Isolation and Loneliness


Isolation and loneliness can go hand-in-hand, depending on the circumstances. In my life, I have had plenty of both, sometimes at the same time. With both a neglectful, narcissistic mother and an ex who had very similar traits, I was in the “perfect” position to keenly feel both of these.

My mother abandoned me by not being emotionally available from my birth. She also forced isolation at times by pitching up at various friends’ houses or school events and dragging me home. This was normally accompanied by much castigation for not being at home enough for her liking, how I didn’t respect her and took her for granted, my lack of gratitude, how I was never going to be permitted to do anything but go straight to school and return immediately thereafter.

I was rebellious. I did not comply all of the time. I often stayed out and did not tell her where I was, so that she couldn’t rock up unexpectedly. I bunked out of the house and my friends would collect me at the top of the road where we lived. When I got my driver’s licence, I would wait until she was asleep or at the part of the house where you couldn’t hear cars on the driveway, and just leave. Eventually she washed her hands of me. We reached a tacit agreement that as long as I told her where I was going, I had no curfew and she almost never turned up anymore. I played my part by making sure that I was home by latest 5:30am before she woke up. My sisters had curfews and suffered their way through multiple occasions of the mother arriving. She repeatedly told me that she disliked the fact that I had always been so independent.

The town I grew up in had a pretty much standard open-door policy. You could visit any time (allowing for people’s bedtimes!) without a by-your-leave. Mostly all you did was call ahead to check if they were at home and then off you went. If you were in the area, you just went around. You were welcomed with tea or coffee or cordial. And then would proceed to natter or help around the house (if they were busy cooking or cleaning, it was de rigeur to pitch in) or listen to music or soak up some sun or whatever it was that was the order of that day.

My ex had me move to Cape Town when we were still dating. He refused point-blank to consider any other alternative. (We were in a long distance relationship at the time.) I didn’t know a soul in Cape Town, was leaving a great job and all the friends and family in the city where I was living at the time. He told me that if I didn’t move, that I didn’t love him enough and was showing my lack of commitment. Actually, for him, it was perfect for him to have me in his home town. All his family and friends lived here. His support network and backers were fully in place, whilst I had nothing. It was an isolation tactic. It’s harder to leave when you have nowhere to go locally. And when things go wrong, as they tend to do with narcissists, there is no place to run and hide. No friend to support you except by telephone or email. I felt so very, very alone when things did indeed start going wrong, not long after I arrived in Cape Town.

I have never felt rooted in Cape Town. I call it home kind of grudgingly. In some ways, it is home. My children are here and I have built up a network of friends and a support system for the kids. (My ex’s family have repeatedly shown over time that I was disposable, as far as they are concerned.) I realised that a lot of what I miss and part of the loneliness that I feel in spite of having developed friendships, is the knowledge that I can’t phone and say “Are you home?” or just pop by and ring the bell. It is a cultural thing I realise. I have one friend from Uganda whom I know I can visit any time, but she is often very tired and being a single mother with two challenging children, I don’t like to do it too often. The other friends that I have, have family here – extended family, spouses, kids, lifelong friends, parents and so on. (Friends are family in my world.) I don’t feel like there are any of them that I can just go to their houses without checking first. I feel like I am intruding. I find it really difficult to ask, as more often than not, the answer is no. So, I ask less now.

I’m trying very hard to get used to being on my own and relish it. But I am not close to that point. Not remotely. I am social by nature, plus because of my trauma history, I struggle with being by myself anyway. I love to be around people. I love to watch them and their interactions and listen to their conversations.

I love to shoot the breeze with friends, where we just drift from one topic to another, with no particular order, laughing as we go, or sometimes crying and comforting one another. But there is another person.

When it is family occasions – public holidays, Christmas, Easter, birthdays, etc. – and I am on my own, it cuts sharply like a knife. And I think to myself that I need to learn to deal with this. I left my ex and this is part of the consequences of that action. I often consider whether a crappy husband and his critical family is better than being alone. The scales always tip to the side of I couldn’t go back, so therefore the answer to that must be no, crappy family is not better. So then, why the sadness?

I certainly never knew that this was my road. Perhaps I would not have stayed the course if I had known. I just know that the sadness is a massive emotion for me today, as I am faced with another two days of a long Easter weekend on my own.

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