was like to be a part of a community. I had a group of friends for once, something I’d never had before, and they had become for me an escape from a darker reality.

When I moved, it all changed — and I changed, too. I retreated deep into myself and withdrew from the world. At my new high school, I spoke only when I was spoken to, and even the smallest interactions felt like a burden. I wanted so badly to hide, to become invisible. I’ve always been shy, have always lived in a world of my own, but at this time a new darkness bloomed within me. I was filled with dread at the mere act of existing and moving through the world. I was heavy with a strange new feeling.

The more and more that this new feeling weighed upon me, the further I retreated into myself — but turning inward brought me no comfort, for it carried a darkness of its own. My mind was a maze of anxieties and insecurities that I could not navigate, I was out of my depth. I wasn’t at home in the world, or within myself. I felt completely alone.

my hours are married to shadow

sylvia plath, “the colossus”

This feeling persisted throughout high school, although I did manage to make some friends along the way. I thought in these friendships I could find something to light the way and wash away the darkness. I also naively hoped that these feelings would subside if I dreamed up an escape from them, but I couldn’t seem to dig myself out of this cave and my despair burrowed deeper and deeper, hollowing out my body. I was far too afraid to confront my loneliness head-on, so I did the only thing I felt I could do – close my eyes, turn away and pray that the feeling would disappear.

I began to despise it, and myself, more and more because of it. It never went away but I got better at pretending I wasn’t hurting all the while. I turned to school, to my friends, to social media — anything but that persistent, hollow feeling that rung quietly within me, one that I chose to silence. Anything, anything would be better than facing that dark, shadowy cave. Along the way I lost some part of myself that I couldn’t quite place.

I was convinced that the happiness and fulfilment I sought would come from a complete transformation of the self — the crippling social anxiety, the fear of living and the deep loneliness that I felt wasn’t the real me. The real me was elusive and somewhere out there in the distance, and I thought that I had to run far, far away from who I was to become her. So, I ran.

I felt miserably alone and misunderstood in high school, so I dreamed up an idea of who I could be away from that reality. Everything would fall into place once I graduated and started a new life in university, I thought to myself. I felt that all I needed was a blank slate — then I could start over as a whole new person, one that was outgoing and charismatic. This fantasy was the complete opposite of who I was and who I always have been; a shy, solitary and intensely private person. Who I was, though, simply wasn’t enough.

Of course, university came along and crushed this fantasy. It was nothing like I expected. I hoped I would transform completely the moment it started, but I soon found that though my environment changed, I was still that same quiet, lonely girl I always have been. I hadn’t changed; I was still the person I was desperately running away from. There I was, full of disappointment, self-pity, and lonely as ever.

One can only run for so long. I thought happiness would arrive as I ran further away from myself, but the more I ran the more it caved in on me — there was no place for me to go, no place outside of myself that could give to me the comfort I sought. I was left with an empty shell of a body, lungs burning as I gasped for air because it hurt too much to run and to keep running.

This forced me, for the first time, to confront the reality of who I was and not who I wanted to be. I’d kept myself going by hoping I could be someone I wasn’t, and that only something outside of my mind and that dark cave I wished to escape would fulfill me. Now I was all alone with my darkness – stood naked in the midst of its shadows, its cold breeze stinging my skin.

in a world in which one is essentially and ever alone, it is a relief to confront the existence of one’s shadow; to gaze out at night seeking the eyes of another who is seeking one’s own and know that in some way there has been a meaningful exchange; to sense that somehow on the transversal of time, aloneness is banished if only for an instant and that one thereby has touched the threshold of the eternal. what opens the door to the beyond is the recognition that the stranger is one’s self.

c.l. white

I learned in this confrontation with the dark that I wasn’t really alone. That girl was still there, the one I couldn’t face. I’d always had myself. I saw her strange face; and in her dulled features what I’d lost and what I’d forgotten slowly began to reappear, coloured with a new intensity.

No one and nothing outside of myself could understand and love my darkness the way I could – I had lived with it for so long. Once again, I withdrew from the world and plunged inward, but for the first time it was out of a deep and genuine wish to know myself.

I found I could run towards myself instead of running far away to some distant idea of who I had to be. I began the task of learning to love myself and my loneliness in bits and pieces, and I’m still grappling with accepting that I am enough the way I am.

your solitude will be a hold and home for you even amid very unfamiliar conditions and from there you will find all your ways

rainer maria rilke, “letters to a young poet”

My loneliness is dark, but it is all mine. The solitude that it brings belongs to me; the more I explore it, the more at home I feel in myself and in the world. It’s no longer about banishing the darkness, but simply lighting that metaphorical candle of self-compassion. I’m learning to see myself anew in the light of its flame.