It’s been ages since I’ve sat alone in silence. Somewhere behind me a clock ticks, or perhaps I’ve mistaken that for the melting snow dripping from the roof. It’s a steady rhythm, one I’ve not heard in awhile.
I recently attended a weekend retreat, surrounded by people every minute of the day. Community, many would call it. It reminded me of what I’ve had before, and how little of its consistency I have experienced lately. “I felt alive again,” I texted my friend. She’s used to me throwing this phrase around. I latch onto the feeling of aliveness.
The danger for me–and maybe for you–is to fill all my still and quiet spaces with lists and people. When my quiet spaces are filled with a healthy hum of noise, I genuinely feel the most fulfilled. I laugh a lot more, I realize how absolutely insane my jokes are, and I surprise myself with the words I speak. I forget all these things, easily, when noise isn’t in my life.
The few times I stepped away from the large group of people that weekend, an unsettled and anxious feeling grew in my chest. I was scared to be alone.
I don’t know how to be me by myself, as odd as that sounds. I don’t know how to sing for joy with or be kind to my aloneness.
What’s more, not only do I not know how, but I don’t want to know. I don’t want to discover who Sarah is as an individual because I fear she’ll continually be a disappointment.
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A few Thanksgivings ago, I sat in a small circle of fold out chairs with fellow dreamers and storytellers. We went around answering icebreaker questions, one of them being to share one of our favorite authors. I mentioned a girl whose blog I follow and who just happened to be living in the city we were in. After what felt like incessant pushing for me to contact her to meet up, I in my most flustered form said, “I don’t like meeting famous people.”
The hostess looked me square in the face, and with no hesitation blurted out, “Why, are you insecure?”
Shocked by my own transparency and her intuition, I immediately responded, “Yes.”
She went on with conversation, as if she hadn’t just called me out in humiliation, forcing me to vocalize my deepest vulnerabilities in a one word response.
I haven’t forgotten that encounter, and I have far from forgotten the feelings and thoughts of that moment. My inner dialogue took over as I tried to calm my racing heart and escalating shame. Just wait, Sarah. Just wait: one day you won’t be defining yourself as insecure. One day you’ll be strong, confident, assured. This will pass, you’ll outgrow this.
I mostly haven’t forgotten that story because I daily battle with those exact same feelings and thoughts. I still argue with anxiety, and often let it win. I still don’t like the thought of meeting famous people, but would send a letter to a stranger if they needed one. I still am an aspiring writer and toss the word insecure around far more than words like strong, confident, and assured.
I put on doubt like a cloak, grab the hand of fear, and believe that in some twisted way, I am losing myself to my own aloneness.
That is why being alone is paralyzing: there’s no one else but you and your closet of skeletons. The good others see in you and call out is buried deep beneath the self-loathing. And fears become a self fulfilling prophecy.
We all go through layers of seasons in this life; I imagine there’s at least one other person out there whose feelings reflect my own. And if that’s you, or if that’s ever been you, can we just stand up for a minute and declare, “Not today, fear. You don’t get today.”
I know. It is so much easier said than done. The negativity and loathing behind our eyes and buried in our beings is difficult to break.
Because the lies we hear and believe aren’t anything new. But they’re certainly comfortable.
This may be one of my least favorite blogs I’ve written; I don’t have the answers. Actually, I take that back–I do have the answers, but I don’t like them. They’re painful and deliberate. They’re uncomfortable but necessary to implement into the rhythms of life.
It’s looking in the mirror and saying, “You are enough. You are not your insecurities or anxieties.”
It’s replacing one negative comment with five positive ones–because that’s how many it takes for our brain to overcome the negativity.
It’s learning to be alone, to be just one.
I wish people could rush through my front door and save me like I’ve so often let them. Not this time. This time, I–you, we–have been purposefully placed in a room completely alone surrounded by silence.
For we must discover how to dig up the goodness from underneath the criticism, how to cover the wounds of self-loathing with the healing balm of grace, and how to breathe normally in our lungs again.
I so badly hate it, but dear reader, from my empty table to yours: Persevere. There is good to be found here.