When I was in a long-term relationship I remember feeling like all my single friends were on at least one dating site (now, 3 years later it’s both dating Apps AND dating sites). This of course got me thinking “oh man, if I was single would that be me? Is that how people date? I wouldn’t even know how to be alone.” I was so far out of the dating game, and so unused to being alone that I was genuinely concerned about what would happen if it came to being alone.
Ironically, I became single a few months later.
Being alone is not an easy thing.
At times, being alone is the most uncomfortable feeling one can experience. You’re forced to get to know yourself, and like yourself, and if you don’t like who you are? You have to figure out how to get to the point where you do.
When my long-term relationship ended, I had to learn how to feel alone and be okay with it.
That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.
Even when you feel lonely while being in a relationship, you still know what to expect, and there is comfort in that. You still have another human lying beside you at night. You still have another human you can pick up the phone and text or call or email when you are feeling an uncomfortable emotion whether that be sadness, worry, anger, hurt, loneliness, etc, or when you can’t sleep at night. You still have another human you can talk to about a bad day. You know you have someone to spend Friday nights with. You know you have someone to spend birthdays with.
When I was figuring out how to be alone, I procrastinated coming home every evening for months.
I just couldn’t do it.
For the first (and only, haha) time in my life, I dreaded Fridays and couldn’t wait for Mondays.
I stayed out as late as possible-it didn’t even matter what I was doing-in a bar with friends, dancing with girlfriends, taking the latest possible class at my gym-anything to keep me out late enough, or exhaust me enough, that I could come home and just immediately pass out.
Whatever it took, I did not want to be alone because I was faced with being alone with my thoughts. Forced to be alone with myself, someone I did not know anymore and did not like anymore.
Alone with my worries and fears and feelings of self-doubt.
What will I do?
What do I like doing anymore? What do I do for me?
Oh Goooooood, tomorrow’s Friday…what are some things I can do this weekend…alone? I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this. How am I supposed to entertain myself for an entire 48 hours?!
I hated going to sleep alone.
I hated waking up alone.
I don’t even know how I got myself up, and dressed, and held a job for a good…9 months after my relationship ended.
That whole period is a fragmented, blurry memory.
I was that broken.
But at the same time I knew I needed to be alone. I truly believe we all have to be alone at some point to truly get to know ourselves.
It is when you are at your absolute rock bottom, so shattered and so broken, and making mistakes because you are that shattered and broken and, oh Gooooooood, you are just struggling to move forward, sometimes struggling so hard you don’t even know what you are doing, you are just fighting to move because it’s as if you’re drowning and if you are still for even a second you will be forever submerged…so you just move. You just fight to stay above water because while you have no idea what you’re doing, you know, in that moment, that the only thing you can do is fight to keep moving so you aren’t swallowed whole… it is in this pain and personal struggle that you catapult yourself into your life and your future. It is when you are faced with serious inner struggle that you discover who you are. It is when you are hurt to the point that every day you wake up with the thought: “roll over, just roll over and shut your alarm off. Okay. Good. Now put your feet on the floor. Sit up. Sit. Up. You have to sit up. Okay good. Stand. Deep breath. YOU WILL GET THROUGH TODAY. YOU WILL SMILE AND YOU WILL FAKE IT TIL YOU MAKE IT. Just. Get. Through. Today. Don’t even think about tomorrow yet, it’s too daunting. One day at a time. One foot at a time. You’ve got this…” that you really begin to discover yourself, pushing your limits and breaking down personal barriers.
For weeks I ignored the phone calls of my friends and family-texting them back that I couldn’t talk. I was done talking. I had nothing else to say. I had nothing more to give and I was tired of saying I was okay because I was not.
But I knew I would be, and that is key, my friends. Always know that you WILL be okay, someday, and it may take longer than you want-or, God forbid, longer than other people think it should take-but you WILL BE OKAY.
I remember one point when I finally talked on the phone to my sister Karen and I was telling her how I had hardly been able to get up and get myself water, couldn’t stomach food, and showering was out of the picture. But that I was convinced “tomorrow I will get up and get in a shower and go to work-I think tomorrow I can act human again.”
And Karen said one of the most poignant things I still, to this day, have ever heard. A point I constantly reiterate to friends going through painful situations. A point that was an enormous turning point for me in my journey towards health, towards living.
Karen said to me “Laura, the crying, the being too sick to eat or move, the being terrified of being alone and yet wanting only to be alone, and not talk to anyone…that IS human.“
This was a major turning point in my life. This one comment.
She also assured me that it might take a year or two until I felt whole again and that was okay.
