“Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
Loneliness is an undiscriminating mass murderer. He does not care about the color of your skin or the amount of money you have in the bank. Your family connections and political opinions are also irrelevant. If there is any other characteristic or personal strength that you think should exempt you from becoming a target of Loneliness, you can forget it. He doesn’t care.
I was recently asked for my insight regarding how best to deal with the effects of isolation. I was reminded that 2020 had the highest-ever rates of drug overdoses and suicides. Loneliness has been murdering people in the “free world” at an alarming rate. I believe that, with the right help and guidance, we can strip Loneliness of his power over our lives.
Of the twelve and a half years I have been incarcerated, two and a half of those years were spent in various segregation units. If there is a way to commit suicide, I have likely imagined it. I used to fantasize about the end of my life. My intelligence and creativity led me to come up with some very elaborate endings. Some were peaceful, others violent; some painful, others not; some self-induced, others requiring assistance. I spent thousands of hours devising hundreds of scenarios to guarantee my hasty demise. This is how Loneliness works: he infests your mind, and then your heart.
At the time, it was only the knowledge of my mother’s sorrow that kept my murderer at bay. I could justify every other factor but that one. I deserved it. The world wouldn’t miss me. I would die someday anyway. Being locked up, my life was already over. The rest of my family would be better off without me. The list goes on, but you get the idea.
I am sharing with you my darkness in hopes that you will better see my Light.
If you are hurting right now, the most important thing you can do is speak up. Whatever you do, don’t stay silent in your pain, run from it or bury it under superficial distractions. Reach out to someone you trust. If you don’t feel like you have anyone who fits that bill, call someone you’re not sure if you can trust and let them know you’re hurting. It is in times of trial that the least likely people stand up and surprise us.
There are also suicide, substance abuse and depression hotlines staffed by people with experience and expertise bringing comfort to those in pain*. And whether you are the sorrowful one or not, reach out to someone you think might be in emotional trouble. There have been times, when I was at my worst, that I found myself uplifted by the act of lifting up someone else.
If you are a person of faith, pray. Blow the dust off your Bible and get in the Word. Talk to God about your problems and trust in His promises for strength, comfort and peace.
Know that “the everlasting God … gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength” (Isaiah 40:28-29). Understand that the “God of all comfort … comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). And, finally, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). These are promises on which I firmly stand when the adversary of my past seeks to come again for my life.
On a very practical level, establish a routine (Isolation Survival 101). Select activities that advance your holistic health: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. Five or six days a week, do some type of physical exercise for 30 minutes (yes, walking counts). Set aside time to read, write, make art, play chess, or do some other mentally stimulating activity (avoid potentially stressful social-media content). Make time to journal, sing, dance, or engage in another type of healthy emotional release. Finally, pray, meditate, delve deeper into your faith studies, and spend time in faith-centered conversation. During the other one or two days of the week, relax, treat yourself to some fun and some tasty foods. In an unsteady world, you have the ability to create stability and balance in your life.
There are people around you right now who are struggling, with the hands of Loneliness wrapped tightly around their necks. You don’t need to break your practices of physical distancing and mask-wearing to be present for people in need. Reach out. Be a comfort to others and seek comfort for yourself, knowing the two go hand-in-hand. Loneliness is defeated by Love. Embrace it and stay encouraged.
*Maine Crisis Hotline: 1-888-568-1112. International Peer Support Warm Line: 1-866-771-9276. Substance Use Hotline: 211.