Being an only child, I kind of got used to being alone. In fact, I reveled in that time by myself. Many adventures were had exploring backyards, and nearby forests; journeying on my bike (which in my childhood mind was a glorious white steed with a flowing mane and thunderous hooves); reading in garden groves or in big comfy armchairs while grownups were elsewhere leaving me to my own devices. Those moments were glorious. It was all me, all alone.
It took me a great deal of time to be as comfortable with my adult self in the same way. Don’t we all wish we could handle things as we did as children when we’re adults? I sure do…
Nearly three years ago when my ex husband and I split, I was thrust into a solitude I wasn’t quite prepared to handle. No, that’s wrong, a solitude I abso-fucking-lutely was not ready to handle, at all.
How I longed to have dealt with those moments like a 6-year-old me would have: grabbing the nearest Goosebumps paperback, heading to a sunny patch with a snack (and hopefully a cat following to cuddle with), to read the afternoon away.
Nothing could have been farther from the lonely truth that it was for me in those first few months.
In truth, I’d been alone in our marriage for years. Alone in my emotions, alone in a depression that lead me down the path it did. Sure, I wasn’t physically alone, but mentally and emotionally I was buoyed in the middle of the god damn Atlantic without a ship or island in sight. I was more alone than I’d ever been in my entire life. And it crushed me. Completely.
And suddenly I was thrust into a loneliness again, but this time it was different. Very different. It wasn’t soul-crushing. I no longer felt trapped in my solitude. Instead I felt a liberation, a freedom to find myself and be me and truly live.
I think in those first liberating moments of loneliness I felt more like the 6-year-old me; ready to explore, to find an adventure. I was full of confidence and fervor. I was ready to get out into the world and content in being with myself and my own thoughts (a downright fucking terrifying thought mere months before).
Being alone was no longer lonely, it was quality time. It was me time. It was full of moments in which I could grow. And grow I did. I learned a helluva lot about myself in that time on my own. Both good and bad. Thankfully, most of it good. And I learned to once again accept myself, fully, in those solo moments. It’s a tough fucking thing to do, trust me. If you’ve never been alone for long periods of time — and I mean really alone — you just don’t know.
Travelling alone (and not for work) opened my eyes to myself in ways I’d not experienced before. While I’d consider myself a seasoned traveller, it was always on another’s schedule, and usually their dime too. When I went solo it was all me. It forced me way outside my comfort zone, way outside what I thought I would ever be able to handle or accomplish. It made me open up to myself and others even more.
If you’ve never gone to a bar by yourself, I highly recommend it. Don’t laugh, and don’t brush it aside. You’ll never feel more humbled, intimidated, confident, uplifted, and crushed all at once than you will while sitting at a bar by yourself.
I remember the day my mother suggested it to me. I was appalled. Absolutely horror-struck. But I did it. That very same night she suggested it actually. I was beyond petrified. I showed up early-ish with the only game-plan I could muster: Sit at the bar because the bartender has to talk to you.
And as I sat there throughout the night I realized I didn’t even want the bartender to talk to me because everyone else was drawn to me, this solo person sitting there sipping her drink. I was asked again and again who I was there with and when I responded, “No one,” I was met with a mix of disbelief and high-fives and it just built on my confidence.
Since then, I’ve done it multiple times. I love it. I’ve met the most amazing people sitting in a bar by myself. Started some amazing friendships, was hired for a writing job, and even met the man my heart currently belongs to… incredible things can happen when you open your solo self up to the world.
Truly, it’s a humbling and uplifting experience. I highly recommend it. You will learn a great deal about yourself sitting in a public place, by yourself, where no one else is alone.
Loneliness has levels. Tiers, if you will.
I’ve learned this over time. I didn’t quite understand it at first, and I think perhaps I haven’t quite grasped the entire concept, but I’m aware that there isn’t just one definition or meaning for “loneliness.”
I’ve voluntarily thrust myself into loneliness as of late. I’ve agreed to feel the ache of absence more than the thrill of being with someone I love, in the same room (shit, in the same country would be good at this point). Since deciding this it what we want to do, I’ve questioned my ability to handle it.
Most days I’m OK. I’m content in my life, in myself, in my routines. I’m OK with being alone most of the time and sleeping alone every night. When I have Owen it’s him and I and our world is amazing and we have the best time. His smile lights up my world and his laugh can cure any bad day instantly. His hugs are the very best, and I melt into his warm little arms and nothing else seems to matter.
Then he goes to dad for a few days and there’s this extra large hole that’s only amplified by a double dose of loneliness.
And I wonder if I’m really cut out to deal with it all.
Can I handle this tier of loneliness? This loneliness that’s not really loneliness at all, simply an absence. A missing physical component. Just because someone isn’t right beside you, within arm’s reach, do they have to feel far away? With today’s technology are we ever really separated?
I’m here to tell you we are. No amount of text messages, selfies, phone calls or FaceTime calls will ever make up for a real, honest-to-goodness hug and kiss. Seeing the words “I love you” typed on a screen mean’s fuck all when you’ve heard them in real life, said out loud. And you desperately long to hear them again, uttered in front of you, to you, for you, about you.
That lack of interaction dips me into a loneliness I’m only just now learning to deal with. This is all new for me, a whole new level. As each day passes and the distance remains — or we move even farther apart as one travels for work or to visit home — I discover new difficulties, new challenges.
Then there are days I’m so overcome with the feeling of being alone that all I can do is sob. And I’m not even sure why I’m crying but my heart aches, aches at the absence, aches at the lack of interaction. I long for a touch, a voice that’s real in my ear, a hand that’s actually brushing hair from my face, a smile that’s right in front of me and eyes that dance with life and realness. And not just any touch, voice, hand, smile or eyes. His.
Those days are the most difficult. Those are the days I feel I can’t at all handle this loneliness. Can’t handle this level. That I’m not cut out for this… not strong enough. Not one bit.
Yet, on some other absurd level, it’s as liberating as those 6-year-old moments. I’ve never been more sure of myself in my life. Sure of me. Sure of who I am, how I feel, where I am in life. Being this alone has taught me how to be alone, properly. Because I’m not actually alone. I have more support and love than I have in years, more understanding, and a commitment that not only shocked me but made me fall harder.
And I know I’m not feeling the pull of separation alone. Together we suffer in loneliness, despite being an ocean (or continent) apart. Together we’ve embarked on these tiers of loneliness. This gives me comfort in the solitude that will, eventually, end. This I know.