Tuesday, January 7, 2014

I Miss My Ability To Be Happy Alone

I lost a lot of intangible things the day my son died, but the thing I miss the most right now is my ability to be happy alone.

I've always enjoyed my solitude. In fact, even when I spent a lot of time around other people, I was seldom part of the circles. As long as I can remember, I've enjoyed being alone -- the silent companionship of dogs and books.

I don't enjoy that any more.

Instead I need people, noise, distraction. Sometimes I'm OK with the television or a good book, but sometimes knowing I have hours when I'll be home alone is terrifying.

I hate Saturdays because the girls don't come and my husband has been working until noon or later. The day stretches in front of me like a long, curving dark tunnel and there is no way to run through it to what I hope is light at the other end. It's me, alone too long with my thoughts and resisting the growing desire to pull down a photo album and give in to depression.

I hate Sundays. The quiet meditation of worship can send me to dark places, no matter how hard I try to follow the sermon. The hymns either fail to move me, or move me too much. The kindness of my church family sometimes helps and sometimes makes me want to flee in tears. Sunday afternoon naps for my husband leave me stranded on an island of loneliness.

A weekday without my grandchildren used to be a rare treat. Now it's a sentence to hours of alone time. Even just the baby, who gives me a long break during her afternoon nap, isn't enough of a distraction, despite the fact that she's more needy than her older sisters.

Weeknights, when the girls leave and the long hours my husband is working send him to bed early, are usually survivable with DVDs and shows that are saved on DVR. Still, sometimes I find myself teetering on a mental ledge and looking for someone to talk me down.

I no longer like being alone if I can avoid it.

When I'm home alone I feel like a small, dark shadow. I feel hunched and huddled against the weight of the world, wrapped around the shattered pieces of myself that I'm trying to hold together. Somehow I feel unsubstantial, as though a strong wind would scatter me like the leaves clinging to a maple in the fall.

I've found that I need other people much more than I did. I've admitted that need and found that I can reach out by phone or Facebook when I'm teetering on the ledge. Although I hate that any of us have to be here, I thank God that we are here together. When someone reaches out to me, I've found that replying to them helps me as well. That means that I feel less reluctant to reach out myself because I know the conversation will probably help heal us both.

There are also times that I recognize this loneliness may have been what Ethan felt so much of the time. Although he isolated himself and pushed us away, or escaped with his drug of choice, I still imagine that the times in between were often as dark and lonely for him as they are now for me. Just as I now miss him, I know there were times he felt that same hole in his being that I feel in mine. I know that reaching out, which he was unwilling to do, can help save me where it did not him.

I know that our ability to be happy alone was one of the biggest things that made us different as far as our personalities. He was unhappy with himself and needed the support of his peers and best friends and it was that craving for acceptance that helped pull him into drugs and addiction. I was the quintessential outsider, happier with my books, dogs and imagination than with any of my friends, and never driven by the need to fit in. I didn't recognize this difference when he was young and don't know that there was anything I could have done about it, other than to handle him differently. Still it haunts me that in losing him, I've become, at least temporarily, more like him.

No longer able to reach him physically, there is a part of me that understands him a little more now than I ever did in the past.

Still, slowly, I've been reassembling the bits of myself that were shattered when I received the call on Dec. 15 that my son was dead.

I'm sleeping a bit longer in the morning and making my way back from the yawning pit of sleep deprivation. My appetite is slowly returning, although I'm usually hard pressed to come up with something I actually want to eat. Resuming my exercise routine makes me feel a little more in control and both mentally and physically stronger.

Finding comfort in my own company still eludes me, but I'm hopeful it will come.

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