Three Ideas To Handle Being “Alone”

Good morning, dear reader! Looks like I’m back on a roll, huh? The new moon in Pisces excites me. What can I say?

I had a rare weekend with no child and relatively no plans. I used all my words (that’s ‘introvert’ talk for ‘I was peopled-out’) Saturday morning helping with a free tax clinic but by noon, I was done. I went home, loaded a backpack, fed the cats, and headed out. To where? Jeff City. (Jeff-ER-SON City for those not from here.) 

I didn’t do much while I was there. I cleared my head over a beer and turkey club at Prison Brews (which, btw, was delicious) and walked through a few thrift stores. I didn’t say much to anyone unless I was spoken to directly. I half-assed wondered if anyone felt sorry for me – sad little thang, there all alone – but then I remembered: I don’t really give a shit.

This leads us here, today, dear reader. A discussion on being alone.

You know what I’ve realized? A lot of folks are afraid of being alone.

I used to be really afraid of it and its pal, ‘down time’. In my younger days I used ‘busyness’ to mask pain and tamp down whatever emotion was bubbling. I’ve learned, however, that both introspection and retrospection can be calming. But ya gotta get through the hard part first – and that often isn’t fun. 

If you struggle with down time or silence or being alone, then you might be thinking “How? How do I learn to be okay with this?” Bless your heart. Relax. I’m gonna tell you.

Grab a drink. Settle in. Here are three ways I learned to like being alone.

First, you need to understand that staying hyper-busy and always ‘needing’ to be around others or be in a relationship is a response to trauma. Trauma, especially childhood trauma where you were rarely validated, keeps people seeking validation elsewhere. It’s why your feelings get hurt when you aren’t invited to the party or someone doesn’t return your text or phone call. It is why people put up dating profiles the minute their relationship status goes from ‘in a relationship’ to ‘single’. I should know. I was that person. So, believe me when I say I’m not judging you. I know that silence can be deafening. I know that the idea of not having someone when something major happens in your life can be frightening. But…(you knew there was a ‘but’ coming…)

Validation that comes from others is short-lived. You’ve heard the phrase “Learn to love yourself“, right? I’d argue this is more important: Learn to validate yourself.

But what about connection?, you ask. Connection is also important. My friend, Machell, sent me a Ryan North quote over the weekend and it was spot on. Ryan North says “Our brains are wired for connection but trauma rewires them for protection. That’s why healthy relationships are difficult for wounded people.” In other words, until we address what has hurt us and why…we will never really have connection on the level in which we want it.  

Why? Because…You can be in a room full of people and still be lonely. You can also be happy as a lark even if you are alone for an entire weekend. Connection is essential, but self-validation is more important. (Ahem…in my opinion, of course. I’m no shrink.)

1) Learn the difference between being alone and being lonely. When I have downtime, I often spend most of it alone. I’m pretty much a fulltime single parent. I get about six days of fully alone time a month. I work full time, and even though I’m a work-from-home employee, I’m ‘on’ all day. So when I get downtown, I embrace it. As an introvert, one could argue that I need it. I’m okay going to the movies by myself, eating alone, and taking solo trips. I’m alone…but I’m not lonely. In fact, I had a three-hour conversation Friday night on the phone. I have another phone call scheduled with one of my favorite New Englanders next week. I have friends who will go out with me when I ask them to (which is, like, hardly ever). I’m alone…but I’m not lonely. It takes time to learn how to be alone without being lonely, so be patient. However, once you understand the difference…there is another name for it: Freedom.

2)  Stop caring about being normal. First, let me say if one embraces ‘minimalism’ or the choice to save money instead of spending it on unneeded stuff…you’re already ‘not normal’. So, as long as you are okay with that, you should be fine. “Normal” people stay in relationships even when they are slightly (or extremely) unhealthy and never seek out ways to be better as a person or as a couple. “Normal” people buy stuff they rarely use. “Normal” people think being alone is sad. “Normal” people would never head out with a sleeping bag in the back of their car and find a hobby farm to camp out for the night via HipCamp. I don’t care one iota about being “normal”, getting approval, or fitting in with the crowd. I do my own thing and follow my own path. Some people like me, and some don’t. And I’m okay either way.

3) Know your worth. You is kind. You is smart. You is good. There was a time I didn’t know my worth, though, so if you need help with knowing the value you bring to the table, I encourage you to dig deep (and therapy helps, too). But, first, let me assure you…your value isn’t tied up in how much time someone else wants to spend with you. Me? I know I’m kind and I’m funny. I’m wicked smart, and I also have limits on how much crap I’ll take from others before saying “Yeah…um…no”. I can be counted on in a crisis. I will take over a clipboard and organize the worst cluster fuck you’ve ever seen…and I will also stop talking to anyone who owes me a proper apology and doesn’t give me one. I’m especially quiet when I’ve been hurt by someone and I’m extremely talkative when I’m nervous. I’m kind…and, yet, I’m no doormat. That’s what knowing your value looks like.

So, as always, we end with a song. Road trips always give me the opportunity to dig deep into the dusty realms of great music. I celebrated mine with ballads from the eighties and while this was the best decade for music – I should know, I was there – I’m not sure it’s the best choice for being alone in the car with your thoughts. Nonetheless, it’s what I dug up for you. I also suggest a good ride out in the country (BONUS SONG!) and practice being alone in short spurts. I once took a nine-day solo trip to the beach and each day was delicious. (If you’re local: head north on 65, east on 73, then east on 54. Stop in at Our Orchard Country Store, get some road trip snacks and a sandwich, and say “Howdy” to the new owners.)

4 thoughts on “Three Ideas To Handle Being “Alone”

  1. Years ago I wrote a newspaper column on the joy of eating alone in restaurants. Your post makes me want to reconnect with that old habit–and take a road trip to Jeff City!

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