The thing they don’t tell you about learning to be alone with yourself is how much you’re going to love it. It’s terrifying at first. When you’ve lived your life being co-dependent from one relationship to the next, the idea of being alone with yourself is a horrifying proposition. When you have lived in a manic frenzy where you seek out social situations like a drug, always surrounding yourself with noise and raucous laughter so the emptiness inside doesn’t consume you, you are sure that by yourself you are going to eat yourself alive from the inside. You know how it works, you’re alone for a moment and the silence creeps in, the thoughts of despair and fear overwhelm you and suddenly it’s a rush to find the loud comfort of other people or self-destruct.
I don’t know how I learned to be safely alone with myself. For years being alone meant my thoughts on paper airplanes as the world spun around me because I hadn’t eaten in days. It meant fresh red lines on my skin and painting in my own blood as the clarity of pain showed me I was alive. I don’t know why being alone made me spiral into self-destruction in the first place. I didn’t hate myself, but I sure as hell didn’t know how to stand my own company.
Somewhere along the line I destroyed a series of relationships, or they destroyed me. I drank, I yelled, I was hit and cheated on, I became a fucking caricature of a mess to the point that looking back I feel like I had to have made up that much unmitigated drama even though I lived it with these bones. I met someone with the sort of fierce independence I mistook as loneliness and isolation because it was so foreign to me, but one day recognized as a fire of strength that I had just never known. He pushed me into an empty bed, I had to know and understand how it was someone could be happier sleeping alone.
I learned the silky comfort of cold sheets with no body beside me to warm me. I learned how magical it felt to stretch myself across a bed that belonged to me alone, and then to stretch my mind as well now that my thoughts were my own and not owned by the noise of the crowd. I learned the sounds of a winter morning and how peaceful they could be when a walk through the snow was a solitary adventure spent on noticing the way the sunlight found new patterns through bare tree branches. It was so different from previous walks in a biting chill with a cigarette taking the place of two days worth of missed meals and the emptiness in my stomach mirrored in the emptiness of my mental fog. Words like self-care are the narrative of my generation, and the first time I cooked myself an elaborate meal that was only for me I understood what it meant to really care for myself.
I spent years feeling confident because I did not hate myself, I thought myself fantastic and saw the affection I garnered in others. I knew attention, love was never far behind. I could simultaneously give no fucks about what others thought, while affirming myself with compliments and admiration. To learn to be alone I had to go beyond affirmation and the love of others. Not hating myself, having a high opinion of my worth, that was not the same as self-love. Thinking you are hot shit, that isn’t really loving yourself. I learned love as an action, not just a detached emotion. The nights I spend alone wrapped in cool sheets and taking up space with a body I am finally comfortable in, the days I stop to watch a sunrise with only the dogs for company, the times I decide to make a luscious meal from scratch that only I will taste, I act out of love and I can feel at home being alone.