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How to be Alone

Welcoming your thoughts when you'd rather run

By Chelsea DelaneyPublished 3 years ago 8 min read
How to be Alone
Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

All week I've been thinking about what it takes to be alone.

I've seen people who are marvelous at it, able to enter a relationship with even their darkest of shadows, and people who are perpetually running from themselves through addictions, distractions, and dramas. They are never able to connect deeply with others because they can't do it with themselves. You'd think we'd all be masters a year into a pandemic, but living alone is not the same as being alone.

To grow a relationship with yourself is pretty much the same as growing a relationship with anyone else. It takes time, focus, curiosity, patience, and a whole lot of other things that we don't get explicitly taught. As I've watched myself and others go through this pandemic year, I think one of the hardest parts of this learning is facing the thoughts that make us feel vulnerable.

While I don't claim to be an expert, I've spent a lot of time exploring the landscape of my mind, getting familiar and comfortable in even the most difficult parts so that I can be with myself. Not with myself and Facebook, or myself and Hulu, or myself and a six pack, but just me--weird, glorious me.

I offer these suggestions as possible new ways to work with different groups of thoughts. I offer them because I want to live in a world where we feel whole and complete in ourselves first, and then give our love, friendship, and work to others. I offer them so that our aloneness may be understood as a gift, no different from our connections to one another.

The Sads

In my self-created taxonomy, this includes everything that makes you want to get your black and blue crayons out and sit in a corner--grief, disappointment, confusion, despair, heartbreak, and the list goes on. What I like about this group is that I have no choice but to slow down when they appear. What I hate about this group is just how slow I feel, like I might be swallowed when these types of thoughts are near. Sometimes a depression nap or a funny Hulu binge are the right medicine, but when you're ready to try something else...

Say thank you to whatever the thought is. Fighting things often cuts us off from the lesson. Tell this thought you don't know why it's here, but you would like to learn from it if you can...and then listen to yourself.

Ask the thought how old it is or what it needs. The sads and the obsessives tend to be quite young a lot of the time. Your younger self is still with you, like it or not. They may need some cuddling.

Give in to that feeling that maybe you're just going to feel sad, hopeless, worthless forever. Then ask yourself, "If that's true, then how do I hope to deal with this same thought/feeling combo a year from now, five years from now, ten years from now?" You're not a failure because a mental or emotional struggle is going to be long term, and you definitely don't need to run from being alone because of it.

Congratulate yourself. I know, it sounds super weird, but if you allow yourself to feel sads of many different varieties, you are already further along in your emotional development than a whole heap of people. I know you might be thinking that you can't help feeling lost and heavy, but believe me, lots of people shut that shit down as soon as it comes up. The sads bring us to the most vulnerable space on our emotional palette. If you can feel it, acknowledge it, and stay with it for any length of time, I applaud you.

The Obsessives

These are the nervous thoughts, the thoughts on a loop, anything that sends you into a state of hypervigilance. As someone with a long relationship with shame and social anxiety, I know this family really well. What I love about them is how they illustrate our deep hunger for connection. What I hate about them is how they push us away from connection, into flight and/or fight. If you're looking for something to interrupt the spiral...

Throw another character into the scenario that you're obsessing about. What if a three legged dog had galloped up to you during that awkward conversation? How about a young child? Make it weird--how about a clown interrupting your convo to offer to make you balloon animals? I find the obsessives react to humor pretty well--helps us to take things less seriously.

Turn your catastrophizing to the good. Instead of thinking of all the worst things that can happen tomorrow, an hour from now, or ten years from now, think of all the absolute best things. Pro tip: IT'S THE EXACT SAME SKILL SET, TURNED IN A DIFFERENT DIRECTION. I start a lot of morning by winning the Lotto, moving to Greece, buying a hot air balloon, and opening a combination painting studio and rescue dog shelter.

Reiterate your love for yourself. I will love you even if you can't pay your rent. I will love you even if you get fired. I will love you even if your boyfriend dumps you. We crave our own unconditional love, just as much as our friends, family, and partners do.

Defend yourself. When the worries won't stop, and they turn to judgements about how terrible you are, DEFEND YOURSELF! I've worked this practice for long enough now, that it's almost second nature. I'll hear myself say something mean to me, born out of something I'm worried about, and I will snap back with, "Hey, you be nice to Chelsea! She's our friend!" It automatically takes me down from like a 10 to a 4 on the fear scale.

The Boreds

I'm not going to lie, this is one that I don't know much about. I hear other people tell me that the contents of their brain are boring, but as a neurodiverse human, that has never been the case for me. Some days I imagine what a boring brain might be like, but then am instantly intrigued again. If you're bored by your own brain when you're alone however, my guess is that it's part of the detox from constant stimulation. Give yourself some time to not put yourself to sleep, and then maybe try...

Upping your question intake. I know, we think of questions as going out, towards actions, but I've always thought of them as going in, like seeds. A simple one is, "I wonder why...." Make a game of it. How many times can you ask yourself this in a 20 minute walk (you wanna titrate your alone time if you're a newbie at it). It doesn't have to be rocket science: I wonder why that mailbox is green, I wonder what kind of bird is chirping, I wonder what the temperature is. Avoid getting your phone out to Google things and just let the questions land in you and grow.

The Rawrrrr's!!!!

Many times these red crayon thoughts and feelings are covering for a sadness or fear that is too hard to be with, so there should always be a conversation about whether anger is the bedrock feeling or not. It still needs to be faced, even if it's the top layer, but it's good to map your journey before you start, when possible. What I love about the rawrrr's is their power to break stalemates. What I hate about them is how quickly they exhaust me. Before you grab your pitchforks, make sure you...

Don't use disclaimers. Anger is hard to express, especially for women who have deep, historical training in 'being nice' and 'giving second chances.' No matter what you say to others about a situation, it is really important to speak honestly with yourself. The sentence goes: I am furious with ___________ because ___________. No making excuses for anyone, no saying 'they probably didn't mean it.' You get to be angry when things, people, moments, are stolen, thwarted, destroyed. Lack of truth telling in this leads to a bitter, resentful, cynical heart.

Ask this rawrrrr what it wants to tear down and what it wants to build. If you come back with a general answer, ask yourself to be more specific, and then listen. There is immense power in anger, so much so that it's often easy to get angry, go off half-cocked into action, and not really know what any of it is about.

Take a break that doesn't take you away from yourself. I have some friends whose permanent address is rawrrrr. They fight everything. I don't blame folks like that for needing a whole lot of distraction, because this territory is tiring. But instead of running away for your break, stay close'ish. I like to imagine a five year old cursing about the same situation that I just was. It is really, really funny, every single time. This may not be your jam, but can you rest inside of your anger, instead of outside of it?

But it's soooo hard....

Believe me, I know. The distractions are plentiful, the to-do list endless, and our headspace can be quite ugly when we first start looking through it. But thoughts are also temporary, as hard as it is to believe in the moment, and there are so many angles from which to view them. Start at one end of the continuum, either giving in to a thought/feeling or fighting it, and see how many stops you find in between.

To be alone and content, for five minutes or five years, is an exquisite gift. Learning to welcome your thoughts instead of running from them is the first step in unwrapping that gift.


About the Creator

Chelsea Delaney

Life is weird, write about it, paint about it, dance about it, and sing about it too. Use every language in your arsenal to sculpt the world you want to live in. Writer, educator, artist, and creative midwife--this is what I do.

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