Alone. It's a complicated word that has both negative and positive connotations. It can invoke feelings of sadness, fear, pity, and shame, but it can also create joy, empowerment, inspiration, and pride. One word that harbors both lightness and darkness. It's been a powerful theme in my life the last six months. After my break-up I found myself on the dark side of being alone, filled with fear at the prospect. Alone. It filled me with so much emptiness and I couldn't seem to grasp any optimistic outlook. It wasn't where I wanted to be and it was hard to cope with that reality. With the darkness enveloping me, I quickly became extremely single sensitive.
I had once enjoyed being the 3rd, 5th, 7th wheel as it was a fun, no pressure way to spend time with some of my favorite couples, but this was no longer the case. I couldn't seem to separate my misery from their joy. Every time I witnessed a whispered sweet nothing, a display of affection, an inside joke, and even joy, it felt like pouring salt in my wound. And I began to feel like the only single person surrounded by marital and relationship bliss highlighting further my loneliness and heart ache. Where were all the single ladies?! Where were other gloomy, miserable people?! I just wanted a few minutes, ok months, to sulk without some Disney romance thrown in my face. Yikes, I had officially taken up residence in Bitterville, home of the whiny and the heartbroken.
At one point, witnessing happy couples use to inspire me and give me hope, but that was easier when I was content with my own life, which obviously I wasn't. Being alone felt like a prison sentence and I found myself dreading my future. Dramatic, I know, but I'm nothing if not full of a constant array of intense feelings. It's the blessing and the curse of a sensitive soul whose life is both beautiful and filled with pain. Another 'gift' of being sensitive is acute self-awareness, so it was not lost on me that my bitterness and pain was creating a problem.
I felt so much shame and guilt for all my self-pity and the negativity spewing out of me. It made my skin crawl and added fuel to my self-hatred fire. What kind of person finds pain in other people's joy?! It disgusted me, but I couldn't escape it. However, I knew I needed to find a way out because I couldn't stand it much longer. That is why no one was invited to join me on my trip to Thailand. I took this trip alone because that's the last thing I wanted to do and I knew I needed to get over it. I had some making up to do with myself and I needed to make peace with being alone. Plus, it'd be nice to feel content enough to enjoy the happiness surrounding me.
Preparing for this trip was different from anything I'd ever experienced. This was not a weekend trip to Vegas, a backpacking trip with friends, or a getaway on the beach. This was a task. It was a calculated challenge forcing me into the world exactly the way I dreaded: alone. It felt weird planning it as, along with moments of excitement, there was this constant pit of anxiety gnawing at me for I feared if I failed this step I would be completely lost. I specifically chose a location that would scare me, away from the familiarity of the Western world and flew my ass across the globe.
The pride and empowerment didn't set in right away. Instead, after a long dissent into the dark world of depression and anxiety, the beginning of my trip was more rejuvenating than anything. There was a lot of down time in the beginning and I allowed myself to slowly unwind. It took about a week for me to stop waking up in a panic attack, residual anxiety unsure of this new, calm space. Then I started to feel my attitude shift towards being alone.
Fellow travelers expressed shock and admiration of my traveling alone as a woman and I started to realize that being alone could symbolize bravery, something to be proud of. My days were packed and full of activity and so I looked forward to my time to decompress with a book, with a journal, with a meal. It was then that I remembered the joy and contentment that can accompany time alone. As I met other solo female travelers an instant connection sparked between us as we shared something special. We all had a story and most of us came through struggle to find answers, to find ourselves. We connected in that struggle and the knowing of what it took to get there, what it took to stay there. Without words, we saw and understood each other. And so I learned that being alone could create a deep sense of unity and support.
One night I sat at a restaurant and a woman asked me, "are you alone?" I smiled, proud, "yes, I am" and so she joined me. We learned that we were both Americans, both had bachelor degrees in Anthropology, both recently turned 30, and both had hearts on the mend. There have many times throughout my trip where I felt among my people, but this was uncanny. We parted ways with a strong embrace feeling connected and relieved for the moments of companionship.
By the last few days of my trip, I felt so comfortable in my skin even in the large city of Bangkok. I navigated public transport (buses, boats, trains, and taxis) with intense language barriers, bartered down to good prices, listened to damn good music as I made my way through busy streets, and propped up at crowded outdoor restaurants with a journal and a good book. I should add that I was virtually free of anxiety for the first time in a very long time. Out of the darkness of being alone I discovered once again the possibility, freedom, contentment, joy, and empowerment that being alone can offer. Also, I got much better at taking selfies.
As I return home, I'm nervous about my ability to stay in this new, empowered place of contentment and freedom. My biggest challenge will be to fight the darkness from rearing its ugly head and to hang on to my new truth of what it means to be alone. I've allowed shame and discomfort to block me from dining, catching movies, going to live music, and having a drink alone, but this will be the first thing I change. I will hold Thailand in my heart, determined to stay comfortable in my skin. Being alone is no longer a prison sentence, but an adventurous look at a life still to be explored. I know there will be challenges ahead, but I also know that I fought for happiness and found it. I looked for answers and found them, I found myself. No matter what happens, I know I can and will do it again if I need to. That alone is empowering. And whether or not I stay single for another week, month, year, or forever, I am happy that I took the time to nurture the most important relationship in my life, the one to myself. To many more years of navigating the seas of life! Xo