Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Change in Scenery: the Importance of Time Spent Alone

Photo Credit: womenwithdrive.org

The other day, a friend of mine said, "Everyone's need for 'alone time' is different." She was right, of course. My husband doesn't seem to need much and some of my friends seem to avoid being alone at all costs. Still others crave the time by themselves and never seem to get it. That's sad, to me, because I believe that women our age really do need to take time for ourselves to regroup and refresh. We're often juggling way too many obligations and we owe it to ourselves to take time away, even if only for a half hour.

My need for time to myself has ebbed and flowed over the years. I can remember when I was a little girl, I loved stealing away by myself with a good book either in the backyard on the hammock, underneath the Christmas tree during the holidays or in my room to get away from my little brother. Then something changed. As a teenager, time alone caused me to worry if I was "popular" enough or too "nerdy." Later still, during an early marriage, I thought "if only I could just be alone for awhile" only to panic when I was, in fact, really alone for the first time in my life!

Photo Credit: mabrotherton.com

It was during my separation and divorce that I learned the value of spending time with myself. The panic I felt eventually turned to a sense of calm and then, later, contentment, as I learned who I was inside---my values, my opinions, my sense of self. What did I learn? I learned that I was basically a very 'Type A' personality who wasn't very good at saying "no." A perfectionist, severely self-critical, lacking self-confidence; someone who tried to make up for her perceived shortcomings by just doing more, more, more !!! Someone who was excruciatingly nice to everyone I met ("nice girls don't do x, y or z"), I couldn't even express real anger until after at least a year into my self-imposed course correction (anger isn't "nice") .  I would literally become mute, my throat tightening in fear, whenever I was asked to express an emotion that I had labeled 'bad.' Often, the end result was tears.

Growing up in the South with a somewhat traditional southern upbringing, I also subconsciously believed that I had very little choice in most matters (that was up to the men in my life) and my opinions tended to reflect the opinions of those around me. Who did I support (and why) in the upcoming election? Darned if I knew. Which restaurant did I want to try? It didn't matter. What did I think about a, b or c? I didn't have an opinion. Friends who didn't know me then have a hard time believing I was ever that person. 

So what changed all of that? It was a long, often painful process but it started with me taking time to get to know myself. During that period, I went from panic at the idea of spending time alone; to discomfort and then mild restlessness; from acceptance/learning to understanding and then finally to equanimity and joy. I made lots of mistakes along the way but eventually came to a place where I can accept myself as I am, flaws and all.

Now, the idea of spending time with myself is one I approach with relish! Whether it's an hour alone with a book in my bedroom or a trip to another city for work or pleasure, that time alone allows me to reflect and re-set. In fact, as I am writing this, I'm visiting a special place in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. When I'm here, I find that I can relax and re-group very quickly, as life seems to slow down at the beach. Even if I'm working my regular job (which I am now) from the privacy (and quiet) of my sanctuary by the water, I find I am more productive and 'get clear' much faster when I'm away from my everyday world. And when I return to my life in the city, the world is a better place.

Photo Credit: Outer Banks Concierge