Wondering Wednesday: The Power of Being Alone.
I recently had coffee with a friend who went on a month long trip and spent some of that time traveling alone. Normally an extremely social person who likes to have a friend along, she decided that this time she would do some of it on her own. She looked at landmarks, asked for help and had to trouble shoot some unforeseen problems with arrangements. She did it and feels proud (I am proud of her!) and is now more comfortable being by herself. She stretched her comfort zone to bring about personal growth.
It brought back a memory of my own!
When I was 21 years old, Canada felt claustrophobic to me, so I went to Japan at a coworker’s suggestion. Since it was 2 months from the inception of the idea until the actualization, I had no time to really prepare myself. (That is me in a nutshell, by the way. Picking out new dishcloths, I spend an hour at the store, agonizing over colour, price and softness. HUGE life decisions though? Made on a whim). I arrived in Japan with just a suitcase. No map, no language at all (I didn’t even know how to say “yes” or “hello”), and no clear idea of who I was looking for at the airport. I finally found my boss, who was holding up my name on a sign.
That night, I was tucked in to my dorm room. I had met the other teacher and had supper, but now I was alone. All alone. I couldn’t even eavesdrop on the family downstairs since I didn’t speak any of the language. I went to journal, but was too tired. I went to read, but I wasn’t in the mood. Instead, I lay on the bed and just listened to my own thoughts as I stared at the ceiling. I found….
I didn’t like myself very much. I felt greed, jealousy, and – most of all- insecurity. I found I didn’t want to be alone with myself. At all. And I had no one to distract me.
What an awful feeling.
I can’t describe what kind of a wake up call that was. I was used to being alone at home, but being ALL alone in a foreign country was different. I couldn’t drown out this feeling or those thoughts with a call to a friend, tv or music. I had to sit in silence and soak it in.
I set out, that very night, to achieve self confidence and personal growth. At first I did little things. I kept a journal of happenings and feelings, I went for long walks, I spent time staring at the ceiling. With the help of one of my students, and now my friend, I also got out and was social. Eventually, if no one was around, I felt comfortable going alone to eat lunches or dinners, without any distractions but the crowd around me to watch. The sentence, “Just me today” lost its stigma entirely. I no longer thought that sentence would have the whole restaurant whispering pitying remarks.
It took nearly an entire year of carefully tending to my own needs and redirecting depressing thoughts, but slowly I began to feel comfortable being by myself. Basically I courted and dated myself. I went to movies, for dinner, for tea, out shopping or out to take photographs. Instead of feeling anxious, I felt free.
When I came back to Canada, I would frequently carve out “me time” by taking myself out on dates. Being an introvert, this is especially important. My lovely extroverted friends thought I was nuts when I would announce I was going to the movies and, no, I didn’t want company. I also went to dinners or lunches alone a lot. It was great. A lot harder to do in Canada comfortably (the waiters would give you looks or repeat ‘JUST you, you’re SURE’) but I did it anyway.
Over the years I lost this. I got sucked in to feeling like I should ask a friend everywhere I went, or I wasn’t being social enough.
Nowadays, I am saying, screw that!, and reclaiming my alone time. I am once again on the road to self confidence. It isn’t easy, and there is no true map, but I love the journey.