Monday, March 2, 2009

On Loneliness and Isolation

When I wrote my weekend post about loneliness, I never expected to get so much feedback from people in similar situations. I guess I assumed that *most* people have a big social network and family support, and that very few of us actually struggle with loneliness. Boy was I wrong! So many aching hearts out there. Thank you all for sharing your stories and your lives with me. It makes it a little easier knowing we have each other, doesn't it?

I was thinking about how it came to be that I got to my current level of seclusion. At first I didn't think weight had anything to do with it, but actually, it probably does.

When I was a kid, I had a built-in lonely factor: I was an only child. I didn't have the benefit of a brother or sister to play and fight with, nor did I have any doting aunts and uncles or cousins to grow up with me. Oh, I did have cousins, but they lived in another state... all of them. We went to visit about once a year, but even though I loved them, I felt like an outsider. They saw each other every day. They were growing up together. I wasn't a part of that. I was just a visitor. So as we all grew up, they got married and had kids and did things together, and I wasn't a part of any of that. I love them all, and I wish we were closer, but now thousands of miles separate us and we rarely touch base.

So you'd think I was a really lonely kid, right? Well, I was in a way. But in other ways I was never lonely. I grew up with a very tight-knit religious "family." I don't want to get into religious stuff, or name the religion specifically, but the religion I grew up in was pretty exclusive... meaning, I was not allowed/supposed to have close friends outside of our little church group. We had maybe 80 people in our group, and we all took care of each other. So I did have dear friends... friends of all ages from infants to the elderly. Not too many were my age, though... maybe 3 or 4. It made for a feeling of security... always knowing I had those people and they would love me and take care of me... yet a feeling of isolation from the rest of the world.

When I went to school, I was different. My religious beliefs made me stand out in any class. I was made fun of, sometimes, but I was also naturally shy and had a hard time making friends. I was not allowed to "get close" to kids who were not of my religion, so I didn't make much effort to do so. All those kids were fated to destruction, anyway, and they would probably be a bad influence on me too (or so I was told). I did have one close friend in school who was not of my faith. She was special, because she was the *only* girl my mother ever let sleep over at my house or let me go to her house to play who was not in our church. Other than that girl, I never had a sleepover that wasn't church related. And I wasn't allowed to play sports, or join any clubs, or be in Girl Scouts or anything like that. And no school dances, parties, or activities, either. No prom for me. No dating, either. My entire life revolved around my religion. It was my entire world, and the people in my religious group were all I had.

When I was 17, I was still pretty sheltered. I'd never gone on a date or to a dance and I still thought my religion was all that mattered. And so I plunged myself into religious studies headfirst, focused only on learning and knowing everything there was to know. And what I found, rocked my world.

I'm not one to judge anyone's religious choices, and I don't feel the need to say any particular belief system is right or wrong. But when I studied and learned and started to think about what I had been raised to believe, I realized I didn't really believe all that stuff anymore. Some of the beliefs were pretty far from mainstream, and I just found too many contradictions in the teachings. So I told my mother, and the church leaders, that I didn't believe anymore. And I wasn't going to be a part of that religion anymore. All hell broke loose, literally. My entire world dropped from under my feet as I was totally shunned by 100% of the "family" I had grown up with. I would walk into a grocery store and see one of my close friends from the church, and they would turn and walk away. All of them, all 80+ people, treated me as if I were dead. When I left their religion I no longer existed for them. Even my mother turned away, and would not even eat dinner with me anymore. I still lived at home, and she would shut herself in her bedroom when I was there. When she did speak to me, she expressed absolute disgust that I did not believe, and she said I was no longer her daughter. She cut me out of her will and left everything to her church.

I was thrown from a world with a complete loving safety net of a church family to a world where I was utterly alone. I cannot even express how painful this was for me.

When I turned 18, I knew I had to start over. There was nothing for me there anymore. I had no friends at all. So I decided to move away and go to college. I got on a plane, moved thousands of miles away and started over. I joined a new religion, worked hard, and saved enough for a year of college. And the fresh start was wonderful! I built such great relationships in my new church. We had 500+ members and everyone was so caring and supportive. I was never, ever lonely anymore and I had a totally great new "family." I married and had children and lots of friends. Things were amazing.

Then my husband got a new job. We had to move away... away from my wonderful loving friends. I wept as we left. It broke my heart. I still stay in touch by email or phone with some of those folks, and it's been over a decade since I moved away.

