a place to start

“You seem embarrassed by loneliness, by being alone. It’s only a place to start.”
—”Sabrina,” 1995

The character who says this to Sabrina in the 90’s movie adaptation is a chic, successful Frenchwoman, speaking wistfully of her own experience in coming to Paris years before. I remember being struck by her tranquil confidence, and by the suggestion that being alone or lonely could be embraced, rather than feared. It stayed with me, though at the time I didn’t have the experience or the self-awareness to understand what it meant. Being on my own was unthinkable—loneliness was a worst-case scenario, something to be avoided at all costs.

One early marriage, one divorce and one toxic rebound relationship later, I’ve grown to love these words. They come back to me whenever I’m feeling the lack of something inside me—not just a loving partner or the companionship of others, but lack of worthiness, or validity, or visibility. I’ve come to understand that longing and loneliness are part of our journey as people. Our quest is not to eradicate any sense of lack within ourselves, or to never ever be lonely ever again, but to honor and embrace these feelings.

They will come, no matter how happily married we are, how successful, how busy, how fulfilled. Perhaps not often, or perhaps daily or weekly or hourly, we all experience some level of aloneness and the longing to connect. Spiritual practices are built to help us find that connection within ourselves, and can be very successful at doing so. But I don’t believe they stop the emotions, they only provide us with tools and methods for experiencing them in a healthy, healing way.

And so the feelings come, at some moments stronger than others. Ignoring them doesn’t work, they only grow bigger and wilder, until we’re desperate to assuage the craving to be made whole, grasping for it with insatiable need. My determination to avoid my yearnings and aloneness in any way possible catapulted me into the arms of a narcissistic manipulator, who was all too happy to use my vulnerability against me. And I can’t even blame him for taking advantage of it, I basically walked into the lion’s den, knelt down and bared my throat.

Only after that unhappy mess finally ended did I started to understand the power of honoring my loneliness. Of looking at each negative or difficult emotion—anger, grief, longing, fear, lack, disorientation—as a place to start.

This simple phrase carries such limitless hope for me. In my darkest moods, in my worst anxiety and deepest anguish, to come back to that place of calm, that still center in myself that loves me and knows me and will never abandon me. “It’s only a place to start.” More than that, it’s the best possible place to start. It’s everything I need it to be, right now, at this moment.

Here is where I love myself better, and am my own friend and ally.

Here, I start again to let go of my resentment and process my anger, to understand my own spirals of fear and denial.

Here, I wake up again from autopilot and am conscious of the beauty and joy and vibrancy and transience of my life.

Here, lost and alone, I embrace my suffering.

Here I begin and begin again, as many times as I need to.

I’m no longer embarrassed by my lonely moments, my longing to belong and to be needed and loved, my fears and resistance. These are all part of who I am, and part of what I have to go through to find my way to feeling whole, valid and fulfilled.

“It’s only a place to start.”

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