"Alone" is when you find yourself in your own company and that it feels ok. It's when you feel content being and doing things alone, independently.
"Lonely", on the other hand, is a feeling of estrangement and emotional distance from the people around you which causes you distress. You can be in the middle of a group of friends and still feel disconnected from them, that something is missing. It's when an overwhelming combination of feelings like shame, guilt, sadness, regret and unworthiness, creep in silently when you least expect it. But when they come, they come in huge waves dragging you down to the bottom of your emotional ocean.
It is a new phase which also offers opportunities where you have to stay with yourself and dig deeper, really get to know yourself. It's a challenge you have to take and it will push you to re-evaluate everything: your friends, your partner, your job, your hobbies, your choice of entertainment, and your priorities. Yes, you keep doing the same things that you used to do, but now everything seems to have an utterly different meaning. Contemplating in the evening leaves you with an emotional hangover in the morning. But yet, it is a road that you have to travel alone. Because no one can feel exactly what you are going through.
You don't have to rush your way out of it. Take your time. Accept the discomfort of this phase. Come to terms with the unknown duration of this painful trip. Get rid of the shameful feeling that you are lonely, whereas everyone else thrills into socializing (or so you think).
This is your chance to appreciate the things you already have in life. To see the other side of the coin. To draw your red lines and make your boundaries clearer, to others, but mainly to yourself. To learn from the things that didn't work out in the past. To realize that in order to connect with other people, you have to let yourself get connected; to let yourself be exposed out there; to decide upon what you really love and go after it, no matter what. To go deep. To go intense. To go further. Make good use of your time. Laugh more. Talk slowly. Think wisely. Don't keep yourself protected with layers of emotional bubble wrap just in case you fall. It's in the fall that you realize why you fell, who pushed you, who helped you up, how you are not going to fall again, what you learnt.
Don't punish yourself with high standards and unreachable expectations all the time: ONE person can make the difference; ONE moment can feed a whole day; not everything needs to be planned out beforehand. It's OK not to have it together sometimes. Even if you feel weak, and want to ask for help and to be taken care of, this doesn't mean that you are less capable or less caring.
But first and foremost, accept the lonely nature of this trip. It is worth the pain.
And remember: Odysseus travelled with his ship and his mates for more than ten years. But he reached Ithaca on his own.
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