I got angry with my wife this week for being too happy. It feels strange to write that here where I share so much about loving others and ourselves. But it happened and I thought it would be cool to share in the vein of “we’re all human,” but also like, “what the hell’s wrong with me?” Which, perhaps, are two ways of saying the same thing.

My wife, Dr. Christy, is almost always happy. She doesn’t let a day go by without telling me how much she loves our life, our home, our children, our dogs, the garden, the trees, and even my occasional crabbiness. When we met, I assumed her giddy nature to be the product of the Minnesota sun, of Midwest values, and of the simplicity of the small family farm on which she was raised. That was superficial of me, my geographical bias dictating her experience of life. Her happiness is, in fact, hard won, a resolve to find the light that’s endured divorce and single motherhood, patients who’ve suffered and some who’ve died, and a cruel world that often didn’t understand the woman with a fierce mind and tender heart who spent her days caring for the sick while longing for a safe place to rest her head at night. My wife, an accomplished woman in so many ways, is a child at heart. A dreamer, a romantic, a little girl in a field of sunflowers looking for a playmate to hold her hand and invite her to dance. So she smiles and laughs and tries her best to remind the world, and me in particular, to lighten up and play a bit. Often when I go off and write she’ll appear with a giggle and a shake and say something like, “I just had a love burst and I needed to kiss my husband,” before giving me a smooch and floating away again. Her happiness is a way of drawing me out into her light so she knows that I’m okay and that we’re still connected.

My means are slower. I brood a bit more and let life seep in. I like when things drip deep inside and touch my nerves, raw and with a tinge of pain. Pain, for me, has been a gateway to the unrefined rhythm of life — the primal bass line hidden within synthesizer beats. So I meditate, and contemplate, and slow dance clumsily with the stuff that’s not safe to carry on my sleeve as I waltz down the street. Then I go off alone, behind the door of my bedroom or amongst the tall oaks in our garden, and write it all down. And then I’m happy. But my wife skips all that method acting and just gets right to the happiness.

The other day I forgot that I enjoy the contrast: “Stop being so happy!” I said, and then stomped away to the closest place I could find to stew, which turned out to be my bedroom closet — the place I store my hoodies and linen pants and, on this day at least, the place I went to pout and to be alone. I sat for a while, in self-imposed exile, wondering how she could be so rude with her smiley face and love bursts and kisses interrupting my loneliness. I closed my eyes and touched the pain where my loneliness lives, then I took out my iPhone and wrote down a few lines hoping to describe how it felt inside.

Loneliness is a state I have to practice regularly to maintain. It’s there, for sure, on its own, lurking in the corner, waving me over to commiserate in its solemn companionship. But on the way from where I am to that dark corner I pass a lot of other things hanging around too. Flowers, sunshine, children dancing in the yard, a wife who loves me, pictures of my family on the mantel, my dogs curled up on the floor, all the lovely things that live on the outskirts of the corners where loneliness resides. To be lonely I have to ignore them all, and look the other way. Loneliness, like everything else at which we’re proficient in life, takes intention and focus, requiring that we block everything else from our sight and just gaze at it until it consumes us, until we get really good at it, until it becomes a safe place to hang out in the pain.

The best I can tell, we’re all living in a closet of some kind; the place we hide all the messy stuff of life so the house looks clean when the neighbors come for a visit. We all have secrets, guilty pleasures and things we’re ashamed of. We’ve broken lovers’ hearts and our own. We’ve had sexual triumphs and embarrassments. We’ve tried to parent without really knowing how. We’ve cheated and lied, smoked pot and done lines in the bathroom with the lights turned low. We’ve stolen money from our bosses and had fights with our wives. We pull our hair, drink too much, and binge-eat Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream when life gets to be too much. And some of us have gone to Vegas with the boys when we said we were going to Boise to visit old friends. Or at least I have … done a little of all of that. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that we’re all the same. We think we have our secrets but that’s not quite true. What we have is our humanity, and that means I’m just like you — feeling lonely because I’ve lived a life I’m sometimes not proud of without realizing that you’re telling yourself the same lies as me.

I know this to be true because I write, which requires that I look inside this closet of mine and take inventory of my mind and then write it all down and have the courage to press send, something I do every few weeks wondering how it’ll be received. Wondering if you’ll still like what you read and if I’ll like what I see when I look in the mirror at the end of the day after baring my soul. Something funny happens in that process though: you write back to me and open your closet too. And that’s how I know we’re all lonely about the same things we’ve been hiding in the closet being afraid others might find out. Not exactly the same things. We have different things crammed in there. I’ve got a rug my dog peed on and you’ve got the cushion you burned smoking cigarettes while your wife was in the bath. But we share the reason we crammed it all in the closet in the first place. We have the same desire to be good, to be loved, to be accepted and understood. And we’re worried that were not. Not quite good enough, or worthy, or ever going to feel loved.

