By Will Falk
I suffer from a profound sense of loneliness. I always have. I do not know why. And, I suspect I always will. Sometimes, I wonder if I cling to some strange addiction to loneliness. There are too many decisions I’ve made in my life knowing full well the alienation that would follow.
I chose to study English in college knowing the strange looks I’d get from my coaches and teammates. These strange looks were only matched by the incredulity some of my professors viewed me with as I walked into a Shakespeare class, a classical tragedy class, or a women’s literature class in a Dayton football sweat suit hustling my way back from practice. I chose to go to law school knowing the student loan debt that would pile upon me stressing out my family and any potential romantic partners that might choose to build a life with me. I chose to pursue a career as a public defender representing people most of society despises for a salary forcing me to live paycheck to paycheck. I chose to foster the voice in my heart that demands I act in the face of the suffering in the world baring my breast to the vulnerabilities that accompany embracing the empathy we were all born with.
Finally – and most importantly – I chose the ultimate alienation, twice, when I drank down full bottles of pills in an effort to leave forever. Having survived suicide, I also feel the weight of worried gazes from loved ones who think I’m not aware. I’ve made myself a person that friends and family cannot fully trust to answer truthfully when they ask, “How are you, Will?” I’m marked in only the ways someone who has traveled to the nether regions of spiritual darkness can be.
Despite the choices I’ve made, when I look at myself from a healthy place I realize two things about the loneliness. First, the loneliness is not my fault and, second, the seriousness of the predicament facing us demands that I learn to work through the loneliness and fight back. I have written extensively that my continuing recovery from suicidal depression involves the realization that depression – by itself – is simply an emotion and as an emotion cannot kill me on its own. I can kill me, but the emotional experience some call “depression” cannot kill me. The same is true for loneliness.
I have not yet pushed this idea to its fullest. The omnicidal processes destroying life on earth are physical processes literally killing everything. It is true that our emotional state can prevent us from acting, but no amount of inner emotional work without a corresponding effort in the real world is going to save us. I know how horrible depression is. I know how horrible loneliness is. In this installment of DIY Resistance, I encourage you to learn how to fight through these emotions and to recognize the way these emotions are expressed through your personal choices. We do not have much time left and if we are going to win we must shore up our strength to act.
It is embarrassing to admit, but one of the ways I’ve sought to ease my loneliness is through committed romantic relationships. I’m naturally introverted. I value quality over quantity in my friendships. Most of the time, I would rather dive into a deep conversation with one person than chitchat with ten. Desperately seeking connection and a release for the tension my inner dialogues produce, all interpersonal relationship becomes a strong source of anxiety for me.
Romantic relationships have acted as a medicine for the loneliness. Once I a share an authentic experience with someone, I feel I am carrying a precious, fragile treasure that could break in my hands if squeezed too tightly or flutter away in the breeze if I do not hold on to it. Adding sex to a connection intensifies the medicinal effects. Sex is both terrifying and magical for me. It is terrifying as an external performance. I recognize sex as an opportunity to give my partner a gift, but also as an opportunity to demonstrate my inadequacy. Sex is magical because it comes oh-so-close to filling that lonely void as an expression of emotional trust while the physicality brings me literally as close as possible to another human.
The commitment involved in a romantic relationship reassures my poor self-esteem that at least someone loves me. The commitment is something I can return to when I am caught in my self-pity. Common scenes from my romantic relationships show me replaying conversations over and over in my head – “Is she saying she loves me?” -poring over text messages with compliments in them to squeeze out every last drop of reassurance left in them, and listening to saved voicemails from years ago as proof that I am, in fact, lovable. I only recently was able to delete a voicemail an ex-partner left me the morning after my first suicide attempt where she said many compassionate things about me. I had to delete it because I have to learn to rely on myself for compassion.
Maybe it’s obvious to you how sick I’ve been and the mistakes I’ve made? But, it’s taken me over 27 years to realize that relying on another person to alleviate my loneliness is incredibly selfish. No one can take my feelings of loneliness away from me if I do not know how to take the loneliness away myself. Ultimately, my frustrations with my partners’ inabilities to heal my own loneliness have turned into resentment leading me to walk away from the relationships.
Of course, seeking redemption in the form of romantic relationship is damned from the outset for the simple reason that our emotional needs were never meant to be fulfilled by only one other person. The incessant search for a romantic partner that so many of us engage in is an expression of the way the dominant culture destroys true community by forcing us to spend too much of our time laboring to support ourselves and encouraging us to define ourselves as individuals instead of members of natural communities.
Clinging to romantic relationships can also work to limit resistance. My fear of being alone often leads me to remain in relationships far longer than I should. In my failed relationships, I found it difficult to make the decision to devote myself to resistance because I knew my decisions could hurt my partners. Resistance is far from lucrative. Resistance often takes you away from your partner. Resistance often affects your mood. It is difficult to share your life with a partner who will rarely have much money, who is often traveling to put his body in front of the forces destroying the world, and who struggles with the depression and anxiety that so often accompanies activist work.
I lost my last relationship when I decided to leave San Diego for the Unist’ot’en Camp. To travel to the Camp, I had to spend all my savings and give up weeks of work with the income that comes with the work. This meant I would not have been able to go on trips my partner and I were planning. This meant I might not have been able to contribute my half of the rent. This certainly meant I would be away from home for at least a few weeks. It wasn’t until my partner asked me, “Will you always love the cause more than you love me?” that I realized what I had to do – I had to go to the Unist’ot’en Camp.
I realized I will always love the cause more than I love any one person.
This realization caused me a tremendous amount of guilt. This former partner is a truly wonderful woman. She realized what was happening and called the paramedics from San Diego the night I tried to kill myself in Milwaukee. She realized what was happening and rushed me to the emergency room the morning after I tried to kill myself in San Diego. She stood by me when so many others would have left. She loved me when so many others couldn’t have.
I’ve learned to let the guilt go. One of the ways I’ve done this is by understanding that her question, “Will you always love the cause more than you me?” is essentially meaningless. Embracing the struggle to defend the land is embracing love for everyone including your partner. It is my hope that more of us will understand this. While ever more of our loved ones are murdered by environmentally induced cancers, by the diseases of civilization, by male violence against women, by suicidal depression produced by the alienation this culture creates, how long will it take us to realize that to love anyone demands that we devote ourselves to resistance?
But, that’s not even the point. Romantic relationships are not the point. My loneliness, your loneliness, any emotional state, being loved, not being loved, who you love, or who I love is not the point. The point is the world is being murdered in front of us. Seeking a healthy romantic relationship must simply take a backseat to the destruction of life. If we do not stop the forces burning the world, it will no longer be possible to engage in romantic relationships.
I am not saying that romance and resistance are mutually exclusive. They are not. I am saying putting your emotional desires above the health of your land base spells disaster for the real world. I am asking would-be resistors to stop asking “How do I make time for resistance around my relationship, around my family, or around my job?” and start asking instead, “Do I have time for a relationship, a family, or a job when our only hope is serious resistance?”
Finally, you just might find something beautiful when you embrace land defense as absolutely the most important thing in your life. You just might find people that love the world as you do. You might even find a pure kind of romance with someone who happens to find resistance sexy. Even better than experiencing romance, you might gain a true community that will strengthen your commitment to resistance.