by Adair Swayze, LAPC, LAMFT
“This morning at six when I awoke, loneliness was sitting on my chest like a dental x-ray apron, even though I was covered in hairy dog love. I prayed, ‘Help. I am sad and lonely, and already it looks from here like today is going to be too long.’ So I did a kindness to myself, as I would have if a troubled friend had confided her loneliness to me: I heated up the milk for my coffee and took the dogs for a short hike in the hills.”
I love this scene from Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. She wakes up one morning, as we all do sometimes, anxious and lonely. She fears what the next few hours will hold. She cannot deny the heaviness of her loneliness nor the restless and deep longing that comes with it. And then she wrestles with what to do about it.
Anne chooses to engage with what she refers to as “radical self-care.” She imagines she is caring gently for a friend. She offers herself something cozy and comforting to drink. She seeks goodness for herself: beauty and adventure and play. Nothing she chooses is extravagant or expensive or complicated, but there is a simple kind of goodness and nurture.
And before any of these simple things are possible, she does something very important. She allows herself to feel the pain her heart holds. She allows herself to name how heavy and scary the loneliness feels and she engages her heart with such precious words. “Help. I am sad and lonely, and already it looks from here like today is going to be too long.”
Most of our unkindness comes from refusing to engage this place in our own hearts. We shove the feelings away and avoid letting them speak because we are deeply afraid of what comes next. Instead of kindness and gentleness, we choose to be uncaring and even cruel. We numb and silence our needs. We try to satiate our appetite with mindless eating, Instagram, Netflix. We get busy. And when we do engage the pain, we speak harshly to our tenderly aching hearts. We say:
“You shouldn’t be lonely. You’re so needy.”
“No wonder you don’t have any friends. You’re such a loser.”
“Nobody will think to call you today. Everyone has forgotten about you.”
Letting your heart speak, even if only for a moment, is the kindest space you can offer. And once you have listened, you can decide from a place of kindness what to offer yourself. Do you need a walk? Time with a friend? A good meal? Little by little you will teach your heart that it is safe in your gentle care.
Adair is a Licensed Associate Professional Counselor and Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at Foundation Counseling. She enjoys working with children, teens, and adults in the Marietta and Kennesaw area. Find out more about her and other therapists here.