Dear Neil: Over the past five years, there have been many personal losses in my life. Recent years have been marked by the sudden deaths of people close to me: my stepfather, my uncle, two of my best girl-friends, my counselor and two close male friends. I also have lost several dear pets and a close personal relationship.
As the losses kept mounting, I lost much of my ability to recover, and I find myself buried in sadness and pain. The world has become a lonely, dark and unforgiving place. Most passed from sudden tragic deaths and “extremely rare” conditions. At 53 years old, I am very alone.
I’m afraid to seek any new friendships – I’d hate to put a jinx on some poor, unsuspecting person. Perhaps being alone isn’t nearly as painful as growing close to someone and losing them.
Extremely Alone in Vail
Dear Vail: Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? That is the Shakespearean question for you to ponder. Your aloneness allows you to mourn your losses, and it’s keeping you safe from getting close to anyone else and risking further loss. It may be the wisest and healthiest thing you can do for a while.
But after a respectable period of time, if it stops you from allowing yourself to get close to new people, to form new relationships or to bring new animals into your life, then you are damning yourself to an extremely unhappy and lonely future. You will not only feel demoralized; you also will lose trust in your ability to cope with life’s challenges.
Permit your sad, wounded feelings to be there, but also look at what gives you, hope. Focus on what kind of future you would like for yourself and what would help you to look forward to a brighter future. In order to do this, you will have to look at what goals you still have and where your passions lie. Yes, you may be afraid to re-engage with people and new relationships for fear of further loss, but don’t let that fear stop you. Feel the fear and then re-engage with life and with new people anyway, because it’s our relationships – not our accomplishments, possessions or memories – that matter the most in life and that ultimately bring you the greatest sense of fulfillment, contentment and happiness.
I suggest that you reach out to new people, take classes, learn some new skills and challenge yourself to create a positive vision for your future. You do this by becoming more a participant in life and less reserved. Figure out how to have more fun and play in your life – and don’t tell me you’re too old to play, because nobody is.
Finally, I recommend you let hope, rather than fear, run your life. You must find a way to believe in yourself and the value of your life, so you don’t let adversity and loss defeat you.
Dear Neil: I feel very lost. I have been with a man for five years, and our relationship is now so bad that I feel there is no respect for me at all. He humiliates me every chance he gets. How do I get out? Where do I find the strength?
Lost in Vail
Dear Vail: You gain strength by focusing on the life you want, the life you dream of living, the future you will be proud of and the sense that you deserve more than this relationship offers you. If you don’t leave when you know you should, you’re going to be despairing and angry with yourself later on.