The new place was okay, with another branch of the same church, and I started to make a few friends. It was harder this time. I didn't feel like I fit in as well in my new home, but I kept trying. Then just a year after we moved, my husband and I got divorced. And it seemed like half of our friends "sided" with him and half with me... and I lost a few friendships. I had to go to work, and back to school. I did make some new friends there but nothing that really "stuck." Maybe because I was so absolutely obsessed with taking care of my children and making sure they were okay. Which, in fact, is what I needed to do at the time.

And then, another bit of drama on the religious front. I was studying lots about my church. Hey, if a religion claims to be the only one that is right, I need to study and see if that's true! And again, I found myself questioning the teachings. Maybe I am just not cut out for organized religion, because at the age of 35 I once again found myself leaving a church. I just didn't believe everything they were teaching, and I couldn't live the way they wanted me to live. So I left. And although there was no shunning involved this time, the friendships fizzled out. Our relationships were all based on CHURCH. With that gone, it seemed once again I was on the outside, and alone.

When my daughter was born, she was very sick. She has several medical issues, and she was in the hospital for quite some time. When she finally came home, she was hooked to a lot of medical equipment and I pretty much spent her whole first year sitting on the couch holding her and tending to her medical needs. Yep, that's when I gained a lot of weight. And I isolated myself. I couldn't go out, and hardly anyone came over. I was lost in a fog of worry and sleep deprivation. When I finally snapped out of it, I had no one. All of the church people, the people from college, and the people I'd worked with had moved on and I was sitting there in the dust. And I was practically too fat to move. Anything I happened to get invited to, I turned down because I was *so fat.* I let my weight become the excuse for continuing to be isolated.

Nowadays things are improving. I do go to a couple of classes with my daughter and chat with a few other moms. I need to gain some confidence to invite people over and do things outside of just class. I made this one lovely friend in the neighborhood a couple years ago. What a wonderful, amazing woman. I even went to her church with her a few times and thought about going there regularly, even just for the socialization. And then she died. And I have to start from scratch again.

This post, it's really personal. I never thought I was going to put it out there (the religious background) because I know people can get crazy about religion. But I feel so close to many of you and this experience is such an important part of who I am.

It's hard for me to trust people. I was pretty young when I was shunned. I felt so betrayed. Even now, part of me is a scared little kid, worried about being shunned. When I meet people, I always have that fear in the back of my head: are they going to cut me off? Do they really care about me? If I am not who THEY want me to be, will they leave me all alone?

I'm a grownup, though, and I've done a lot of thinking and talking to people online who have gone through the same thing with the shunning. It helps to know it was not ME. It was their belief system that caused them to do that. I can't let it drive me to seclusion, and I won't let my weight do that, either. Not anymore.

I have lots of options and ideas from your comments, and I am going to work on putting myself out there and building new relationships. I do have interests and groups I could join. I just have to figure out the childcare part. I know there are people out there just waiting for me to come into their lives... people who will enrich mine as well. It's just another part of this journey we call life.


new*me said...

there are so many groups that have free child care....especially if you volunteer ;) Volunteering is an awesome way to meet others :)

I hope you find some great open arms in your community ;)

♥ Dee ♥ said...

Wow. Thank you for the trust and sharing.

Farsy said...

I don't normally post much about my childhood, mostly because while it was a good childhood, it was a bit outside the norm.

My father was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia shortly after I was born. Because of his accident in a semi (long story), he was permanently physically disabled. He could walk around ok and stuff but his back couldn't take much so he was forced to stay home.

I was not allowed to have friends over. Nor was I allowed to go to friends house, or outside past my front yard. I had no siblings so...meh there. I was allowed to be taken to the library or the video game store but I was never out of my dad's sight for long. I had lots and lots of family in the area (my mom's entire side) but I was an oddball age compared to my cousins and never quite fit in.

It wasn't until I was about 16 that I finally started to get some freedoms, when my mother decided enough was enough.

Despite what you might think, I did not go hog wild once let loose. The "damage" was already done. I stayed home, I didn't have many friends if any, and those I did weren't the type to come over or let me at their house. I prefered video games over going outside (what fun is being outside by yourself?).

But in the end, I'm still a homebody but I don't generally turn down going out with friends (the two I have here in NM, both of them are originally my boyfriend's friends). But unfortunately they live 2 hours away so I see them about once or twice a month if I'm lucky. :(

Ahh well, such is life I suppose.


kilax said...

Kudos to you for being brave enough to share.

I wish people weren't so uptight about religion. If they are going to shun you because of that, you are better off without them.

