I actually had to look up “isolation” right now:
to isolate: to set or place apart; detach or separate so as to be alone.
I think my single biggest trigger — well, one of maybe two, the second being avoidance/fear — is feeling alone. Lonely, yes. But also alone. Terribly alone. Isolated. Separate from my friends, my family, a community. I want to be part of it and them, but I can’t. So I drink. The more I drink, the more I’m apart from it, and I feel even more alone! Now, I feel helpless to become part of it and them, and therefore, I feel anxious. So I drink. It makes me feel warm, erases the anxiety that starts deep in my belly, numbs my mind, and transforms — magic! — the sad thoughts to happy ones. At least, happy for the next three hours or so.
In [cold west coast city], where I live, I always feel like an outsider looking in. It makes me want to drink. So, the question is, do I drink because I feel alone, or have I isolated myself because of my drinking? It’s hard to tell here, primarily because, stone-cold sober for almost 90 days (minus 2!), I still feel lonely, melancholy, and shut out. I don’t sense anyone wanting to reach out. I don’t want to reach out, I don’t want to try with people here anymore. People here are weird and awkward on good days, bitchy and cold on bad. Maybe I’m too old to make the kind of friendships I made in my 20s and early 30s? Or, maybe I’m just projecting a bad attitude because I’ve been isolating for so long as a drunk that I simply haven’t given solid friendships a real go? (There’s still that possibility, and I keep it alive because I guess I like banging my head against a brick wall. I mean, I’ve lived here 8 years and I’ve heard the “it’s so hard to meet people here” complaint SO many times, it makes me shake my head and simply nod in sympathy.)
Anyway, I’ve very often wondered about the phenomenon of moving away from your nuclear family here, in the US. We move away after college and move in with strangers. We make a family based on loose ties with coworkers, friends of friends, and our significant other’s “extended family.” We live alone, some of us to our absolute detriment.
I got a sense of just how ill this seems to me when I volunteered in [beautiful island]. Long story short, I was with a large (30 – 100) group of other volunteers, and we lived, ate, slept, and worked together 24-7. I have never felt more alive, content, joyous. THIS is how one was supposed to live, I remember declaring, deciding from that point forward that how we lived here, in the West, was wrong; that we needed to return to our traditional, community-based (i.e., African) roots. This was IT, as far as I was concerned, in terms of living close to home, salt of the earth.
My family was close. We did much together, talked about almost everything — my mom made sure of that. At home, I slept very close to my brothers growing up, in the same room, so to speak, for years. We saw both my parent’s sides a lot, heard many stories and much gossip about everyone, young, old, alive, and dead. My mom’s dad moved in with us when he got ill, even passing away in a home in our town, not the bigger city where he was born and raised. I would page through black and white photos of both my mom and dad’s side of the family, some dating back to the early 1800s, every chance I got growing up. I was the family’s little historian.
Now? I haven’t seen most of my extended family in years. I almost never see my last remaining grandparent. I didn’t even go to my paternal grandfather’s funeral! (I do regret this, but what can I do about it now?) I’ve lived in maybe 25 apartments in the past 20 or so years. On and on, I keep moving. Is this normal? Seems like no! Maybe it’s just who I am, a restless, inquiring nomad? Or, maybe it’s the search that drives me, or the anxiety I experience (that also causes me to drink) when I feel the “need” to move on? It’s ironic, considering that I grew up on a farm, was instilled with fairly solid Midwestern values, and my dad still lives on the farm — he’s been there since 1979. I still call the same phone number.
I know I’ve probably brought this on myself, this sense of detachment, but did I have a choice? Sure, I could’ve stayed at home, but come on, what was I going to do in Breederville? Get married and pop out 15 kids? No, thank you! It’s just that there was a price to pay for moving around a lot in pursuit of happiness, independence, meaning, and my dreams, and that has been this growing sense of isolation.
It’s not just me, I know. Still, living in a studio, while nice, isn’t real life. It isn’t good living. On one hand, I have no one to answer to. On the other, I have no one to care about, no one keeping tabs on me, no one to cook for, no one to “normalize” what often can turn into obsessive and/or compulsive behavior when we’re alone.
The worst part about separating from family to the extent that we do, in my view, is that we don’t have a home. There is no longer a place, a group of people, a sense of community that offers unequivocal belonging and maybe even unconditional love. And without this, one feels unsafe. Insecure. Floating with no sense of something bigger than oneself. No one to consult on the daily trials and tribulations of life, let alone the bigger existential questions. No one to check our drinking, to explain our depression (So and so had a drinking problem, remember him?)…
I talked to my dad tonight, sober, of course (yay!). It was hard, as usual, as he’s been depressed for years. He put up a good front when I told him I was coming home for a few days at the end of the month before I move yet again! (I’ve officially given notice on my place here — glad to have finally made a decision — and will be heading back to [beautiful island where I now live] for a while to…further explore my options/job search/etc. More on this in another post, I guess.) Yet, when he told me that my step-mom’s mom had hip surgery today, I was shocked. How did I not know that she had fallen and broken her hip? When he told me that he has to have cataract surgery, I was speechless. What? How come no one told me?
I should call more often, sure, and answer my phone — stop isolating myself, I suppose. It’s hard to tell sometimes, though, how much of this I should blame on myself; how much I should resent them for kind of stigmatizing me because I didn’t stick around and live a terribly traditional (and tragic, I’m sorry) life in rural America, like ALL of my step-siblings and cousins; and how much I should just chalk it up to a sign of the times?