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As a child, I grew up in a loud, hectic, sometimes frenzied Irish Catholic home, buzzing with family gatherings, birthday parties, activities related to my mom’s real estate business, the daily preparations required for my dad’s restaurant, the screech of musical instruments being practices, seven children running-playing-fighting, mom hollering out orders, lots of pets (including my sister Suzie’s pet rooster), cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends constantly coming and going.
It was loud, and it was busy.
Up until a few years ago, my adult life had also been a constant buzz of career busyness, multiple moves, volunteer work, my boys, their antics and extracurricular activities, house guests, exchange students, lots of pets, and a busy social life.
For decades, I craved alone time; it never arrived. Then, one day it did.
There I sat on the floor in my kitchen, living alone for the first time in over 40 years. And I’d never felt so lost, so alone, or so sad.
My children were grown, my eldest son had passed away, my marriage had ended, I was retired and had stepped away from community service to manage health issues.
Over the course of my life, I had drawn my identity from the many hats, roles, and responsibilities I had worn, and the busyness that kept my mind and life occupied. After decades of being somebody’s sister, daughter, mother, wife, boss, employee, volunteer…now I was, well, I had no idea.
I was exhausted, probably depressed, and didn’t feel emotionally able to reach out or connect with anyone; in fact, I didn’t want to.
My little spirit was spent; she needed to rest. She knew we had to turn inward, to feel the deepest sense of loneliness and loss before we could reimagine what our life should be. So, I surrendered. I listened and let her guide me.
I cocooned myself for several months, slowly growing new wings, and transforming the life I had lived over several decades into something new, different, and purposeful.
It was during my alone time that I learnt how to quiet the busyness in my mind and listen to the thoughts percolating in the deepest corners of my soul. I was able to focus on my health, read a few books, took a lot of walks, and did some amazing solo travel. I tapped into creative pursuits that had always been there but hadn’t been exercised in a while.
Then, I began to remember who I was; I mean…who I really was. To my surprise, I realized that I’m more of an introvert than I imagined. I came to recognize and appreciate some of the creative traits and habits I had inherited from my father. I understood what it must have been like for my mother when her career came to an end, her children had left the nest, her husband had passed away, and she had to create new purpose and joy in her life. I developed a deeper sense of empathy and gratitude for both my parents.
Being alone taught me that my happiness is my job. We cannot expect our partners or our children or anyone to be responsible for, or be, our only source of happiness. We must cultivate our own interests, hobbies, and joy.
Being alone has power. Once we learn how to be alone and be happy, we can better recognize if our life choices are drawn from a place of happiness or loneliness.
My alone time is now something I look forward to. It’s during my alone time that I get to visit the best parts of myself and I remember what it is I’m here to do. It is in this quiet space that I continue to lay down the stepping stones toward my own growth.
I’ve evolved my perception of loneliness over the past few years into an understanding that loneliness does not come from not having others around us; it comes from not knowing our purpose, our passions, and ourselves.
Alone time, when we use it well, allows us time to think, to recharge, to be creative, to foster self-reliance, and it helps us unearth our authentic selves. It also allows us to reexamine who we want in our lives and the types of relationships we want to cultivate.
I love the quote:
“Not all those who wander are lost.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien’s poem “The Riddle of Strider”
This quote echoes my own belief that when we wander alone, we find ourselves.
When embraced, being alone can be peaceful, healing, and healthy. It’s an opportunity to find ourselves without the commentary and expectations of anyone else and just be.