We all get tired of constantly being around other people. Not always or often, but occasionally we need a break from even the people we love most in life: our spouse, our kids, our best friend. And it’s not just one or two of them at a time it’s all of them all at once!
Nobody’s doing anything wrong. I still love you all, you knuckleheads, but still, sometimes I just get a bit weary. We all do. I’m no psychologist but I’m absolutely sure that it’s normal and healthy and nothing to worry about. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?
Or, as Dan Hicks put it in his song by the same name: How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?
Have you ever wondered how you can go through your entire life without feeling that way about yourself?
Geez! Everywhere you go all day, every day, there you are!
When you go to bed you go with you. When you wake up you’re still there.
Every single moment of your life you know everything you’re thinking and everything you’re going to say before you say it! Doesn’t that make you just a little crazy every once in awhile?
You understand yourself better than anybody else. You talk to yourself but you never, I mean NEVER, have a disagreement. You like the same foods, watch the same TV shows, laugh and cry at the same things and you love the same people.
The one thing I almost never do is surprise myself. And that’s a drag.
I swear, sometimes I just need a short break from me. I need to send myself away or take a short vacation and be somebody I never met before. Or, be nobody at all just for a little while.
If you know me personally, admit it, the thought of being with me 24/7 for 64 years is unimaginable, right? Sure it is! You couldn’t do it, so why should I be expected to?
I know what you’re thinking. Both of me assures you emphatically I am not having a break down or bordering on being dangerous to myself. I love every moment of life.
I love me!
Still, sometimes I begin to have a thought and then cut it off with, “Yeah, I know. — Whatever.”
When I was between marriages some thirty-four years ago I was forced to learn a very hard lesson most people manage to avoid all their lives. I learned to be truly alone for long periods of time and to love it.
I had never been alone for more than a couple of hours or an afternoon at most. I grew up in my parents’ home, moved into an apartment with a buddy at 19, was married at 20 and lived with my first wife until I was thirty. Then, the divorce. Reality caved in on me and I found myself living in a small apartment with our newlywed furniture and nothing else that would ever allow me to use the word “our” again. “Our” life was over. My life alone was beginning and I was terrified.
Forced to take a scheduled vacation alone, I rented a house near a beach north of Mendocino and settled in for a week of misery as a newly-single recluse.
There is nothing more lonely than a large, empty, unfamiliar house in which the only thing that is yours is you.
People who have never been married for a long time and have it suddenly collapse can’t know the vacancy of self mourning. I’m not talking about self pity, that’s the easy part, but rather, true self mourning that has nothing to do with missing your specific wife or husband. Missing that particular person is a given, but what I didn’t expect was the sense that half of the whole person I had become over time was suddenly nonexistent and would never return. I think it must feel exactly like being only half alive.
I missed everything about my life: my wife and son, our home, our street and neighbors, our dog, our routines. I was desperate to scar my soul, to stop the pain and repair the trauma to my spirit before it bled away. So, I cried. It’s all I could do. I gave in to my grief completely, nonstop except for brief periods of respite provided by fatigue. Then, exhausted, I would tumble into a restless sleep and eventually awaken still empty, still lonely but refreshed enough to well up with pain once again and resume my suffering.
That’s the key, I think. Wallow in your misery. Be mindful of your physical well-being and force yourself to take care when nothing seems to matter, including self preservation. Eat when you should. Sleep as much as you can. I found writing to be cathartic but nothing heals like embracing pure grief, for that is its purpose.
During a lull in despondency during my lonely vacation, a few days after beginning my self-imposed confinement and getting bored with self pity, I stepped outside my rented home just to take a peek at the world.
The sky and sea were bright blue. The sun and sand were golden, the air crisp, thick and salty. It was one of those perfect winter days on the Northern California coast and that’s when I first heard the voice inside my head:
“This day is a gift.”
“You’re going to be fine. You’ve survived. You’ll be happy again,” the voice said.
I was not alone, I had me.
As I listened to that calm, reassuring, wiser – perhaps divine – part of myself I suddenly understood that I had always been there and that I knew more than I ever imagined. I had a lot to say but had never been able to hear it because my world had been a cacophony of noise and distractions. And, as I listened to my internal confidante I learned something else amazing:
I like me.
A few days later, still sad but at peace, I wandered into a little shop in Mendocino and spotted a poster waiting for me to carry it home. It was a beautifully photographed picture of a tiny, empty rowboat mirrored in a calm sea. The caption beneath it read:
There is perfection in solitude. It is the reflection of serenity.