Karen gave me permission to face my emotions. Something I had not done for myself. I was too prideful, I was too hard on myself, I was always too busy worrying about the future rather than facing whatever I was feeling in the moment and living in the present, to face my emotions. I had even developed an eating disorder to avoid facing my emotions.
She gave me permission to accept that I might struggle for months, if not over a year, but that was okay and there was no appropriate timeline, nor any rush, to feel “better”, that it was individualized and it was acceptable because it is a human experience.
She gave me permission to feel broken and damaged and raw.
Being alone is extremely uncomfortable at times, especially after a break-up because it is an adjustment, but I do not think you have to go through a painful breakup to feel alone, nor do I think you have to go through a painful breakup to want to distract yourself from how uncomfortable it feels to feel alone.
I spent my 25th birthday completely alone. It was the first birthday I was completely alone and I did not have a single plan. And I was okay with that. I didn’t plan anything for myself and no one planned anything for me, yet that was perfectly okay with me. *** Side note: David, whom I was still months away from dating at the time, found out I had no plans and took me out for a drink, saying “It’s your quarter century birthday! At least let me buy you one drink.” Ha, life is amazing-actually started sobbing giant dinosaur tears when I realized this as I type this up.
Learning to be alone, and realizing I had permission to go through, and face, all of these uncomfortable emotions, was a major turning point for me because binge eating is an escape. Like any other addictive, compulsive behavior, binge eating is a way to avoid an uncomfortable situation or emotion. A distraction. An avoidance technique. An escape from reality.
As I learned to be okay feeling alone, and to face my emotions, to really feel them, it turned out Karen was right-it took months. Months.
I slept so far on what used to be “my side” of the bed that I was practically falling off.
I had one friend whom knew exactly what I needed, he also happened to be male so in that sense he was totally cool with not saying a word, whereas females (totally speaking for myself here-I internalize everything) tend to start to internalize the non-communication (“are you mad at me? Why don’t you want to talk? But we always talk about everything.”). This particular friend simply stayed on the phone with me until I drifted off to sleep-often neither of us saying anything-and then he would hang up.
But because I had given myself permission to take as long as I needed to pick up the pieces, it didn’t matter how long it took, because the journey of self-discovery, and learning to be alone, is transcendent if you let it happen.
As time went by, I got more productive with my alone time, and it got to the point where I looked forward to coming home after work and being alone. I would no longer stay out all night long on weekends (in NYC closing time is between 4:00-5:00AM), I would duck out by 1:00AM so I could come home and read for a bit in bed before drifting off.
I got to the point where I loved sprawling out in the entire bed and rather than needing to distract myself from myself, I spent alone time sitting in the quiet and reflecting on self and life in a meditative state.
As a woman I feel like I am constantly having discussions with female friends regarding being alone. When a female friend is considering ending a relationship, the tendency is often: “I would rather stick it out than be alone, I don’t know how to be alone”. I get it, I’ve been there. I will never sugar coat how difficult it is to learn to be alone.
But I am living proof that you can and you will learn how to be alone.
I promise you.
If a girl who had been with the same guy from age 16-24, moved across the country with him, and had been struggling with an eating disorder for 5 years with zero idea of how to “gain control” can do it? Then anyone can do it.
Being alone is perhaps the ultimate step outside of the comfort zone.
Humans are incredibly social. When humans get involved in a relationship, they begin to pride themselves, and define themselves, as being one piece of a partnership.
It is not until you are alone that you are forced to re-discover who you are and what you like.
It took me months to stop saying ‘we like’ or ‘we do’, despite the fact there had been no ‘we’ for months.
Feeling alone, feeling damaged, feeling broken, feeling scared, feeling overwhelmed, feeling like you want to escape does not make you weak. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It doesn’t mean you’re “crazy”.
At the age of 18, for whatever reason (and maybe there doesn’t have to be a reason) I started to fear all of these uncomfortable emotions, and I continued to avoid them at all costs for the next 6 years.
It was when I gave myself permission to face all of these emotions, embrace the uncomfortable, face my fears and do it anyway, that I truly started living my life. I had to face feeling and being alone and discovering who I was, even the darkest parts of myself that I wanted to hide from the world, hide from myself, that I truly started living my life. That I truly started to figure out who I was and what I stood for and uncover the woman I wanted to be.
I think it’s safe to say that all of us will feel one or more of these emotions, and maybe even a sinking loneliness (although I sincerely wish that on no one), at some point during our lives, but we all have the choice to give ourselves permission to feel those emotions, to learn from them and to keep moving forward-even if you can only manage one day at a time for a while.
I believe in being strong when
everything seems to be going wrong.
I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls.
I believe that tomorrow is another day
and I believe in miracles.