I hardly recognize the girl I used to be. I think back and can vaguely remember a girl who was scared to be alone. A girl who didn’t know why a person would ever want to be alone; nor had the first clue how to be alone.
Nearly 20 years ago, after my first marriage and a rebound relationship ended, I was sitting on a bail of hay on my brother’s farm in northern Michigan. He was feeding the horses while I sat on the hay crying. What am I going to do? I asked through tears. I didn’t know how I was going to survive. The pain of these two relationships hit me at once. He was quiet.
Then he said: “You don’t know how to be alone. You’ve never been alone.”
Sadly, he was right. Up until that point I had never been alone. I was afraid to be alone. Deep down, I believed it meant no one wanted to be with me.
I couldn’t have imagined how much I would fall in love with, and how very much I would learn to crave, solitude. How much I would learn in the stillness and silence of my own inner voice.
All those years ago, on a hay bail in northern Michigan, I made a pact with myself that I would learn how to be alone. I had one year left in my detour through college to finish my degree. I decided after graduation I would take a trip. Alone.
I chose Europe. For six weeks.
Just a Eurorail pass and a backpack I set out on a six-week adventure that took me through Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Holland and Belgium. All by myself. I didn’t make a reservation or a plan, I just went. I don’t know how my parents let me do it, but they did. I don’t think I would’ve listened had they said no. I was ready to find myself and I knew I needed to go far away to do it.
The experience had it’s intended effect: I came back changed.
No longer a girl afraid of her own voice I learned to trust my intuition, listen to my heart, keep my mind open, discover new experiences, search for things I love, and find comfort in the silence of my own spirit.
It was the best six weeks of my life. The most amazing things happen when you’re alone. People see you. You stand out when you’re alone, and incredible things can happen. While in Italy I was noticed by a local woman at the train station who invited me to dinner in her home. She took me shopping in the markets, introduced me to a local farmer where we spent an afternoon shaking mandarin trees, eating mandarins and reading poetry while looking out at the Ligurian sea. The farmer invited me to a private dinner party of 5 Italian couples where we ate fish they caught in the sea, drank limoncino he made from his own lemons, and fresh pesto from his olive trees. She made me a beautiful breakfast the morning I left Cinque Terre.
These incredible experiences happened because I was alone.
If you’re afraid to go out by yourself, here are a few simple ways to learn how to be alone, without feeling lonely.
1. Set a goal.
Decide that you will go out alone once/month. It can be a coffee shop, out for dinner, even a little wine bar. If you’re nervous you’ll be spotted by someone you know and feel uncomfortable, choose a little restaurant out of the way or in a neighboring town. It’s not to hide away, you’re just learning to be comfortable by yourself. Eventually you’ll be fine going anywhere.
2. Bring a journal.
One of my absolute most treasured things are my journals from Europe. I had one with me everywhere and I journaled the entire trip: who I met, what I ate, what I saw on the trains, in the streets, what I was thinking, processing, learning while I went. Today these journals and memories are precious to me. They mark a time of transition in my life – the time I moved from afraid to brave.
3. Bring a book.
If you’re totally nervous and uncomfortable this is a great distraction while you wait for your meal or drink. Just promise you’ll put it down at some point and look around. Being alone offers you a great opportunity to see others. When we’re in a group or with another we typically don’t see the people around us. Alone, you see everything happening around you. You see joy, celebration, sadness, and need. Look up from your book and see the life that goes on when we’re not looking. You’ll be amazed.
4. Talk to yourself.
The only time on my backpack trip through Europe that I felt sad and lonely was in Venice. Nestled in the city of love, I sat in a little Italian restaurant filled with tables for two. Every table lovers, smiling, holding hands and excitedly talking about their day. It was the first time in a month that I felt lonely while alone. I remember finishing dinner and walking out to the pier, leaning on the railing and letting a tear roll down my cheek. I felt sad, but I was okay. I reminded myself that I was learning so much during this time of solitude so that I could be a better friend to myself and a better partner for my future husband. That in learning to love myself first, I would find someone who could love me better. Give yourself permission to be sad if you are. Be lonely, if you are. The feeling is just a feeling and it won’t hurt you. Soon the feeling will pass and you’ll write it in your journal and learn something about yourself that perhaps you never knew.
Being alone doesn’t have to feel lonely. Now, being alone is one of my most favorite things. It’s the time I am able to be still and quiet, and hear my true inner voice. It’s one of the ways I connect with peace. With the truth I’m often too busy to hear during the normal course of my day.
Get out of your comfort zone. Practice courage. Nurture solitude. I pray you discover it to be as healing and liberating as I did.