Many times I will see a patient who is afraid to be alone. It can become difficult to spend time alone following a divorce or a breakup. It’s not unusual for my patient to stay in a long term marriage or relationship because the fear of being alone becomes too much to bear. So she stays rather than leave and experience the pain of the breakup. As we get older we also see our chances of meeting new partners or friends as less likely and so we may also stay out of fear of being alone. The feeling of “not being alone” is kind of an illusion. For example “being in a relationship” with someone who is drinking too much is actually pretty close to being alone. The drinker is not emotionally available. So in essence we are alone. It goes for any situation in which the other person is addicted to a substance whether it be work, alcohol or exercise to name a few.
Do not enter
Being alone has shown up markedly since the pandemic started. I recently had to have a medical procedure in the hospital. I was not allowed to bring anyone with me. I had my “driver” bring me and pick me up. I sat by myself in the procedure area. After the nurse finished up her part with me I sat for the entire time alone. The whole thing took two hours, but it was very different from years past when I have had other procedures. I had come all prepared with a book and my ear buds but I found myself thinking about how alone we really are in this world.
Only Ticketed Passengers May Enter the Boarding area
The first time I really knew we are alone was after my father’s death as I watched them carry him out from the synagogue in his pine casket. Observant Jews, which my parent’s were emphasize modesty and simplicity. Rabbi Simeon ben Gamliel II started the tradition in the second century C.E. I realized in that moment , as he was being carried to his resting place, that he was leaving by himself. It was then I knew that we are all really alone. We come into this world alone and we leave the same way.
Leaving on a jet Plane
I always think of the song by the Peter, Paul and Mary., “Leaving On a Jet Plane.” For some reason the lyrics seem to fit. She sings of having to go. She knows she must leave. She hasn’t left yet but she already feels alone. It’s also about letting go. We have to let go to move forward. There really is no other way. Sometimes it means being alone for a while. But the real growth can only happen when we embrace our fears rather than avoid them.
Swimming in the Deep End takes Courage
So how does my patient get over her fear of being afraid to be alone? We must look together and be curious about why this particular fear has become so embedded in her psyche. I tell my patient she must go deep inside and she will find her answer. I usually get back, “what do you mean go deep inside?” I mean go as far as you can with writing, visual imagery, paint or whatever else creatively will help her find the answer.