One of my favorite AA sayings is that we alcoholics “want to be held while we isolate.” I have also heard this described as being an extroverted introvert. This describes me perfectly. I pretty much crave entertainment and stimulation at all times, but at another level, I can only truly relax when I am alone (and not always then). But in either place, there’s a craving for the other. I used to be perfectly happy isolating when I was a teenager, and my family was always nearby. But in my adult life, being alone has become more frightening.
Sobriety has been an amazing teacher in my life, however, and it’s now teaching me how to overcome this fear that has held me back my entire life. I live in Los Angeles, have no family here, and I am perennially single. So now I see that I have spent most of my adult life building a “chosen family” of friends and coworkers, and I have depended on those relationships to sustain me. I remember at one point being unable to imagine leaving Los Angeles, because my roots are here–my support network. I felt I needed my friends to support, affirm and define me, so I could remember who I was, and so I had somewhere to go when I needed help.
Then I relapsed after being sober for many years. Over the course of that year, I lost, damaged or abandoned most of those relationships. And now I’ve spent a year and a half in recovery, which is its own world and reality, involving new people, places and things. I’ve rebuilt my relationships with some of my oldest friends, and started some new ones, but my support network looks very different and considerably smaller than it was three years ago.
And in the process, I have learned a very valuable lesson—how to be alone. And how scared I was to BE alone, and how I had an aspect of neediness in most of my close relationships, because I was so afraid to be alone. My subconscious goal was to put so much into my friendships that those friends would be locked in, obligated to be there for me should I need them. There was an aspect of control – I wanted control over feeling unsafe and alone. Which is always a fantasy, I have learned. I’ll never have control over my feelings. They will come no matter how cleverly I work to keep the bad ones at bay. But I can learn to tolerate them and not let them wreck my day, my weekend, my month.
This is just one example of how reality has conspired against my best laid plans. It rendered me absolutely alone at certain times over the last year, including a couple weeks over the holidays. And now I know why –so I could learn to be with myself again. Instead of seeing this as misfortune or karma, I looked into it for the lesson. And that lesson was how to enjoy my own company again. And learn that I’m not such a bad guy, and I can feel shitty and not take action to make that feeling go away, like it was an enemy. If I sit with the feeling, and better, look into it deeply, it will work its magic and move on.
The magic is that I have grown from sitting alone with myself and accepting whatever comes. It’s made me stronger. That particular fear is almost gone, and I have a new sense of freedom. I can live anywhere, go anywhere, I can experience things alone that I can never experience when I’m engaged with others. This has been extremely powerful for me. And best of all, it’s starting to allow me to be with those I love in a whole new way, without trying to GET something from them, or control them. I can just enjoy them without worrying about a time in the future when they will be gone.