All posts tagged loneliness


Published December 10, 2011 by Susan Woodward

Yeah… that’s me on the far right.

Staying connected… not something I have always been very good at, except for my immediate family.    I think the reason I see myself in a desert is because it’s someplace without connections… and it is sometimes easier to travel alone than to risk being hurt again.  In a technological world that lends itself toward maintaining connections between people, I seem to be more inclined to keep to myself.

When I divorced and moved a hundred miles away, all the friends I thought I had just drifted away from me.  I remember making calls and trying to keep connected, but most of them just seemed to distance themselves from me.  And so I felt cut off… “unplugged”.    I was in a city where I knew absolutely no one, and I tried very hard to hang on to the connections I thought I had.  Between the physical distance and the distance I heard in their voices when I called to talk to them, everything I ever knew just seemed to float away from me.  It hurt, and I guess that hurt has helped me to build a wall around myself.  Cliched, yes… but true.  Abandonment issues stem way back to my childhood, and I probably carry some of that into my middle years by holding back and being more reserved.  I think that I probably have better cyber connections than I do in real life.  Funny how the internet has allowed for the creation of a whole other world… an alternate reality.   But that alternate reality does allow a sense of safety and personal distance for someone like me. .. and I am certain that there are more like me in that virtual world.  However, that’s not a world I really want to “live” in… because it isn’t “living”.   It’s more like Harry Potter’s Mirror of Erised; staring into a screen and not another’s eyes.

I was in a relationship for more than nine years after my divorce… well, on again/off again anyway.  I thought I’d finally been able to connect… I tried so hard.  Unfortunately, he also got swept up in the alternate reality that is the internet, and that escape from what he viewed as a miserable existence in the real world became more important to him than trying to build something real with me.  Like me, real connections scared him because of past experiences.  That became the latest “unplugging”.

I do connect with friends, albeit periodically.  I actually do not think that I have anyone that I could call at 4 AM to take me to the airport… another cliche, but another that I think is true.  And it’s not that people haven’t reached out to me… they have in very wonderful ways.  But I cannot seem to break this wall.  I let people in only so far.  I do love and care about them, but this intrinsic part of me always holds back.  And so I find myself wandering in this desert because solitude has become safe for me.   I have become so afraid of being abandoned that I am hesitant about my connections.  I worry about shortages, power surges, lines being cut, and plugs getting ripped out, and so I pull back from plugging in.

But that’s Snape’s world.  Although I am not clinging on to old memories to prevent me from moving forward, I am clinging on to the belief that being by myself is safer than taking a risk to connect with others.   But I really do not wish to stay this way.  The only thing is, I don’t know how to break out.   I do go out, and I do socialize… but only up to a point.

Connecting is risky.  While “plugging in” can bring light, there is always the fear of an outage in the back of my mind, I guess.  I’ve had my share of power surges that end up with me being in the dark again.   After having the plug pulled so many times, I have a fear of putting the plug back in again.

Well, recognizing the problem is the first step toward a solution.  In this complex world where there are so many people, like me, who have disconnect problems of their own, how does one make a lasting circuit?  In this season of light, I don’t want to be unplugged.   Like the return of the longer days of light, I want to have more light in my life.  I want to plug in to what life has to offer and actually unplug myself from the virtual world more.  But again, that’s risky.  I have to find a way to break that fear, knowing that not all connections will stay lit.  There have to be some that will, though.  I have it with my children, and so I know that I have the ability to connect; I just have to be willing to take the risk.


Published November 16, 2011 by Susan Woodward

“Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.'”

This drawing is perfect on so many levels.  Snape most certainly could have been the speaker of Poe’s “The Raven”, pondering “weak and weary” over his memories of Lily.  And like the speaker of the poem, he is caught up in his painful memories from which he will recover “Nevermore”.  I love how the raven’s mouth is open as if he is reiterating “its only stock and store”; however, the repetition of the word is not what draws the narrator spiraling downward in his depression.  The bird can only say what it knows, and it is the narrator that is in charge of the “conversation” that ensues.

It’s like a “talking” doll that can only say, “Mama.”  When a child plays with a talking toy, it’s the child in charge of any “conversation” that takes place during playtime.  Fully knowing that the answer to whatever the child says will be “Mama”, the tone of the discourse will depend upon whatever the child says.   For example, when playing this kind of game, a child might say, “Who do you love?”, to which the doll would respond, “Mama.”  In this scenario, it’s a happy conversation, and the child continues in this thread.  The doll can only say what it’s programmed to say… nothing more.  Imagine how the tone of the conversation would change if the child asked, “Who makes me mad?” or “Who’s the meanest person on Earth?”  The doll will still say, “Mama.”  The whole situation then becomes something much darker… but not through the fault of the toy.

