I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone.
~ Robin Williams
I have grown up, as everyone has, being surrounded by people. My parents, my cousins and other relatives, the kids on my street, the kids in my school, and a wide assortment of grown-ups. I was not Mowgli, raised by the wolves and unused to human company. And yet, I always felt separate. Not part of the pack.
I had no siblings, and my parents had a tendency to keep themselves to themselves, even when they were socializing. It’s a hard thing to explain, but let us just say that they were extraordinarily self-centered wherever they went.
Although not raised by wolves, I was not exactly taught social graces, either, and I often stumbled, offended, and embarrassed myself on my way to adulthood. I was not friendless, but few were really close. I spent a great deal of time alone with my own thoughts, even in the company of others. I was accustomed to not being seen (it was a good trait to have in my house), and I had become quite good at it. In short, I had become a Lone Wolf in a land full of wolves.
I perfectly fit the archetype of the Tough Kid, which I described in my book, Discovering Your Inner Child: Transforming Toxic Patterns and Finding Your Joy:
The Tough Kid spends most of their energy showing the world that nothing bothers them. Nothing can penetrate their veneer. Like a duck, any opinion or criticism just slides right off their back and into the pond. “I’m rubber, and you’re glue, and whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.”
The worst thing that can happen to the Tough Kid is for someone else to witness a display of emotion, no matter how tiny. To be caught crying is a disaster. To be seen feeling anything results in shame because the Tough Kid believes in their core that feelings are a sign of weakness which other people will use against them.
Oh, that was me, all right. It was never safe to feel, or to be seen feeling. Ultimately, my true feelings would be used against me, so I had to tread cautiously. I learned to distrust sharing myself with anyone.
I was the Lone Wolf throughout school. I was the Lone Wolf in college, although I really tried to create and maintain friendships. Tellingly, I am only in touch with one person from my college years. And then at 22, I met and quickly moved in with the man who would become my husband. This after I had decided I would be better off alone. And yet, here I was, alone…for I had attached myself to another Lone Wolf. In this case, one plus one still equals one…or two separate ones.
I consoled myself with the notion that no marriage is perfect, and all relationships require work. I loved this man, I felt, so I should put up with whatever comes. During the course of our marriage, however, my husband began to sleep in another room, which left me feeling quite abandoned, really. But I adjusted, and we continued on. Each day, he left the house for work at about the time I woke up. I had a quiet morning to myself before I went to work. I saw him for lunch most days, and then in the evenings, I called him to dinner, only to be met with passive-aggressive resistance to being called to the table, so I often ate alone, preferring that to a cold meal. Even when we were in the house together, he was either reading and watching TV (simultaneously), or working on the computer downstairs. We occupied the same space, we breathed the same air, and yet I felt quite alone in this marriage. But I was the Lone Wolf, and this was familiar territory to me. It was what “normal” felt like.
Eventually, I met my soul mate, someone with whom I was so emphatically sympatico that I had no choice but to leave my marriage to be with her. It was too painful not to do this. So the two Lone Wolves parted ways, and this Lone Wolf married a pack Alpha Female, who was well socialized. As you can imagine, a tremendous adjustment period followed and continues to this day. The Lone Wolf is not accustomed to sharing themselves with anyone, and my Alpha Female often had to drag my own thoughts and feelings out of me in this thing we call a relationship. Lone Wolves suck at relationships. They just don’t know how to do it. So I had to learn.
As children came along, additional learning came with it. Not only did I need to continue to 1) decipher what my own thoughts and feelings really were and then, 2) communicate them with one other person, I had to learn how to do it with my own children, who eventually became old enough to require these things from me as well. In short, this Lone Wolf had to learn how to live in a pack. Aroooooo!
Mostly, though, I had to believe that I was safe. Not all relationships are safe, certainly, but these relationships were and are. My job was to trust that this was so. My job was to be open and vulnerable in ways that I had never done before. The Lone Wolf was naked before the pack, shivering and afraid.
As I wrote of The Tough Kid:
There is no weakness in feeling; the ability to feel is a strength. Your world will not collapse because you allow yourself to feel strong emotion. This is the key to your prison. Think about all the time and energy you expend trying to keep your feelings bottled up inside and trying to avoid exposure. It will take time to convince your inner child that it is safe to be seen emotionally, but start with the following affirmation:
My feelings are messengers that help me navigate my life. It is now safe for me to feel them and express them.
The Lone Wolf has found her pack and is learning to live among these other wolves and to trust them. The world has not ended; it has begun. She is no longer alone, and she never has to live there again.
Here in Oregon, some of us have been following the journey of Wolf OR-7 (pictured above), who was born in the Imnaha pack in northeastern Oregon a few years ago. This particular lone wolf left his pack and has wandered across Oregon and northern California in search of a mate. I cannot help but feel a kinship with OR-7, now named, appropriately, Journey. We are all on our hero’s journey of life, to find our own personal holy grail of happiness. The grail, however, is not the most important thing. The journey is truly what matters.
Will Journey find a mate? Being a romantic at heart, I can’t help but hope so. I have my pack now. Here’s hoping he finds his.