06 August 2008

Alone

I have never lived alone.

I had roommates all through college and was one of few Peace Corps volunteers who lives with another volunteer. I had roommates in grad school and roommates when I moved to Boston. Then John and I lived together and got married, and now I have two pint-sized, rather demanding roommates in the twins.

The truth of the matter is that I never wanted to live alone. Many people crave their own room in college or their own apartment once they are out on their own. Not me. I am a people-person by nature; I like the company of others and I make friends easily. I like to talk. I find that most things in life that I enjoy are even better when enjoyed with the company of a friend. 

There are some less sunny reasons that I have always chosen to live with others. I need to be validated. I have a hard time making a decision when there's no one else to discuss things with. I don't like to be in my own head too much. If I don't have a sounding board, I can think that what's swirling around in my head makes sense, then later I'll try to vocalize it and realize that my keen analysis wasn't so sharp after all. 

Over the past few years, I've gotten to know myself better. In part, that's been voluntary. I was pretty hardcore about going to Al-Anon for a couple of years about five years ago, and that was a life-changing, positive experience in which I learned a lot about myself. John's illness and my role as his primary caretaker certainly pushed me into a place where I had to get more confident in myself; I also had to learn more about spending time on my own as John wasn't always up for being social, and, frankly, neither was I.

It was during John's illness, in fact, that I first truly began to appreciate solitude. We were—and the twins and I still are—blessed to have multitudes of amazing friends and very supportive family. When John first got sick, friends and family arrived in droves with food, offers of help, and shoulders to cry on. They never left. We host lots of weekend visitors and we often have friends over in the evenings or on weekends (or we go visiting). While I love all of our friends and our family, during John's illness, it was rare for me to get a moment to myself. In fact, I never got a moment to myself as even when friends were not around, I was always with John and was always thinking about his care. I wouldn't change that, believe me, but it was a constant. Then the twins were born, and their presence and needs were another constant, and the visits from friends and family just increased. Then John got sicker and the visits increased again as people came to say goodbye.

At the time, I didn't realize how much of a toll this lack of solitude was taking on me. I'd never wanted to be alone before, so it had never occurred to me that being alone might be just what I needed. After John's death, I had family or friends staying with me for weeks. I dreaded the first night that I spent alone in the house with the twins. I had a schedule of friends set up to come be with me in the evenings so that I would not be on my own.

I was scared. I was scared that I couldn't handle the twins on my own. Scared to be by myself and have to deal with my feelings. When someone else is around, I hold myself together out of some sense of internal obligation. When no one else is around, anything can happen. I didn't want to find out what would.

Inevitably, I spent evenings on my own with the twins, and then, when they were in bed, time "alone" in the house. At first, I felt a bit at loose ends, so I found lots of chores to keep me busy. I was very good about keeping up with Maddie and Riley's photo website, the laundry was always done, the sink empty of dishes. I cooked special food for the twins. I sent e-mails and returned calls. I sorted junk in my basement and sold stuff on Craigslist.

As time went on, I got more and more efficient with the chores around the house. I now have a schedule for laundry and running the dishwasher, a schedule for prepping M&R's daycare food for the week. At this point, most nights, the kids are in bed by 7:30 p.m. and I'm done with the things I need to do around the house by 8:30 p.m. at the latest. After that, the time is all mine, just me and a dark, quiet house, the thing I long feared most.

But here's the thing: I love that time. I am at a point where I need that time. I no longer stay on top of the photo site, I no longer return e-mails and calls in a timely fashion. I barely remember to pay my bills. Once I've done what needs to be done, all I do is . . . well . . . nothing. I watch TV. I read (usually People magazine, or cookbooks). I eat junk. I play Wii. I wander around aimlessly. I go to bed early, then wake up in the middle of the night to read for an hour. I paint my toenails and take long, hot showers. I think about the things I could be doing and then decide not to do them. I fantasize about how great it would be to have a week of time like this. A cruise, or a stay at an all-inclusive resort. I never used to understand why people traveled alone. Now it all makes perfect sense.

All the years of giving, all the years of being around others, all the years of constant company have finally caught up with me. I still love my friends and family, but I also need to recharge. How long have I been going to individual and group therapy, reading books, and hearing about "self-care"? Years. And it's all finally starting to click.

26 comments:

Deb said...

you said it best - "you need to recharge". it's a basic necessity, like food and water.

Julia said...

I also need my alone time. Glad you are not pushing yourself to get stuff done when you need that lazy recharging instead. Go you!

LauraC said...

My nights when my husband travels sound exactly like your nights. I used to feel a little guilty for getting nothing accomplished but now I've come to enjoy that time alone. Some times I think about things but mostly, I just enjoy being with myself.

Tonight is pedicure and So You Think You Can Dance!

Betty M said...

I am not very good at being alone on a regular basis but occasionally I need to be. It is like a safety release valve without which the whole house/children/work balance issue becomes impossible to handle. When I am alone at home I tend to do the things you do - tv, junk reading - or I go out and do something indulgent like a pedicure. Here is to the recharging!

Rev Dr Mom said...

I've never lived alone either. And I've always used the night time after the Kid (or kids in days past) went to bed just as you describe.

Anonymous said...

I'm an infrequent commenter, but when I do I usually leave my name. Today I will stay anon.