Now let’s look at the speaker of the poem.  He’s already depressed.  He’s lost “the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore” and has taken to shutting himself up in his room.  When the raven arrives, being able to speak only the word “Nevermore”, the outcome of the “conversation” with the bird lies solely with the narrator.  He asks leading questions all the while realizing that the bird can only utter that one word.  He even admits that it probably learned “that one word… from some unhappy master.”  Still, though, he chooses to ask those leading questions.  He asks if he will ever see Lenore.  He asks if there is “balm in Gilead” and if he will ever “clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”  With the repetition of “Nevermore”, he spirals further downward into his depression to the point that he will never recover and remains sitting in his room.  Imagine if he’d asked, “Will Lenore forget me in Heaven?” or “Will this pain be with me always?”  “Nevermore” would have then been a comforting reply, and he might have healed from his emotional wounds… but he doesn’t.  He chooses to ask the wrong questions, which does nothing more than to echo the despair he is already feeling.

Severus Snape is a perfect choice for the speaker of this poem.  He never got over Lily Potter.  His emotional life ended when she fell in love with James, and he harbored the pain of what he took as betrayal for the rest of his life. In spite of that “betrayal”, he still loved her.  When Lily died, Snape felt responsible for Voldemort finding her, and he carried that guilt with him as well.  This just added fuel to his obsession with her.  Like the speaker of Poe’s poem, Snape shut himself off and wallowed in his painful memories.  He went home each night to an empty room and ruminated about Lily in the same way the speaker clung to his memories of Lenore.  Neither ever healed from their lost love because neither could let go of the past.

So what does all this have to do with me?  Well, like the narrator and like Snape, I have also lost someone that I loved very deeply.   Similar to Snape’s feelings of betrayal when Lily fell for James, I was also betrayed… and in some ways, I still feel that pain of that betrayal.   As much as I want the memories to fade into oblivion, I seem to unconsciously whisper the name of my ex-fiance more often than I would like to admit.  It seems to come out of nowhere.  I’ll be driving, and I’ll spontaneously say his name aloud.  I’ll be turning over to go to sleep, and his name will creep from my lips.  But I do NOT want to end up like the speaker of the poem or like Snape.  I want to move forward and “forget this lost”…person. Or at least forget the pain I feel.

What I need to do in response to those spontaneous whispers of his name is to finish the sentence with a reminder of how I need to move forward.  I know now for sure that this relationship was not at all healthy for me in so many ways.  He has to live his life, and I have to live mine.  I cannot chain myself to the pain that the memories bring, and I certainly cannot fool myself into thinking that maybe I’ll be with him again.  I do not want to go backwards, and I also do not want to get stuck like Snape.  While it might seem a romantic notion to carry a torch for someone you’ve loved deeply and spend the rest of one’s life loving a memory, it’s not at all healthy.  I cannot do that to myself.  I cannot attempt to justify his behavior and forget how his betrayal destroyed any illusions I had left about us getting married.

What I can do is try to forgive.  I am trying to erase the anger and hurt that I still feel months later, but it’s not easy.  Like the narrator and like Snape, I loved passionately.   But I know that the love I felt for him will never bring me anything but more pain in the long run because I’d forgiven him so many times and taken him back after breaking up.  I rode that merry-go-round for nearly ten years, and it’s time I stepped off the ride for good.   I will not take up that “conversation” with myself that consistently repeats his name.  That bird will NOT remain “perched above my chamber door”, and I will NOT continuously make the wrong statements to myself to which my personal “raven” will reply.

Will I always feel like this?  Will the anger and hurt stay with me forever?  Will I always be alone?

Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

The Hermit, Severus, and Me

Published November 13, 2011 by Susan Woodward

One thing that I really enjoy is studying the symbolism of the Tarot and applying the journey of the Fool through the major arcana to my own journey.   Most recently, the Hermit card has been appearing quite frequently, so I decided to just stop and pay attention to it.

The first thing I did was just sit and LOOK at the image.  The deck I was using for my reading had the traditional depiction of the Hermit… an elderly man in a grey, hooded robe, holding a lantern in his right hand and a staff in his left.  He faces to the left, but his eyes are cast downward.   For me, I interpret this as one who is looking back on the past in contemplation.  He is shedding light on the past and is thinking about the path that has led him to this point.  Also, there is no one else in the picture… he is alone.   When I think of the word “hermit”, I think of someone who has made the conscious choice to isolate him/herself for whatever reason.

