“Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly; let it cut more deep. Let it ferment and season you, as few human or even divine ingredients can. Something missing in my heart tonight has made my eyes so soft, my voice so tender, my need of God absolutely clear.”—Hafiz
The specter of loneliness comes inevitably with heartbreak. If you are like me, it is likely you have never felt so alone before in your life. After being abandoned, I was like a wounded animal that retreats to a cave to survive. Alone in my cave, I could pull into a shell of self-protective solitude—to nurse the devastation, and to better listen to the messages coming from my broken heart.
When betrayal breaks your heart, at first you may also, like me, feel a desperate impulse for company to escape the pain. Yet, whether we choose to be alone or not, betrayal has a way of forcing a person into solitude. Your previous social network is shorn away, either literally or psychically. While I found myself asking, “Where have all my friends gone?” at the same time, I was avoiding social gatherings and turning down invitations.
For years of recovery, I spent a lot of time alone, more than I ever had in my life previously. Being alone does not necessarily equal loneliness, of course. I found I actually began to prefer time alone. I could no longer relate to family and friends about what mattered most to me. In company, I just couldn’t find the right words to describe what I was going through. They would not understand, I would burden them with my grief, confusion and pain.
The excuses mounted, but the truth was that loneliness actually struck me more often in the distractions of company than when I was on my own. When I forced myself to go out, quickly I would realize my mistake as I yearned to leave my companions and get back home. I needed to tend to the brokenness I was living. Otherwise, I felt as if I had abandoned a sick child who was crying for my care and attention.
Heartbreak: The Call of Spirit
Betrayal trauma can crack open the earliest infantile and existential wounds we carry. With this much pain, our hearts are hungry for Spirit, even though we may not realize it. Instead we are tempted to distract ourselves from the call of the suffering. We rush to fill the empty space with new relationships, activities, addictions and other distractions.
It took awhile to realize that activity and social scenes did not work for me. They say extraverts heal in company, and introverts on their own, so perhaps temperament was a factor. But for me, being alone was the only way I found to step into the raw, exposed, vulnerability of my torn heart and crushed dreams. If I stayed too long away from the solace of solitude, I started to feel like a fish out of water. In company, at first, I would begin to feel vaguely disturbed. Then, increasingly, I would glance around in alarm, as if my oxygen supply was dwindling, and find myself dashing out at the first opportunity — to return to the emotional and spiritual comforts of my solitude.
Being abandoned, betrayed or bereaved, solitude may seem like strange medicine for the inevitable loneliness. Yet, being alone can be a tenuous, wondrous time. I could so much better tend to the hurt and brokenness in prayer, meditation, listening to music or just sitting in my yard. There, I listened closely to the pangs of loneliness and learned to hear the pain as prayer coming from deep in my heart. Slowly in these quiet times, I began to discern the companionship and wisdom coming from the compassionate heart beneath the brokenness.
A small voice within, like a hauntingly familiar, distant music was calling and warming my soul with its tenderness and caring. One of the many paradoxes of spiritual truth was coming to me through my broken heart: We must pass through acute loneliness to learn that we are not alone.
Adapted from “Love and the Mystery of Betrayal” —now available in print and ebook.