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 alone 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 Ft. Bragg, California, and settled in for a week of misery as a newly-single recluse.
There is nothing more lonely than an 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. It has nothing to do with longing for the company of your ex-spouse. Missing your happy memories of that person is a given, but what I didn’t expect was the excruciating sense that half of the whole person I had become over my lifetime was suddenly nonexistent and would never return. I think it must feel exactly like being only half alive.
I missed everything that gave me comfort: my wife and son, our home, our street and neighbors, our dog, our daily routines. I was desperate to scar my soul, to stop the pain and repair the trauma to my spirit before it bled away but I didn’t know how. 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 complimentary shades of brilliant 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 about myself than I had ever considered. 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 but now 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 often said, 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.
Copyright © 2007, 2015 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved