Learning to Live (and Be) Alone After a Divorce

What would you do if everyone you lived with, your entire family (you can keep your pets) just disappeared and you were suddenly alone in your place. Indefinitely?

I’d never lived alone before I moved to Japan, and when I made that move I was facing so many of my biggest fears at once that my stress level became untenable. A year later, going through a divorce, trying to write a dissertation, moving back to the U.S., and dealing with PTSD while trying to live alone has been similarly “intense”. A book given to me by my yoga studio simply addressed a generic reader with these (paraphrased) words: “you’re doing amazingly. I can’t believe how strong you are.” When I read this yesterday, I was surprised to find myself spontaneously bursting into tears.

But I still make a lot of choices from a place of fear. I feel the dread start to rise around Friday. By my usual Friday night yoga class I’m a aching combination of terrified and depressed. My whole being seems to scream out for someone, anyone to come to my house and sit with me, to go grocery shopping with me ( a real loneliness trigger, even though I used to relish doing it alone), come to my favorite Saturday morning coffee spot with me… etc.

Thing is, I fired the harem (the guys I was juggling in the fall because I have a boyfriend now. No, it’s not T. It’s G- a new code letter!) He’s a visiting professor at a university in Pennsylvania until April. He is my dream man, seriously. He is the male version of me. We are so much alike it’s delightful and amazing and intense. But he’s up there and I am here. And I’ve never tried to navigate a relationship, particularly during the early stages, entirely via text messaging and email.

So this feels like something that on one hand is keeping me from engaging in the manic dating behavior that was my entire autumn. But it means that I have a lot more space in my head and my days. And I seem to use that space to mostly fall into despair about not having  a “family” of my own anymore. I even want to make kids appear out of nowhere so I’m not alone…

In general,I need less interaction with people than is typical (it drove J. crazy that just having him in the house was enough for me, and that I felt sitting in the same room reading different books was “spending time together”), but I seem to fall apart without that low-level stimulation much more quickly than everyone I know.

So, while mulling this over and doing net searches on loneliness, I read:

http://tinybuddha.com/blog/coping-with-the-pain-of-loneliness-after-a-break-up/

which helped a bit. I mean, I know I’m not alone in feeling alone, but I also don’t know how to reach out and ask for help from those who are around me every day (or my friends at a distance).

She writes: “I have learned that masking those uncomfortable feelings (my escapism being alcohol and meaningless dates) only leaves the pain unattended for a while longer.”

Yes… the dates and all of my other ways of staying busy merely meant that when I slowed down in January, I fell apart. Every night when I lay in my head was spinning. My mood swings were violent and frequent, and I alternated between feeling like a voice in my head was screaming, to obsessively visualizing breaking things or shooting them, to thinking that unless one is in a state of crisis, it’s impossible to get others to care… so I might have to try to kill myself for people to realize how bad it was. Or I’d have to call my parents and say “look, I’m not coping… I need someone to come here NOW.”

I’ve kept most of this from G. This early in a relationship, I was/am already showing him a lot of my damage. I didn’t want him to know that at times I am one text message from him away from loneliness-induced despair.

Last night, when I was too exhausted to do much else, I read this:

http://www.xojane.com/it-happened-to-me/it-happened-to-me-i-havent-left-my-apartment-in-6-months

And actually, it helped. Unlike the other commentors, I didn’t think about the unhealthiness of not leaving your home for 6 months. I thought “Huh, what if I took a radical (for me) step, and tried to leave my home LESS. If I just did fewer things from a place of fear and desperation. What if I pretended my house was an isolated cottage in the mountains, a -retreat- rather than my prison, and a retreat for the benefit of my mental health and work productivity at that? What would this change?”

Because let me tell you, just letting myself -feel- the feelings of loneliness doesn’t seem to be helping. It has the effect of wallowing, for me.

What would I do differently if I wasn’t afraid of being alone? My entire life would be different, so this is a problem worth solving.

-I wouldn’t be afraid to tell the guys who keep hitting on me despite me saying “I can’t do this, I now have a boyfriend” to cut it out. Right now I’m afraid to lose them as friends because I don’t want to be alone… but who needs friends who won’t respect my boundaries?
-I wouldn’t make myself go out all the time– only when I actually wanted to. I would be able to say “You know, I’m exhausted. Why don’t I just stay home?”  (I am doing that tonight!)
-I would grocery shop without feeling sick inside watching all of the couples and families milling about.
-I would be more honest with people in general, because my fear of being left alone encourages me to avoid conflict at any cost
-(Past tense) I wouldn’t have stayed in a broken relationship for 16 years.
-I wouldn’t stress when G doesn’t respond to some of my texts. That’s just how he is; the sometimes-incompatible texting style is only a problem because we’re dating from a distance. I rely on external things and people to cheer me, when I need to learn to rely on myself, and to stay steady even when I don’t have someone distracting me from my own mind.

Amidst a lot of conflicting advice about it being important to “respect the process” of growth and transition, I find myself not wanting to “stay with my feelings”, but to change them.

So, I am not writing this from “my house”. I am now pretending it is a  wellness and work retreat space. Of course, if anyone has a REAL retreat/writing space I can move into temporarily with two dogs instead, I’d take you up on that 😉

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