Surviving Alone

Liz West/Creative Commons [Image Description: A black and white photograph of a peony in full bloom.]

Liz West/Creative Commons

[Image Description: A black and white photograph of a peony in full bloom.]

Lonely is the space that my stomach fights, my mind barricades, and my body curls up to. Lonely is losing parts of who I am because my arms can’t hold my entirety. I’ve internalized the emptiness; I’ve ingrained solitude into myself because I mistook it for independence and control.

For a long time, I thought that with enough hope I could manifest a life of friends and lovers from a few ideas of what connection looks like, great baking skills, some jokes and a lot of wishes. I didn’t realize my mind developed without the skills for relating, intimacy, or trust. Eventually, understanding the ways my experiences of abuse and trauma led to Complex PTSD helped me identify how I struggle to foster intimacy in my life. I also began to understand how society, even within queer communities, defines and reinforces standards of desirability and attractiveness. Standards that I would rather not conform to anyway, and often never could even if I tried, not in my body, not my queer, nonbinary self. Although I recognize that since I’m white, I am granted a certain amount of “fitting in” and acceptance that is an unearned privilege; that comes with a responsibility and duty to anti-racist work. I must question what these “standards” are trying to protect; what power is taken away when society values certain qualities and appearances over others, over difference?

Trying to date while queer in a small town feels like fishing in a pothole; there are very limited opportunities and on all occasions, my anxiety has stopped any attempt at flirting.  Discouraged by hopeless crushes, I’ve somewhat willingly accepted the fact that I will continue to be alone. Finding comfort in solitude seems to be the only option. Coping mechanisms I developed during my childhood, such as disassociating my emotions and self from reality and the present, now act as barriers I have to work against. It’s hard to feel close to another person when you have never felt close to yourself and can’t identify what “close” would feel like.

I am afraid that my comfort will prove hard and inflexible if I ever try to grow beyond my isolated safety net. Being alone has defined parameters; I am in control of my life in a way that is new and satisfying. My childhood was controlled by the abusive behaviors of my older brother which profoundly influenced my emotional and physical well-being. Now that I have found safety and relative stability in adulthood, I am hesitant about opening up and finding out who I am in relation to others. My old coping mechanisms, which served their purpose of helping me survive, are now influencing me to view my isolation as another experience to survive. I’ve been surviving alone, attempting to cope rather then live and adjust to my new circumstances. I may know that independence can be maintained alongside other healthy relationships, but it doesn’t get through to the part of my brain that is constantly influenced by stress hormones and deeply remembers my need for survival.

In queer spaces, I’ve been lucky enough to find friendships and understanding around common experiences of abuse and trauma or mental illness. I think it can be hard to remember that many of us are still learning or relearning how to hold space for each other and have healthy dynamics. I’ve seen and experienced the frenzied excitement of meeting someone who can relate to your experience in a number of ways; only to later realize that is all there is in common or there are other factors involved that get in the way of creating a healthy relationship. Everyone carries with them their own history and their own hesitancy to open up. Yet we are social beings; and when dominant society denies or ignores our needs and existence, how should queer communities find our own ways to comfort each other and show compassion? It’s not hard to find a lonely feeling or plea for comfort in isolation. I want to see growing compassion and I may be scared to open up but I think this change has to start with letting myself say I’m scared and I’m alone.

 

Jay Lundy is a writer, baker, activist from Portland. They are pursuing a MA in Critical Studies at PNCA and spend their free-time baking and writing food love poetry. They've published two chapbooks Bitter Baguettes and for you, sweet art/heart/tart, limited copies available through DM @bitterbaguettes.