This past week, I moved into a house by myself. Three bedrooms, and no one but me and the dog. No roommates, no boyfriend. My boyfriend, and still-boyfriend (though who knows for how long) and I, lived together in tight spaces for over two years, and now... it is very quiet.

After two years of knowing I needed my space and alone time, but never really receiving it, I suddenly have loads.

I am scared too. I have invited friends over for dinner, wine, movie night. Anything but facing the empty evening. I am having a hard time realizing it's not an empty evening, it's one that I could use for recharging, relaxing, so when I do spend time others, I can be a nicer, more interactive person.

Your post has resonated so much with me, for tonight, I have nothing but hours to recharge. And I absolutely have to look at it as recharging, and hopefully, at the end of this evening, I'll see it's not a torture, but a guilty pleasure I can keep indulging in.

Kellie said...

Enjoy your recharging time!

Pauli said...

Snick,

I am so glad that everything is clicking. I used to think I'd hate living alone, and I did in college--I felt like I was missing out on something. But when I had my own apartment in Somerville, I LOVED it. I could read whenever I wanted, eat whatever I wanted, fall asleep on the couch at whatever time I wanted...you get the picture. I miss that sometimes, as much as I love Mike and Ella. I am jealous of the fact that you can get the kids to bed and do all of your chores in a timely fashion.

I was also so touched by your stories of Maddie and remembering John. She's so sweet.

Lots of love!

Sylvie said...

Ooh, I can relate. I'm an alone type, definitely need to recharge after much time with people. I used to quietly walk home from school by myself when I was little and loved it. Right now I've escaped to my quiet office after hours of meetings. I'm glad you've found a way to enjoy that time -- the laundry can wait!

Nancy said...

I crave my alone time - but I was one of those people who wanted my own room in college and then got my own apartment out of college.

Not a lot of alone time now with twins and a 3rd! My blog helps with that - I tune everything out while writing.

raisingtwins said...

I LOVE alone time. I always thought it was because I'm an only child.

Nap times are all I get now but it's really not sufficient.

tmarie said...

I love this post. Hope you get all the you-time you need tonight.

Little Read Hen said...

hey, man, good for you!

Amy said...

Sorry it took you so long to realize you needed the downtime to recharge. One of the few things I realized early about myself and something I cannot live without.

Even when my twins and son were young I made it a priority to get them to bed early, to enjoy the downtime and screw the rest.

You so need time to yourself, to do whatever the heck you want. Nourishing. Enjoy.

Mama Mama Quite Contrary said...

I had never lived alone until Peace Corps and it was incredibly hard for me to go back to having roommates. I think I've found a good balance now and it sounds like you have too- just in the opposite way!

Christine said...

Good on you Snick. I have always enjoyed my own company but I can appreciate your point of view. Learning to be alone, and liking and being comfortable with it, is essential to happiness.

Deanna said...

amazing what our own life lessons teach us...
I'm glad you are enjoying your alone time...embrace it!!

Moxie Mommy said...

Alone time for me is bittersweet. I miss my twin kiddos but relish the re-charge time. I know I'm a better mom for it but I really like the time I have with them. I am constantly reminded that their childhoods will whiz by... I don't want to miss a thing. BTW, I love your blog. Hang in there. :)

moo said...

It's that "me time" that makes you a great mom. We all need it. And you don't know you need it until you are thrust into it.

OTRgirl said...

I never used to like being alone. The door to my dorm room was always open, friends used my computer all the time (back when a Mac SE was state of the art and I was one of the lucky few who had my own computer).

Now though, I need quiet evenings to recharge. I'm encouraged for your sake that you're getting those. I'm encouraged that if we ever have kids, there might still be some room for that in life's busy-ness.

Karyn said...

Yeay! I love being alone, too. I crave it in fact. And I am really alone very little--until the girls start school in the fall! Even though I know I will fill that time, I'm looking forward to having that time to even being able to figure out what I WANT to do. I'm expecting great things. :-)

Collette said...

I recently foudn your blog clicking around others blog rolls. Although, I can't remember whose blog brought me here. Anyway, I love my alone time as well. My husband plays softball on Thrusday nights and I get a little down when he has a rain out. I usually put the kids to bed early and sit down with some Dove Unconditional Chocolate and the remote. Softball is over until April in three weeks and, while I love J dearly, I will miss my Thursdays.

Threeundertwo said...

I understand what you're saying about finding that new space and liking it, and then needing it. It was a new world for me when all 3 kids went off to school and I had days alone.

I think that's why so many of us moms get a little stir-crazy over the summer. We're used to particular "alone" routines and it's a big change to be with the kids again 24/7

Keen said...

I understand completely. I adore being alone. I often feel guilty about not being able (or willing) to give up my travel for work, even though I probably could, but it provides me with the alone time I so desperately crave.

I'm so glad you're enjoying it! There's a lot to be said for being alone.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Gosh, I was exactly like this, and socially we are similar too. But I didn't get to this state until about 15 months after Gavin's death.

And like you, for the first time, I started to understand what it meant to take good care of myself.

(I also ended up using most of the time to troll for men on Match! But I don't know what happens next in your story yet).

X

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Silly me, I miscalculated. It was 18 months for me. Same as you!