The topic at the meeting was loneliness versus solitude. I was silently knitting throughout the meeting. Then we went to my favorite restaurant for one of my favorite meals with a couple of friends. It was good.
However, today is bright and warm and sunny here at the beach. Everyone is at the Kite Festival just down the road, and I’m not. I’m pondering the difference between loneliness and solitude, and I’m thinking about how my drunk era perceived that. So long ago that much of the pain is gone (thanks partially to some recent therapy), remembering what I felt at 18 and those years until I turned 35 when I quit trying to drink. My last drunk was about 1975; I woke up one morning on the bathroom floor lying in my own vomit. Not only was I hung over but I was lonely.
When I began drinking, beer was new and exciting, gave me a rush and a voice that I’d not dared to have before. I still didn’t have many friends, but I had some kind of oomph that had been missing before the drinking began. Loneliness was my constant companion…before and after I began drinking. I had no friends…except a couple of sort of boyfriends.
My first semester of college in the dorm was possibly drink-free – too many new things and too little opportunity. Then I moved Mom and Marty to Columbus where college was located and became a day student. Then, I met the Air Force guys. They had access to booze and cars to get away from home. Yet, so many nights I spent in the darkroom and taking pictures – not drinking. Separating the time when I was drinking without getting drunk and the time when I stayed drunk is difficult. But loneliness and needing to be loved played a big part in the drinking.
Escape from home – from Mom (who wanted to live her life through me), from Sue and Marty (screaming sister-in-law and deaf nephew), from the poverty. That escape drove me to places where I could find beer (Budweiser, thank you) or the scotch that Pete had taught me to drink. Irene taught me to play snooker and gave me free beer for coming out to her place and bringing in customers. The guys bought me beer at so many different juke joints in Lowndes County that I can’t remember all of them. One was a night club out in the boonies that was split in the middle, the left side was for whites and the right side was for blacks. The live music was often on the right side, but the doors between (through which only staff passed) let us all enjoy and dance to the music.
I used sex as an escape, too. Between the booze and the sex, I wonder that I’m alive. Solitude was not in vocabulary then. I was lonely, bone-weary lonely, longing for someone who would accept me for who I was (never mind that I had no idea who I was anyway)…just someone who didn’t try to remake me. With a few drinks, no one wanted to remake me – just to make me. So that went quite well.
For a few years anyway. A lot of miles, houses, apartments, jobs and people between that time as a day student in college and the morning I woke up and realized that drinking was not getting me what I wanted. (I’ll fill those in later.) Every time I took a drink, the top of my head felt as though Mt. Vesuvius was erupting inside it. I kept patting the hair to make sure that it was still present. So, I limited my drinking to a scotch and water with a meal. That worked for a while, but I began having horrible headaches and hangovers with just one. So, I’d have a sip of someone else’s beer occasionally.
The loneliness grew, even as I married once, then again, though the second marriage helped abate the direness of feeling so totally alone somewhat. We had lots of kids in and out of our house and they helped.
Now, I sit here in solitude. The ocean is coursing its way back out to the depths as low tide is here. The waves are soothing. I can breathe deeply and not cough. Yet, my partner and people I know are down the beach, laughing and talking and watching what few kites can stay aloft with such little wind. I could join them. I have no desire to join them. I wonder if I’m depressed.
Solitude beckons me often. Sometimes loneliness creeps in, and I wish I’d taken the time to make more friends. Who would they be? So, I am alone – not in perfect solitude, but in comfortable boredom and occasional busyness. My partner is wonderful, and I cannot imagine living without her, but I don’t want much more than that lately.