Ok… so this does seem to apply to me at the moment.  As I am still in my “desert state”, as I call it, I can relate to what I see in this card.  Before I make an attempt to move forward (which would be facing toward the right, as I interpret the cards), I do need to take a good look at where I have come from.  Contemplating on past actions and how they have led me to where I am at this moment is necessary if I am to take in the lessons of my journey so far.   I guess I am coming to a point where I am finally beginning to more embrace my solitude rather than being filled with loneliness.  This is something I’ve been struggling with for quite a while.

It wasn’t that long ago that my grown children set out on their own, leaving me to live by myself for the first time in my life (with the exception of a two month period right after I left my husband).    I also ended a nearly ten-year relationship which, truth be told, left me feeling lonely most of the time because we lived fifty miles apart.   I was actually more of the Saturday night girlfriend than anything else, it seemed, and was never going to go beyond that.   So I made the decision to break it off and begin to entirely rebuild my life as a woman on her own… a woman in transition.   That’s where the whole concept of the desert came from; truly living alone for the first time.  And with the frequent visit of the Hermit in my readings (as well as the 9 of Pentacles), it’s a message from the Universe to simply take a good contemplative look at the past and learn from it.  While there have been many mistakes (who doesn’t make them?), there have been just as many successes.  I am who I am right now because of the choices I’ve made.  Revisiting mistakes from this mind-set has been illuminating because I am trying very hard not to judge myself… I am just looking at things I’ve done and seeing how they have helped to create the person that I am.   And since I actually like who I am, I am basically reminding myself of the lessons I’ve learned from those mistakes.  Right now is a good time to revisit the lessons so that I do not repeat any behaviors that made me unhappy.   So, looking at the card, I see myself facing my past (to the left), illuminating my path (the lantern), and contemplating on the journey that has brought me to this place (the bowed head, downcast eyes, and walking stick).    And while the word “hermit” often carries a negative connotation, I am feeling that this is a very good place for me right now.  I’m very comfortable with the solitude and with the time for contemplation.

While I was spending time with this card, I decided to look at other artistic interpretations of The Hermit.  I am fascinated by the diverse representations of this concept of loneliness vs. solitude, but one in particular really struck me.

Another introspective tool I use is making connections to characters in the books I read.   When we read, everyone has a character that seems to stick out in our minds more than any of the others.  Most often, it is the Hero or protagonist of the tale.   However, there are instances when a secondary character really seems to get under our skin, and when that happens to me, I examine the character closely to see what connection I have with him/her.  I believe that the connection happens because that particular character exhibits traits that resonate somewhere inside me.   I’ve already spoken of how Dorothy’s companions resonate parts of myelf: intellect, heart, and courage.  This time I want to focus on the one character from the Harry Potter series that I have felt a strong connection to right from the very start: Severus Snape.

Right from Snape’s first dramatic entrance into his Potions class at Hogwarts, I felt a strong connection.  He strides in with a confidence that also screams arrogance, but he has such a strong presence about him.  He expects correct answers from his students, and he is unnecessarily hard on Harry Potter.   He reminds me of myself in my own classroom.  I have very high expectations for my students, and I also have a tendency to be dramatic.  While I always try to be conscious of how I speak to students, I do have a tendency to be overbearing and, yes, arrogant, at times.   And do you know what?  I am actually very okay with that.  Like Snape, who does not care if he is liked by his students or not, I am there to do a job and to do it to the best of my ability.

by Ellygator

I see Severus Snape as the misunderstood loner.  He forms very few personal connections because of how he was treated in his past, first by his parents, and then by other students when he was in school.  Like Snape, I built walls around myself as a form of protection.  I spent most of my life feeling unloved and unappreciated, being told I was stupid, of a host of other things I don’t care to mention here.  Inside, I felt alone.   I cried when I “saw” Snape’s memories of how James Potter bullied him because I remember what that felt like for me.  I understand why he is harshly assertive in his classroom; it’s his defense against being told he was nothing.  It’s his way of proving his worth… I get that because I guess I do it myself.   I am dramatic in the classroom and on stage because it’s my way of saying, “Hey… I’m here!”  And even though we (Snape and I) are surrounded by people–he with his students at Hogwarts and the other teachers, and me with my own students and children– we both have a tendency to feel disconnected.  Many times in my life, I have felt alone in a sea of faces.   In that way, we are both like the Tarot’s Hermit.   We choose to stay close to ourselves, and we both ruminate on the past.  I guess his character speaks to me most because I actually do not wish to live my life entirely like his.  I definitely understand how he came to be… and I see many of his traits when I look in the mirror.  But what I do not want to do is to hold so tightly on to the past that it stagnates my present.  Snape never loved again after being jilted by Lily.  And even though he had been angry with her, his love for her dictated how he lived the rest of his life.  While that may be a totally romantic notion (and I have to admit that I cried my eyes out when I “saw” his memories of Lily), it was also very self destructive.   I too have loved passionately, and like Snape, it didn’t work out and I was devastated.

