“To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves — there lies the great, singular power of self-respect.” ~Joan Didion
Over the last couple months since I left my full-time job, I have been spending increasing amounts of time alone—more time alone on an ongoing basis than I have probably ever had in my life. Some of this has been imposed by the job change but much of it is entirely by choice. All of the standard advice would say that this is unhealthy for someone dealing with the amount of loss and of change I am dealing with.
I’m not normal, I guess, because I am finding the exact opposite to be true. I am loving every moment of the solitude because it gives me the space to process, ponder, and heal in peace.
I tend to find the weight of the expectations of others to be a heavy load to bear at times. The intensity of my emotions, the depth of some of my wounds (especially after the year I’ve just had), and the amount of loss I’m having to process makes many people uncomfortable. My way of dealing with these things is more than most can bear, and it’s hard for me sometimes to honor my own process when I can tell it is causing such challenges for others. The co-dependent in me is quick to sacrifice my own needs to make others comfortable, and in the process, I begin to forget what my needs even are.
The space that solitude has brought has allowed me to move through my process largely unseen, except for what I share here. And I am discovering that there is great beauty in walking this journey alone because it eliminates the pressure to be or feel or do something that does not honor my way of healing. What others can’t see can’t make them uncomfortable.
The best part of it, though, is that I feel like I am recovering myself, regaining my self-respect, relearning my own inner paths. I have the freedom to explore new ways of doing and being at my own leisure, without losing my autonomy. Even when I do encounter the expectations of others now or feel the pressure of those expectations to be something other than what I am, they no longer weigh me down as much. I’m learning that I can see their expectations, acknowledge them, and let them go with a shrug. (Sorry I’m not sorry.)
I’ve always been so convinced that I needed the support of others to heal effectively. I’m learning (with great surprise) that this may be as true for me as I thought it was. I am healing faster and finding greater contentment and joy from doing my grieving and my healing and my growing largely in isolation. I am actually healing rather than just stuffing the wounds into my shadow.
This is not to say that I am not still grieving some of my losses. I still have moments where the grief grabs hold of my chest and squeezes so tightly I think I may never be able to breathe again, but those moments are becoming fewer all the time. It’s also not to say that I don’t have my moments of anxiety about the future. The continued discovery of unexpected expenses and demands (more car issues, roof still not fixed) sometimes makes me panic about this risk that I have taken, but the panic attacks are shorter lived all the time as I move more quickly into problem solving and continue to learn that I am capable of dealing with whatever is thrown at me on my own.
What it really means is that I am learning to face the grief and the panic and the anxiety head on, acknowledge it, process it, and let it go. The movement through those stages comes faster and faster all the time. And even as I face those challenging emotions and deal with their effects, I’ve learned that it cannot shake the underlying sense of contentment that I have found in this time of solitude. I have never processed as much so quickly or healed so rapidly in my life.
I am well aware of how my life must look to most people who know me right now. They see someone who is isolated, negative, depressed, pathetic, and hopeless. I can understand why they think that, and I know it’s partly my own fault. I’ve been so desperate for someone to really see—and in seeing, validate—my experience that I tend to emphasize the hardness of the journey in the hopes that someone will get it. The problem is that none of them have been through this kind of perfect storm of losses and changes in quite the same way, so they don’t have the experience to understand what I’m trying to communicate. They tend to diminish and trivialize my experience thinking that it will cheer me up to hear that I really haven’t gone through anything difficult, which makes me emphasize the hardness all the more. It becomes a vicious cycle. No wonder they find me unbearably negative!
I am realizing that no one may ever really see and understand what this last year has put me through. They may never get my way of processing or my way of being. That’s a shame in some ways, but I’ve decided that it’s ok. I’m finding that my need for the understanding and approval of others is diminishing in the same way that my attachment to their expectations is, so it’s time to let go of that desire for someone else to get this or to validate my experience.
As I let go of that, I can let go of the need to convince them that this has been hard. This change will hopefully make them worry a bit less, and over time maybe it will alter the way they see me because it’s a real shame they can’t see the really cool person that I’m starting to see in the mirror—a woman who is becoming increasingly authentic, deeply content, strong, hopeful, filled with gratitude, relishing her solitude, and prone to frequent upwellings of joy of such intensity that it nearly takes her breath away.
I like this me that I’m getting to know in my solitude, even with all my quirks and imperfections. I’m proud of myself for dealing with all that I’ve dealt with in the last year and for dealing with it so well. I think I’m doing remarkably well. And that’s enough.
I am learning self-respect. It feels remarkably like freedom.
A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a very fragile place, and it takes a good deal of vulnerability to share this personal journey of transformation so openly. Therefore, I need this to be a safe place for exploration and sharing for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight—or the expression of that experience or insight—are NOT welcome here and will be deleted.