China Camp State Park, Marin County, CA, USA

China Camp State Park, Marin County, CA, USA (Photo credit: TRAILSOURCE.COM)

Something just reminded me of a passage from The Serial, A Year in the Life of Marin County, by Cyra McFadden. It was originally published in the Bay Area as, in fact, a serial in the newspaper. It was a comedy of manners which made fun of the various foibles of the people who were coming to be known as yuppies. In one scene a Marinite (not member of a sect: a guy from Marin County) guy is being confronted by his wife about something in their marriage, but he has happened to walk in while she’s with her women’s group and is doing it in front of her.  He somewhat plaintively asks, “Can’t we talk about this when we’re alone?” Her reply:” We are all ultimately alone,” or words to that effect. Just imagining that scene still cracks me up.

The humor comes from confounding different kinds of being alone, of course. We are all alone with our thoughts and feelings, for better or for worse, inside our own heads. If there are true psychics out there, able to overhear people’s inner ramblings whether they want to or not, I don’t envy them. Anyone who’s ever been stuck in a car on a long trip with a person or people who wouldn’t stop talking can just imagine being in that state all the time, wherever they are– YOW!

But loneliness is something far, far, different from being alone. How much writing has been done about that excruciating feeling of being alone in the crowd, unable to connect? But let’s think about it for a moment– isn’t it true that wherever I go, there I am? I’m fond of saying that part of recovery means knowing the difference between alone time being quality time with someone you love or being trapped with a maniac. So what we think of as loneliness may start to look like having a bad relationship with oneself. And if I’m walking around radiating that I have a bad relationship with myself, aren’t people going to pick up on that? This is far from being the only cause of loneliness, but it’s one that is entirely within my control. To improve my relationship with myself does not require the knowledge, consent, or participation of others. There’s way more to it than that, of course, but it makes a great starting point for dealing with what can feel like an overwhelming and painful problem.


About jamesmatter

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) in private practice in San Francisco. I work with adults, adolescents, and couples, with focus on substance use and abuse and co-occurring disorders (having both a mental illness and an addiction).
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