The Richness of Solitude

Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self. ~ May Sarton

It is just past midnight and I am sitting alone in the silence of my apartment sipping decaf chai and listening to the clock tick. I am wholly content.

It wasn’t long ago that a moment like this, let alone an hour, never mind an evening, would find me desperate and restless. The pit of my belly would swell with this intense sense of longing and I would feel a dull anxiety creeping through my body. I had no idea what to do with these feelings and it wasn’t uncommon for me to spend long periods of time sitting on the couch, phone in lap, staring at the wall and hoping someone would contact me.

This may sound pathetic and I do not care. It was just my way of pushing through another swell of loneliness, or more accurately, of stark emptiness.

In the last three years I’ve had to tread through several waves of grief. I had to grieve the loss of a romantic relationship that had lasted nearly one-third of my life. Then, after a year of adapting to living as a single parent, my ex-husband and I worked out an equal shared custody agreement. I had to grieve the loss of time with my son and had to adjust to feeling like only half a mom. Another year later, when I put the bottle down, I had to also grieve the loss of intoxication and a lifestyle that was getting me nowhere fast. The silence seemed to echo through my apartment and I felt intensely hollow. With my identity stripped from me layer by layer, I didn’t know who I was or how to sit with myself or what the hell to do with the time on my hands.

Now, though. Now.

Over the past six months, though a staunch extrovert, I have learned to embrace the silence. I will not pretend that I don’t sometimes feel that familiar longing or that stealthy, creeping depression. I especially struggle with transitions from shared human adventure to sitting solo. But, I no longer linger in the thick darkness of my living room, fingers wrapped around my phone, just waiting. And waiting. And waiting. I no longer identify as a social junkie white knuckling it through the late night witching hours. I pretty much like myself now.

And, I am finding that I am okay, successful even, in my solitude.

Just last week, as I was meandering through some personal essays, hoping to string something cohesive together for a potential manuscript, I stumbled upon one particular essay that I had written when I was four months sober. I realized that I had changed tremendously in the last year, but I don’t know if I recognized the full extent until I reread this piece. I had, in these pages, discussed my previous lifestyle and the panic I felt at leaving it behind. I wrote: “But, I like excitement. I like to be untethered. I like to be on fire, blazing and inescapable. Nothing can snuff me out. Sometimes, but not always, I don’t know how to get that thrill, be that woman, without doing something deliciously wicked.” I went on to say: “But, it’s not all delicious. More often than not, it’s sour. Vomit sour….”

I was shocked when I reread the piece in its entirety. It was demeaning and desperate. It was shallow and self-deprecating. In ten short months, I have transformed into a woman who has no desire to be “untethered” and little cause to “be on fire, blazing and inescapable.” I am happier and more grounded than I ever have been and the thought of delicious wickedness makes me somewhat nauseated.

When I first got sober, over a year ago now, I was told that I needed to find a new way of living. As is apparent by my words from four months in, I was both devastated and resistant. I didn’t know how to live without thrill seeking and personal chaos. I was told, though, that a new life would unfurl before me and that at first it might seem boring but it would be calm and serene and I would learn to thrive in it. I did not believe what I was told.

Yet, slowly, as I stopped sneaking out to Bar X and putting myself in the path of Bad Influence Y, life opened up to me. My thick exoskeleton of inauthenticity began to crack and my true light began to flow out through the fissures. I started to see myself through a new set of glasses. Restored to 20/20, or at least 20/40, because I am forever becoming more clear and gaining new insight, I could see the beautiful woman behind that wild, stagnant mask. I could see myself as someone worthy. Of love. Of peace. Of silence.

So, as I sit here, typing and sipping and listening to the clock tick, I feel more alive than I ever did during any moment of perceived social thrill. I feel both solid and fluid, both impermanent and infinite, both exuberantly human and wonderfully divine. I also feel very, very quiet. And, in this quiet, I feel very, very rich.

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