But unlike Severus, I don’t want to carry a torch for someone who chose not to love me.  I don’t want to hang on to the memories of what we used to have instead of facing the reality of what eventually did happen.  I don’t want to stare into the Mirror of Erised for the rest of my life, looking at shadows of what can never be, no matter how much emotion I feel.   By day, Snape lived the effects of his shattered dreams through his harsh words and sometimes rash behaviors (joining the Death Eaters).   By night, he ruminated in his dream world of what he wished he could have had with Lily and the guilt he felt about his role in her death.   His dreams ate away at him; instead of taking the lessons by looking at the past and moving onward, he got stuck.  He never left the Hermit stage… at least not on a personal emotional level.   As much as I love the character, I do not wish to be entirely like him.  I admire his courage, I enjoy his cocky arrogance in the classroom, I am in awe of his intellect… but I feel pity for his stunted emotional growth.  He could not let go of the pain of the past, and he could not move forward.

While I may be using this Hermit/Desert time to assess my journey, I fully intend to move forward with my life.  I will look at what has come to pass, but I will not hang on to it… at least the parts that do not serve me well to hang on to.  Memories are treasures, but hoarding ALL memories–like the bad ones– is not going to be good for me in the long run.

Facing the Shadow: “Path” by Apocalyptica

Published October 20, 2011 by Susan Woodward

Wow.  That’s all I have to say every single time I watch this video.  This is such a vivid, fabulous depiction of the inner conflict and facing the “Shadow” inside.  How appropriate for me right now that it is entitled “Path”.

I love the “call and response” between the live performers and the shadowy figures on the wall.  I can especially feel the angst as it builds through the music, and when the “stand off” occurs, I feel the rise within my own soul.

As I continue through this desert path with the sun looking down on me, the only other “living” thing I see is my own shadow.  It is a part of me, both outside and in.  I suppose that part of working through toward solitude is befriending that shadow part of myself.   I know it’s not necessarily the “dark side” of me, but the things that I keep hidden, both consciously and unconsciously.

The conscious parts are easy to discover… the things about myself that I would just as soon keep private and hidden from the world.  Some parts I’m ashamed of, while others are simply just too personal to bring out into the open.

The unconscious parts are much more difficult to discern.  Sometimes things pop up and I ask myself, “Where the hell did that come from?”  “What made me do that?”  “What drives me to want this, that, or the other thing?”  These have a way of coming out unbidden and when they do, I begin to feel anxious and feel almost as if I have to beat them down.  The anxiety comes from not being able to control when or where these behaviors, attitudes, or impulses pop up.   I guess that’s what I see in the video… that struggle for control.   Maybe the darkness of my shadow is my collective fears that I feel the need to conquer.

There’s that pause in the music where the one musician is tapping on his knee, waiting for a response– that silence before the storm of full confrontation.   Then both sides are in a frenzy of conflict and it seems as if the Shadow is conquered… at least for the time being.  But is conquering what I really want here?

The more I think about it, though, the more I seem to believe that I need to be gentler with my Shadow self.   What I think would make the transition toward solace much easier for me is if I befriend those parts of me that are hidden.  And not that the Shadow part is evil… just in darkness, out of sight from everyone else.  For the regrets and shame from things in my past, it would serve me better to acknowledge their presence, know that they will never truly disappear because those things are a part of who I am and who I have become over the years, and to simply let them dwell there in peace without trying to beat them down.  But those will be the easier parts to befriend… the conscious ones.  It’s dealing with parts that pop up by surprise at various times in my life that catch me off guard and cause anxiety… and then the whole “fight or flight” instinct kicks in.  Except, in that situation, that there’s no flight from what’s a part of you… just fight.  I am not sure how to keep that inner part under control so that I don’t end up in full-blown self-conflict and attempting to beat myself down.

Perhaps the conflict I feel inside could be better resolved by taking the time to really LOOK at the conscious parts first.  Heck, since the sun is bearing down on me in this desert, it’s right there all the time.  There’s no hiding it here.   I can allow myself to feel whatever emotions that go along with what I find, and then moving through the desert won’t be as lonely when I befriend myself.  Once I am at peace with those parts, maybe I’ll figure out a way to discover the unconscious parts.    What does lurk deep in my soul?

I’d like to figure out how to get a look at what’s hidden just beyond my view.   There must be a way to tap into what is unconscious and bring it forward… but I think that finding a way to curb the confrontational attitude that I often take toward myself might be a step in the right direction.

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