You are an awesome, loving person. I know you will make great friendships if you get out there and be yourself;

*hugs* :)

~TMcGee~ said...

Lyn, it sounds like a lot of people have let you down. :-( I'm so sorry to hear that. I was raised in church from the moment I was conceived really lol and while I have had my share of deep hurts from "church people" there has only ever been one person who had never let me down. The Lord has always been there for me, He has never left my side (but I have run from His so many times).
Going to church is good, in fact God encourages it in His Word. But I'd say for now, delve into the Bible and get to really know Him, the rest can come later.
I hope I didn't offend you by saying that. I just truly believe that any church is going to have people in it who let us down, because churches are filled with imperfect people.
Hugs my friend.

Laura said...

You inspire me.. Wish I could meet you and give you all my support..

maggie said...

I'm consistently impressed by your writing and your fortitude. Given your past, it would be so easy to devolve into a self-pitying attitude, but your posts are always honest and articulate.

In terms of religion, it has always seemed like such a double-edged sword to me. On the one hand, you have a built-in community and faith to get you through hard times. On the other hand, most organized religions castigate outsiders and repress insiders.

It sounds like you have found a balance and a core self. Good luck!

Fat 2 Fit said...

Wow another great post. I thank you for sharing this with us. This is an awesome testimony you have and I will use it to open up myself more as I write as I do believe releasing yourself through words are healing. I hope that after you wrote this post that you felt a feeling of relief.

I totally wish we lived near one another as it seems we have different backgrounds, but our feelings are similar.

Keep your head up, hang in there, we are here for you.

Anonymous said...

I am very lonely too. I think that when I was large, I was mostly invisible, and people weren't really eager to deal with me, and now I probably come off as snotty or standoffish, because I figure I'm still invisible, and thus I don't really try to be friendly. This is what I really need to work on, I have hardly any friends, just some acquaintances. I am very isolated. Because I live in a city, there are people all over, but that makes it even easier to be invisible.

Super Squared said...

Gosh, I just want to give you a big hug. I've never gone through anything like that so I can't even begin to imagine what it must have been like. Reading through your blog, all I can think after reading this is how very sad for your mother and "first family" that they lost out on knowing such a special person. Thank you for opening up about this and sharing such a sensitive subject with us.

One other thing I pick up on is what an incredibly strong woman you are. I couldn't imagine going my own way at the age of 18, flying halfway across the nation not knowing a soul and rebuilding myself. And you have done this twice! That's impressive and very inspiring. Again, thank you for sharing.

Karyn said...

Organized religion is fraught with potholes....and anytime people get too focused on their own pet doctrines, truth gets pushed aside, and people get badly hurt. I admire you for searching out the truth of the beliefs you were taught as a child. It is not easy to turn your back on that kind of community. I know others who have gone through the same thing - it is awful and so far from the heart of God it is not even funny.

I understand your need of 'real' people to support you...we cannot see you, hug you, get to know your kids, all the things we would love to be able to do. It is true, you need a flesh and blood support system.

Has anyone suggested a TOPS group? I know a few people who have made good friends in these meetings - friends who have the same goals for themselves.

I will pray you find at least one person who will be your friend.

Thank you for sharing such a personal part of who you are.

Crystal said...

It's sad to know that a religious place would be so prone to shunning but it seems to be the unfortunate truth.

Confidence is key. I have found the more confident I appear(even if I don't really feel confident) the better the responses I get from others. Definitely get out there and be among people. Parks, volunteering, hobbies, etc. You can beat this girl!

bbubblyb said...

Sorry you had to go through all that. Hope you can start letting people and find some social life for yourself. Even with a husband, 3 kids and work I still often find myself feeling lonely. I think we all need others outside our family. Good luck branching out.

Fat Lazy Guy said...

Wow, Lyn. I mean, you hear and read about peoples experiences with shunning, but you never think you'd actually meet someone who has gone through that.

Alls I can say is, whatever you've been through, it's made you the awesome person you are today, and though it's only through blogs and such, it's been a pleasure to get to know you. So I'm sure you'll meet other people in real life who feel the same way. :)

Deb said...

I am so sorry you went through that. My continued wishes that you will find a way to connect.

Stephanie said...

I'm blessed to have great supportive friends and family, but I think all of us struggle with loneliness to some degree. Even when we are surrounded by people, it is easy to feel lonely. You're doing a great thing by acknowledging it, and I wish you well. Best of luck with this newest part of your journey!

IRJessica said...

