There are cute signs at Target, World Market, even Ikea that say things like “What I like best about my home is who I share it with,” or “Home is wherever I’m with you.”
But I live alone. It’s recent this time. I’ve had roommates for the past year and a half or so now, but before that I lived alone for about 3 years.
When I graduated college, I moved back to my hometown and as an exchange for working for the church for free, they provided me with a free apartment. I wanted a roommate at first. I tried to convince a couple different friends to move in with me, but it wasn’t the right timing or situation, so I ended up living alone.
I’d come home every evening and look through all of my closets and rooms, making sure no intruder was waiting until the doors were locked to come out and reenact every horror movie nightmare I’ve ever had.
I didn’t spend a lot of time there alone at first. If my friends were over, I’d happily hang out there, but it took me several months before I actually started to spend days off or free nights willingly alone in my apartment. By then, I started to embrace the world of living alone. After all, I had traveled alone. I had adventured alone. Why couldn’t I also live alone? I stopped the lazy search for a roommate and accepted my aloneness. And I liked it.
I really liked it. I got to decorate how I wanted. I got to have people over as I wanted. I got to say to friends who wanted to come visit for a week, “Yes! No problem!”. And, the most surprising thing to me — I actually liked being alone there.
I liked it, that is, until the darkness came.
In the wake of my old life breaking, the immense grief of losing so many people, so many comforts of the life I knew, I felt the most alone I ever had. My “living alone” stopped referring only to my housing situation and was truly indicative of my life situation.
Some people saw me in the first months of my broken, ragged “new life” beginnings and they asked me, “What have you been doing with your time?”
“I don’t know,” I’d reply honestly. “I sit alone at home. Or I sit alone at the river. Or I run alone at the lake. Um, yeah. I don’t know. I guess just that.”
Though I grew, and healed, and life gradually picked up a more normal pace, I continued to live alone. I continued to feel alone. But in the feeling alone in the darkness, I was left with myself.
I used to say I thought everyone should live alone for a time. Which, if they have the opportunity, I still stand by. Kind of like Julie Roberts in Runaway Bride when she has to figure out how she likes her eggs, living alone affords you the opportunity to figure out how you really like to do things. Which is great. It’s great to be forced to get to know yourself like that.
But, while it was so hard, and so dark, I’m realizing now what an ugly, beneficial thing it was for me to live alone during the hardest season of my life.
When I lived alone before, I learned that I liked having a clutter free living area, but I didn’t mind if my bedroom was a little messy. I learned that I liked having the sink empty. I learned that I was pretty fearful of being alone at first. I learned that I liked entertaining. I learned that I liked cooking for myself.
But in the dark season of aloneness, I learned that hope is not something I have the ability to decide to have — that sometimes you have to wait for it to appear. I learned that my grief reflex is extreme nausea. I learned that I really, deeply care for people — especially when I’ve hurt them — even if they’ve tried to hurt me. I learned that if I don’t manage my time I stay up too late and wake up too late when my heart and my world are hurting. I learned to look into the ugly pieces of my heart and not look away. I learned how to dig into myself to look at what’s honestly there. And I learned to accept the things that are there that I cannot change.
In the happy, good season of living alone, I learned how to live by myself.
In the dark, broken season of living alone, I learned how to live with myself.
I went on to have roommates again in California, Colorado, and Kansas. Roommates that I enjoyed and loved living with. I came to life again during those seasons of roommates. Because I really do love living with other people.
But now, in my new house, at least for the time being, I live alone again. And it’s ok. Because whether I live alone or with people, I am at home with myself. That’s the gift that living alone gave me, and it carries through.
Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.
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