When I came home from the hospital last Tuesday — after spending four days surrounded by the noise of people and beeping machines — all I wanted was to be left alone.

A couple of friends brought me home — she drove me and he drove the car I’d taken to the emergency room — and they were generous in their sincere efforts to do anything I needed done. They offered to go get food for me and take care of anything else I needed.

I appreciated all they wanted to do, but all I wanted was for them to leave. I wanted peace and quiet. I wanted to be alone.

I require more time alone than most people do. Being alone is one of my favorite ways of recharging my batteries and reducing stress.

But after a day or so of quiet, I started longing for someone to be with me as I went through the pain and discomfort of starting to heal. I didn’t want just any person. I wanted someone who I felt deeply connected with — someone whose presence and touch could say, “I love you.”

But there was no one there.

As I’ve spent the last week starting to heal, I’ve thought a lot about the difference between healing alone — a clinical kind of physical repair — and healing with someone who loves you. And the more I’ve thought about it, the more clear it is that physical healing is only part of the battle we face when we’re sick or hurting.

At least half of real healing comes from feeling loved and having a loving presence.

Over the weekend, I listened to a lecture by Diane Poole Heller, a psychotherapist who specializes in adult attachment theory and trauma resolution. She said something that matched what I’d been experiencing.

“We don’t really heal in isolation,” Heller said. “We need another present, caring person to be with us on the journey. This is such an important aspect of our recovery. Sue Johnson, for example, has done research on how people respond to going through somewhat challenging medical procedures — whether they’re alone or whether they’re with even a stranger or whether they’re with someone that’s someone they know and care about. And there’s so much less threat response that gets triggered when we’re in the presence of another person when we’re facing something difficult.”

I was fascinated by her use of the term “threat response.” As soon as I heard it, I realized that was a missing piece of what I’d been trying to figure out.

I wasn’t just going through the physical process of surgery wounds healing. I was experiencing the trauma of feeling under attack. In my weakened and hurting state, my aloneness made me feel vulnerable. For the first time in a long time, I felt the need to have someone protect me — just by being there — during the time of vulnerability.

I needed help from a loving “someone else” to help me heal. I didn’t need magic or medicine. I just needed love and presence.

I have a feeling this is one of the most pressing needs of individuals in modern society, but it’s not just those who are physically alone. Many people are surrounded by others — and have spouses who they should be able to count on — but they’re alone.

“Together — all alone.”

The words came to me from an old song about a distressed and unhappy family. In one verse, Bob Bennett sings of the father coming home late:

He rolls home after the house is dark
His heart as cold as a stone
And he lies back to back with his wife in the sack
Together all alone, together all alone

There are more of us than ever before on this planet, so it seems like a contradiction. We’re together, but we’re all alone.

Loving presence and loving touch are healing — for the body and the soul. But being alone is poison. It can be the poison of real isolation or it can be the even-more-bitter poison of loneliness while surrounded by others but feeling alone.

I love my time being alone. I need some isolation. I really do.

But my soul is tired of the barren feeling of needing love that isn’t there — the thirst for something which can only be filled by the voluntary choice of another person.

This is the world’s quietly hidden epidemic. We’re hurting and slowly dying, because we’re together but all alone.