Wow. That is an amazing story you shared. I hope you will keep up the wonderful work you are doing, on your fitness, and on your spirit. I have had a tough path with religion. These days I read and study, make my own decisions about what my heart tells me is right, and go to a church with open minded and open hearted people. They certainly don't agree with everything I think- but we are there for companion ship and community for eachother. I hope you can find a group/church of people who think some of the same things you do, and who are as tolerant of your differences are you are of theirs.

elife said...

I'm sorry you're lonely and I'm sorry you had to endure those family and friendship losses. I hope you find some real life pals soon, and not just for your sake - anyone would be lucky to be your RL friend!

moonduster said...

I can't imagine going through that at such a young age! You are such a strong woman! You've been through so much and yet you're still here, fighting for what you want out of life! Good for you! :)

PiaG said...

You are SO much stronger than you realise. You were shunned while still practically a child. By your own family... to keep your head up through that, to stand by your decision, to go out on your own and find a new life. And then to do it all over again after your divorce - That takes unbelievable courage and strength. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there. Just be yourself and people will love you for it.

Dinah Soar said...

Good for you Lynn--you are growing so much in so many ways while your body size is shrinking.

Keep in mind that religion is not the same as spirituality. I'm a Christian, and my faithfulness is to the Lord, not the church.

Many churches are cults; many that aren't cults are 'cultish'. They put their own spin on the Scripture and use it to control and manipulate. I call that spiritual abuse. You have experienced that spiritual abuse.

There is a very good book that you should consider reading titled:

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen.

When I became a follower of Christ back in my 20's I got involved with a predatory church. I never entertained the notion that I was a sheep in a church full of wolves.

By my mid 30's I knew something was wrong, but could not put it in words, and had a great deal of false guilt to deal with, having the mistaught teachings supposedly based on Scripture in my head, mind, and heart.

When I began to reject what I had been taught, believing it to be error and not fully truth--much was partial truth which is in fact error--it was not easy and I too experienced some of the rejection you mention in your post. In my church, while they did not shun me, they marginalized me. It was a case of 'get in' or 'get out'. If you questioned anything you were the problem, you were the rebel...and they used the 'rebellion is the sin of witchcraft" hoping you'd equate that accordingly.

I am free of that today--and Jesus Christ is Lord of my life--not the church.

So many, all too many, have been damaged by false teaching.

Lucrecia said...

you are a brave woman putting this out there. And an inspiration too! I'm saying prayer for some peace in your heart. I pray just writing this helped you. If you can move across the country at 18 not knowing a soul, you can totally beat this little thing called a weight problem! I've never been brave like that!!

Anonymous said...

I've struggled with social anxiety my whole life (and the ensuing isolation/depression), but I've cultivated a few strategies that help me get out of my cocoon and have a decent social life. This has been very important to me since, like you, we have no family around and we've moved *a lot* over the past several years.

1. Balancing my amino acids. Every person who has ever struggled with anything should read Julia Ross's "The Mood Cure".

2. Having a guest over to my house at least once a week, either for dinner, playgroup, craft, or lunch. This forces me to keep my house "guest" clean on a regular basis and keeps me socializing. I've invited neighbors I just met, people from church, families, and so on. Whomever I'd like to get know better.

3. Going out with friends once a week. It could be for a walk, coffee, a movie or I've even just called a friend to go grocery shopping with me at the last minute.

4. Making a huge concerted effort to get to know my neighbors and checking in with them regularly. Like you, we've moved around a lot, but in every neighborhood I bring over something baked and delicious and introduce myself. This has led to several dear friendships and one incredible "adopted" grandmother for my four children.

5. I call someone on the phone regularly and have a chat. When you're stuck home with kids, it's so nice to have a grown-up conversation while folding laundry or washing dishes.

Friends never just come to you... you invite them in. I think many churches have ready-made friends and support-systems, but as you see, they kind of go away when you don't go to church anymore. My husband and I are very religious (Catholic) and we have some friends from our parish, some from other parishes, but this probably makes up less than a fourth of the people we socialize with regularly.

Best to you!

Hanlie said...

You are a wonderful person and I'm sure there are lots of people out there who will recognize it, like we have! When we open ourselves up to the idea of meeting new people and forming relationships, they will come our way! Good luck!

Joan said...

Incredible post. Thank you for your honesty. Your words and story are touching. I'm sure writing your blog has been a positive experience for get your thoughts out there.

I want to encourage you to keep going! Your instinct is correct. Don't give up. You'll meet some good people if you try. You don't want to be friends with people who use shunning as a weapon. Those are not real friends. Shunning is a control mechanism. You have broken free.