I returned to the societal circus and made my way back in.
That was many years ago and I can still hear my internal voice wherever I go, whenever I listen. He’s a good guy. He cares about me and would never give me bad advice.
Today, Carolann, and I are gloriously happy in the twenty-eighth year of our honeymoon. As Paul Harvey would say, we are “happily ever-aftering.”
But I still find time to get away by myself for a few days every now and then because I still need to be alone once in awhile, to shut out the noise, to settle down and listen to the brain in my heart. I need days away from familiar people, places and things to talk at leisure with my internal best friend and to frolic together like dogs on a beach until we wear ourselves out with freedom and possibilities and to promise each other we will do this again!
It’s a lifelong disease. There is no cure that I know of, but then I’ve never known anybody who wanted to be cured.
Though Western America is now a Happy Meal collection of fast food franchises and big box stores there is still a lot of heart to be found in the Heartland if you know where to look.
You look in small towns away from major cities and highways, in out of the way places where ordinary people live extraordinary lives.
You look by just wanting to find American treasures of passion and goodness boiled down to old fashioned common sense in very uncommon people. And by not being in a hurry to get where you’re going. So much the better if you’re not going anywhere in particular.
My friend, Chuck Woodbury, has lived the life of a motor home vagabond for nigh on to 40 years and has managed to earn a living and buy gas writing about his adventures, the oddball places he has discovered and the people he has met. Inevitably, all of Chuck’s stories are wonderful in their uniqueness and astonishing in their consistency.
Americans everywhere are all the same. When you peel off the layers of anxiety, necessity and pretense we all just want to enjoy our lives with our families, our friends, and most importantly, ourselves.
My father, Don Williams, surely wasn’t the first person who ever said this but he was the first who said it to me:
“Until you learn to know and love yourself, you’ll never be worth a damn to anybody else.”
Like Dad, I found myself on the road.
Chuck Woodbury’s Roadside Journal can be found and enjoyed here: http://roadsidejournal.rvtravel.com/
Many years ago my world ended at the age of 30. It happened the day I moved out of my house, away from my wife and four-year-old son, and into a drab apartment. Divorce happens and when one is young it truly seems to be the end of all that matters.
Happily, we are profoundly ignorant in youth.
These days, nearly 30 years later, I travel with my darling Carolann and our precious girls, Cricket and Lady. Our 35-foot Class A motor home is perfect for us and so are we. But I still hit the road alone frequently because I must. For that I have a Lance camper and Ford F-350. And when I go, I travel in my own good company because after my first thirty years of living I learned something rather delightful.
I like me.
“In solitude, where we are least alone.” — Lord Byron
Shortly after the separation I was forced to go on vacation alone. Still buffeted by the emotional storm I set out for a week by myself in a too-big rented house along the Northern California coast which, of course, was where my now ex-wife and I had spent many happy times together. Great choice, huh?
For the first time in my life I was truly alone. At the age of 30 I spent my first night ever in absolute and despairing solitude. I cried myself to sleep and the sound of it was disturbing.
“With some people solitariness is an escape not from others but from themselves.” — Eric Hoffer
It’s odd, I remember thinking, to pass entire days without uttering a single word because there was nobody else to hear it. So, I tried talking aloud to myself. It was a comically depressing exercise and I soon gave it up. But then a funny thing happened. I continued to hear my thoughts.
This, too, was a first in my life and a stunning one.
It was a distant voice, quiet and almost shy. It was I, trying to get my own attention. And so, I began to listen.
I told myself to get out of my wallow and take a shower. Leave this place for awhile, I said. And so, we did.
“I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity.” — Einstein
I put on nice clothes: slacks, dress shirt, tie and jacket. I took myself to a nice restaurant and when I boldly asked for a table for one I added, “by the window, if possible.” I ordered wine, treated myself to an expensive meal and had a nice, long, quiet internal conversation while watching the sun slide behind the Pacific.
“People who aren’t alone are rather noisy, aren’t they?” I commented. “Yes, they certainly are!” I replied with a grin. And then I opened my notebook and began to write my impressions of the people around me. My inner self did the eavesdropping while I wrote descriptions. I gave them names. I invented their lives and I found I enjoyed them as well.
“What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely alone can be.” — Ellen Burstyn
By the end of the evening we went back to the rented house near the thunderous surf and amazingly, it was no longer empty.