I grew up as an only child in a middle class suburb of Washington DC in southeast Maryland. My whole life I’ve heard “oh, an only child . . . . you must have been spoiled.” Well, sorta and sometimes but mostly, being an only child meant getting comfortable with being alone. I had a lot of friends and engaged in many after school groups and activities but I also had plenty of free time to myself to think, explore, create, and just be.
When I was a kid, this wasn’t a problem. I loved to color, draw, paint, and read and spent many hours during the day and evening lost in whatever form of creative expression I was immersed in at the moment. I liked to be outside, wandering, exploring, sometimes getting input from my “imaginary friends” which now, through the years of my reiki and yoga practice I have come to appreciate as early spirit guides. They never guided me to get into trouble or go places that might be dangerous . . . . . “Danny isn’t here Mrs. Torrance” . . . . . (The Shining reference). But my spirit guides did ask me to get curious about the dirt, a specific tree, insects, cloud formations, and I would often get lost in the moment of pure fascination over these seemingly simple living and moving forms in nature.
As I grew older, being alone was not my cup of tea. I went to college with my best friend, broke up with one boyfriend just to replace him with another, moved to be with those I loved, never once stopping to live or be on my own. As time marched on, I noticed that being alone made me uncomfortable, fidgety. If I was alone all day I was on the phone or doing chores around the house talking to the dogs or trying to make plans as soon as possible to meet up with friends. And as I began a yoga practice and training to become a teacher, I took some time to examine what that fear of being alone was all about. It turns out it wasn’t any one thing but more of a culmination of things ranging from codependency issues from being raised by an alcoholic to self-esteem issues that developed over time and most importantly, being alone meant hearing your own thoughts, replaying mistakes, judging yourself, or at least it did to me.
In the summer of 2012, I had enough tremulous thoughts, pent up anger, and loaded mistakes reeling in me that I knew I had to be alone with it all in order to heal, let go, and begin again. The idea that in order to love someone else or something else you must first start with loving yourself was a bit foreign to me but I had reached a point in my life that I had to try. That is when I set out for the Appalachian Trail. And although I didn’t spend the entire two months alone, there were plenty of times when I would walk alone for miles, never seeing another soul, or sleep alone in the woods with only the frogs and crickets to keep me company. And slowly, I began to enjoy my time alone. I set my pace based on no one else’s expectations of me and I traveled as far as I wanted, allowing myself to change my mind if the wind changed direction. When I got home, I spent six months living alone in a cabin in the woods, partly because I needed to be close to yoga training and work while also giving Sean and I the space we needed while we were healing and strengthening our marriage. But more importantly, I needed time to live alone in the real world. I needed to come home after a long day of work and have no one to talk to. I needed to wake up when I wanted to, practice yoga and meditation when I wanted to, eat when I wanted to, cry when I needed to. I went for long walks every day, I watched very little TV, I read countless books, I journaled constantly and I embraced the silence and stillness. It was a very powerful time in my life and I felt very connected, once again, to the curious little girl I use to be.
I’ve been back in my home with Sean for over two years now, embracing a marriage and friendship that is stronger than ever, more real and honest than ever, and I know that loving myself has helped make that happen. And yet, every day, I make space for what I call “me time.” I often meditate or color mandalas or cook. I love to hike alone or sit in nature alone and just listen, stopping as often as I’d like, closing my eyes, taking it all in. My favorite thing to do is to sit in my great grandmother’s rocking chair by the woodstove with a book and a cup of tea while the house is still quiet in the early morning hours. Taking time out for me each day reminds me that I can’t love and serve in this world without first loving and serving myself. Today I am grateful for me time, for those moments and hours that I am alone with my own thoughts and emotions, making decisions just for myself, sometimes with a little help from my spirit guides.
(Picture: Taken on the Appalachian Trail the day I hiked 17.7 miles alone and never saw a single person)