In that commonality we can find a call to connect. To practice sharing with one another. To come out of the closet and compare what we’ve got hidden inside. When we do, our loneliness doesn’t get pushed away or replaced with a sappy artificial grin. Instead, loneliness itself becomes the place where we intersect. We bond around our human vulnerability and all the juicy ways we’ve lived our lives.

This week I invite you to look in the closet and poke around. Ask some good questions, perhaps like:

Where does my loneliness live?

What beauty lies between here and there?

How might my stuff be like the stuff of other people I know?

Then share what you find with a friend … or two. See what you have in common. Experience the connection of shared humanity.

Solitude is inevitable. At one point or another we all will have moments when we’re alone. Loneliness, though, can be optional, a result based largely on what we choose to practice in life; when we get to know ourselves; when we look in the closet and get comfortable with what we find; and when we share around our human fragility. Then solitude becomes a place of solace, and our experiences — no longer secrets — become old friends.

Big hugs of love,

Jason

  1. Brian Victor Hernandez says:

    We are truly brothers Jason. It’s like your speaking for all men. We both have a thousand reasons to be Greatful for a loving, kind, wise, happy, angelic, spouses. Thank you for expressing your human side so well. Your a truly beautiful soul for sharing such realistic behavior that we all can relate and connect to. Not particularly an easily accomplished task or often spoken of so clearly. No matter how hidden in our closets they may be. You have the ability to help others heal deep wounds, by sharing and encouraging others to investigate their own truths. May you be blessed a thousand fold. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You. Take Care, Hugs of Sincere Gratitude.

  2. Oh Jason, you have touched on a profound truth here. We are all afraid of exposure, of showing our secrets and our shame and yet we are all human. To err is human. This is a beautiful piece of writing and sharing. Huge hugs of love to you and to us all. We have all made ‘mistakes’ and yet that is the wonderful, unique song of our lives and there is strength in that frailty. Much love flowing to you and your family. <3 Xx

  3. Jason, your works always push me to think about my life. I don’t t think that I ever considered loneliness as a choice. I guess I thought it was either there or not. I spent a lot of time lonely earlier in my life and now not much time now feeling that way. For me, getting to know who I really am and learning to like myself has really kept loneliness at bay. When I don’t love myself, I find it hard to believe anyone else loves me.

    For many years I thought I had to hide who I really am. I thought the real me was unlovable. I spent a lot of energy trying to be who I thought my spouse, my family & my friends wanted me to be. It was exhausting and very stressful. It took years of therapy & 12 step work to learn that who I am is enough. I was so insecure that I didn’t realize that who I am is much better than who I was trying to be.

    The most freeing thing I have every felt is knowing & believing that who I am is perfectly ok. I can be loved warts & all. Realizing that I only want people in my life who accept me as I am has given me freedom. Liking myself has made it ok if some people don’t like me. It was so very tired from trying to be what I thought everyone else wanted me to be. Reality is that no one is liked by everyone else in the world & I love that I don’t have to strive for that any longer.

    You give me hope. I don’t know many men who are willing to look at & then verbalize their feelings. I am not saying they don’t exist just that I haven’t meet many of them. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings so openly. Thanks for giving me the nudge I needed to look inward for a while this morning. I feel renewed. Big hugs to you.

    • Jason Garner says:

      Thank you for this vulnerable sharing. I’m just finishing a weeklong loving kindness meditation retreat. I’d like to share my metta phrases with you – may you be happy, may you be accepted, may you be free. Big hugs – Jason

  4. Jason, also thank you for reminding me of something. I ran for years from pain and it only healed when I stopped and faced myself. It’s not lonely when you stop and there is comfort in inner peace at last isn’t there? There are still moments when life gets hectic, or we get tired or stressed and we need to do it again. Solitude is part of the healing process. <3 hugs of love for you.

