Now that both of my girls live miles, states, and flights away from me, I find myself transitioning into what it means to be alone.
I have done this more than once:
- After my divorce when the visitation schedule began. Every other weekend, the girls would be picked up from school by their dad on Friday and I wouldn’t see them until sometime Sunday. It was excruciating.
- When not just one, but both girls were in college and I simultaneously ended a 2+ year relationship. The house was quiet (and immensely clean). I had no plans. There was nothing that needed to be done or managed or cooked (or cleaned). It was excruciating.
- Last August when my youngest daughter, after 6 months of being back home because of Covid, returned to her life in Montana. It was quiet (and clean) all over again. And yes, excruciating.
- Last September when I left my corporate job. From endless Zoom meetings and work-to-be-done to nothing but quiet and time and space. It was excruciating.
- Last November when I moved my oldest daughter from her apartment and life in Bellingham (just 90 minutes from me) to Lexington, KY (a day of flying from me). Even though she hadn’t been living at home for years, that return flight from KY to WA was excruciating – and days following, to be sure.
- Every time I fly to visit one of the girls. Each return flight and for days after, I wonder what I’m doing so far from them. It’s excruciating.
I should be quick to say that there is much goodness in all of the above, as well. It’s lovely to have a clean home, far fewer responsibilities, less tension, more quiet and time and space.
But here’s the thing: when in receipt of quiet and time and space (whether that is attached to being alone, or not), I don’t seamlessly move to gratitude and appreciation. I am jumpy and distracted and irritated. I can’t settle down. I don’t feel at all myself. And I’m highly committed to distractions.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.
It’s why scrolling IG and FB, watching Netflix or Amazon Prime, online shopping, eating, drinking, and any number of dissociative techniques are what we default to instead of the quiet and time and space we often wish for. (Believe me: this post is hardly a critique of such; more, a confession!)
Years ago, when the visitation schedule kicked in, I talked to a very wise woman about what all of this felt like for me. I told her about how I was scattered and frenetic, frustrated and tense, “off” somehow. And this was her advice:
Sit still. Be quiet. Let yourself feel.
Uh, no thank you! That’s the last thing I want to do!
Except that I did. And it was hard. I felt a lot. It was uncomfortable and sad and often filled with grief. Sometimes anger. A long list of unanswerable questions that, when looked at more closely, led me to deep fears – which I didn’t like feeling and wanted to avoid (by getting up from the couch and making popcorn and pouring a glass of wine and turning on Netflix).
Despite her wisdom and even the years since that I’ve been following her counsel, I still lean toward the distractions. They’re always right there – like a bowl of potato chips – calling my name. (Sometimes the distraction is a bowl of potato chips!)
Thankfully though, my recovery time is getting quicker. Only because I continue to do what she said. It’s not my first impulse, even my second; but eventually I turn within, to the wisdom that resides there, to what is underneath and underneath and underneath – all of which deserves to be heard…and felt.
I do sit still. I can be quiet. And even though it often-and-still feels daunting and scary, I let myself feel. (Just so you know: it’s far less excruciating than it once was.)
I ask myself the following:
- What do you feel, exactly?
- Can you name it? Will you?
- What’s underneath that feeling?
- And what’s underneath that feeling?
- What will happen if you let yourself stay with the feeling underneath that one instead of jumping up to avoid it?
Easier asked than answered, to be sure.
To actually feel what we feel, to give our deepest heart the gift of space and time, is scary and daunting (and potentially unraveling).
But here’s what is more true:
You have BIG and deep and powerful feelings. They matter. And to feel them is the bravest work you’ll do in a lifetime, for your lifetime (over and over again). When you allow them, they are the very things that invite you home to yourself and into the wisdom, courage, and strength that is already and always yours.
Yes, it’s scary and daunting (and potentially unraveling). Yes, any distraction feels far more desirable. And…self-awareness and growth and transformation and sovereignty is what we’re after, yes? Which is why these three simple steps become devotional practice:
Sit still. Be quiet. Feel.
I know. Deep breaths. I’m right there with you.
This is not for the faint of heart. As you let yourself feel, it is inevitable that you uncover places of harm and grief, emotions you’ve learned to repress, patterns you’ve developed that keep you safe – understandably! To let yourself feel – without restraint or censure – is brave and amazing. Choosing to stay present to every aspect of your story is the most beautiful and sacred work you can ever do. I promise.
May it be so.
As always, I welcome your thoughts, your questions, your response, even your resistance (which I get, believe me!) I’ll definitely stop with the popcorn and cooking shows to respond!! I promise.