    • Jason Garner says:

      Thank you Jane. The running has it’s place and so does the stopping. I know I stopped when I had the skill to face what I had been running from. Now I find that I begin again over and over each day. That’s the value of my practice. Big hugs – Jason

  5. Claudia Correa says:

    Hi Jason,
    First, thanks for sharing. Second, your story is my story. I’m a lady who likes to be happy, and have fun and see good in life but at the same time get angry or upset or mad easily, but my husband is happy almost always trying to find love and happiness in to everything and in to nothing. And he always waits for me to hug me and kiss me for no reason but just because he enjoys being sweet to me and most of the time I enjoy his affection but sometimes I feel like I want to be upset and don’t want his “show of love” and I hate how he can be happy.
    It’s awful to feel this way but it is true. Reading your words made feel more like a normal person because sometimes after I want to hide from his love or his compassion or his happiness, I feel really bad for being so dark inside and for avoiding all the good stuff he owns naturally.
    Thanks again.
    Have a happy weekend ❤️

    • Jason Garner says:

      Thank you Claudia. Here’s a poem you might enjoy by Pablo Neruda. Big hugs – Jason

      To Sadness by Pablo Neruda

      Sadness, I need
      your black wing.
      so much sun, so much honey in the topaz,
      each ray smiles
      in the meadow
      and everything is round light on all sides of me,
      everything is an electric bee in the heights.
      And so
      give me
      your black wing,
      sister sadness:
      I need the sapphire to be extinguished sometimes and the oblique
      mesh of the rain to fall,
      the weeping of the earth:
      I want
      that shattered beam in the estuary,
      the vast house in darkness,
      and my mother
      searching
      for paraffin
      and filling the lamp
      until it gave not light but a sigh.

      The night wasn’t born.

      The day was sliding
      toward its provincial graveyard,
      and between the bread and the shadow
      I remember
      myself
      in the window
      looking out at what didn’t exist,
      what wasn’t happening,
      and a black wing of water that came
      over that heart which there perhaps
      I forgot forever, in the window.

      Now I miss
      the black light.

      Give me your slow blood,
      cold
      rain,
      give me your astonished flight!
      Give me back
      the key
      of the door that was shut,
      destroyed.
      For a moment, for
      a short lifetime,
      take the light from me and let me
      feel myself
      lost and miserable,
      trembling among the threads
      of twilight,
      receiving into my soul
      the trembling
      hands
      of
      the
      rain.

      Pablo Neruda
      Translated by Stephen Mitchell

      • Gabriele Stevens says:

        Thank you Jason for sharing this beautiful poem. It reminds me that sadness is beautiful and necessary to work through feelings that I experience sometimes. And it’s ok to be lonely….spend time by myself. I felt alone with groups of friends often…..but never alone spending time in solitude. Always looking forward to your posts. Little shiny gems in my life.

  6. Wow! That sure hit home! You are amazing and beautiful. I’m thankful and proud to have you in my life! I love you just the way you are!

  7. Preeti Agarwal says:

    Love your lines …fragility is something on which we bond… Just remembering the lines from Pearl Jam

    “Under everything just another human being :)”.

  8. CJ Simpson says:

    Rarely do I read my emails, today you captured my attention. I thoroughly enjoyed your writing. I tend to brood as well. I look forward to baring my soul and writing. I was entrenched with the story you told. I’ll be reading more of your work sir. Look forward to it…. Thank You

  9. Vivian Stephanus says:

    Jason, one of my favorite things about your writing is your ability and courage to express your raw honesty. By sharing that, you help us to face the raw honesty in ourselves. To face, and accept, he vulnerable human that we are. To face the one that we don’t want to face and to accept and understand that we are all the same. And once faced, we can love that part of ourselves. Sometimes, when I am faced with a happy, bubbly person I find that they annoy the crap out of me. When I dig deeper I find that I’ve gotten so comfortable in my own pain and misery, that feeling happiness and joy scares the crap out of me. I haven’t figured out why this is, but I loved this article. Especially the part about while running to the closet you didn’t even notice the beauty of life around you, like the dogs, the kids playing, etc. I am going to try to be more mindful of the simple yet perfect things around me too. Thanks for that.

    • Jason Garner says:

      Thank you Vivian. I love the Ram Dass quote, “we are all just walking each other home.” I think we do that best by sharing our vulnerabilities and connecting as human beings. Big hugs – Jason

  10. Hi Jason, Thank you for writing and sharing with your heart. I felt your words on my soul. Thank you for allowing me to see how lonely I could be at times–and God knows how much stuff I’ve been hidden in my closet. I feel safe/comfortable when I’m in my closet. My justification could be the in the nature of–I’m the one who could feel my own pain, I’m not understood, or there is no reason to share my “closet stuff”. Through out the years, I’ve come to learn that it is through sharing and allowing to be seen, I could have deeper connection to others, to accept myself/my vulnerabilities, and my imperfection. Thank You

  11. Hit home. Time to address “whats hiding in my closet” with the knowledge and experience of “New shoes”. You have helped me in so many ways. I am forever thankful.

  12. I often feel like this myself. I mean….lately I’ve been so appreciative of what I have: good family, friends and husband. It’s my job that gets me down, and sometimes I will sit there at my desk and brood. I will take your words into consideration, because so far, looking back, I can only think of my thoughts as being negative ones.

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