The Art of Being Alone

We live in a society which sees high self-esteem as a proof of well-being, but we do not want to be intimate with this admirable and desirable person.

How many people can say they have perfected the art of truly being happy and alone? So many of us are constantly looking for fulfillment and happiness through external forces that we forget genuine happiness can only come from within.

I have witnessed so many people in my life filling the void of loneliness by skipping from relationship to relationship. It strikes me now that these friends of mine, and sometimes myself, do not take the time to allow themselves the freedom and opportunity to explore what self-fulfillment and happiness really mean.

As I consider this exploration of self-happiness, I’m thinking of a specific friend who is making some questionable life choices. It is obvious to me that she is not happy with herself, with what she has accomplished in her own life, and she is instead trying to find that happiness through other people — specifically numerous members of the opposite sex.

I am a firm believer that we, as humans, were made to touch, dream, and be together. However, I also think that in the world we live, many of us do not understand the difference between being alone and being lonely.

Last summer I discovered how to be happy while also being alone. I mean, I spent a lot of time with people but it wasn’t actually being with people. You know what I mean? It was at work, and that’s not the same connection as having a relationship in terms of no longer being by yourself. I had no one to come home to, nobody to whisper sweet nothings to, nobody to have dinner with and tell about my day. I had no one to take vacations with, nobody to cry to or hold me when I’m sad, and no one to take care of me when I’m sick. As a friend put it: I didn’t have my lobster yet. Yet being on my own forced me to learn to be happy with myself. I had to learn to take pride in my own achievements, calm myself in my own terrors, and comfort myself in times of sadness.

But then things changed. I had another source to find happiness in, and I lost myself in the joy and comfort of love’s whirlwind.

Re-finding your happiness, alone, is difficult. At last, though, I can feel the waves of change coming my way. Over the past few weeks, there have been multiple times where I veered back and forth between feeling scared and lonely to feeling a sense of promise in my solitude.

I have no doubt that there will be agonizing and heartbreaking moments in the months coming up, but I also know that there is a silver lining: I know how to support myself.

So many people, like Seki who seeks the company of crowds, are terrified of themselves. The thought of being at home, alone, by themselves, with no one to talk to is debilitating. So they do everything possible to avoid it. Whether it be clubbing, drinking, overworking, overexercising, or any other overactive social lifestyle, they all have the same goal intended: avoiding the pain and darkness of being alone. This comfort is fleeting, though, and not a sufficient long-term method to deal with the true loneliness felt within.

The reality of life is that you are your own person. If you can’t enjoy being alone and by yourself, then how can someone else? You need to find that long-awaited comfort to truly be happy with yourself and with life.

Saki takes a lot of pride in calling herself “single”. However, when one considers that term, how single can a person be when they are always chasing another guy, or spending time at another party, or hanging out with another friend? When Saki looks at her life, she sees “alone” and “single” as two separate terms. But I do not. Being single, to me, is not a status. It is a word that describes a person who is strong enough to live and enjoy life without being dependent on others. 

For many of us, being single/alone is hard. Being alone requires us to find the time and slow down enough to let circumstances become enabling to “singleness”. Being alone means you aren’t looking for distraction (like scrolling through your phone’s notifications for some sort of meaning to your life). Instead, being single/alone is the art of embracing all of yourself — discovering what is beneath your surface, learning new talents or redefining old hobbies. Being single is being yourself, without running away from any fault.

As I look to my future, there are a lot of questions as to where I am going and what is planned for me. I may relapse (kicking and screaming, most likely) into loneliness every now and then, but overall I plan to embrace my new found freedom and reestablish what it means to be Ashley. I am going to face the darkness felt when I am completely alone and be one with it. Fearlessly and gracefully.

I Am Good Enough

Today is the first day of summer and guess what is on my mind? It is not the fortune of having incredibly beautiful weather or the sweet freshness of snacking on Michigan cherries or even the enjoyment of partaking in a wine festival with lovely people surrounding me. No, my mind is too consumed with myself. My mind is noticing the slight peeling on my legs from last weekend’s sunburn and focusing on how I’ll never be that sun-kissed tan girls desire. It is cringing at my size compared to the women walking by and analyzing every inch of my body with skepticism. It’s criticizing every movement I make, every step I take, and every thought I have. No, my first day of summer has not been one of relaxation and excitement… but I do not plan for any other day of the year to be like this.

In the past, I was really terrible to myself and relentlessly compared myself to others. No matter how many times I read or heard about how food or lovable I was, I didn’t believe it. Then I met people who helped me to see the person I truly was and I began to love myself. That was a changing point in my life.

Now I’ve dipped a toe into the waves of depression and I hate the coldness of its bitter lapping. Even though all those who helped turn me around are no longer in my life (at least not in a capacity more than weekly texts), it is time for me to love myself again.

Gone are the days when I meticulously look for evidence that I am a nobody, that I don’t deserve to be loved, and that I’m not living up to my full potential. I can’t hate myself into a version of myself I can love. A happy life does not work with this kind of thinking. So next time I begin to feel there is something wrong with me — that I’m not in the type of relationship others of my age are, that I don’t have a certain amount of money in my savings account, that my social circle is ridiculously small, or that I don’t look or act a certain way in the presence of other — I’m going to remember these few key facts as to why I am more than good enough to love.

  1. My mind is the best liar in the business.
    I’m considering getting the quote “Don’t believe everything you think.” tattooed on my forearm so every time I look down I’m reminded of this powerful consideration. I mean, seriously, take those five words to heart; thoughts are just thoughts. It is unhealthy and physically draining to give so much power to the negative ones!When my mind begins to wander and wonder at possibilities that have no grounds (or are the exact opposite of what I have been told) I am going to reply, “No.” No to the lies and the late-night worries. Instead I’ll focus on what I do know for sure and the positivity in my life.
  2. There is more right with me than there is wrong.
    I tend to magnify my perceived flaws and cast them on my entire self without even considering all the things I do like about myself. My biggest distress is with my appearance. My skin is too pale, my teeth are too small, my arms are not lean enough, etc. So when I look in the mirror and see a lot of disgust, I’m going to change my outlook and name five things I enjoy about myself.
  3. Focus on progress rather than perfection.
    This goes along with number 2 in regards to playing heavily upon my appearance and lack of self esteem. However, I have made huge strives of progress. No one is going to be perfect and it is ridiculous that I continually stress myself out aiming to be so! I mean, I exercise every day, eat healthy with still enjoying my life, and I have lost 60 pounds in two years. Stop downgrading your success, Ash!Outside of looks, I am quite the perfectionist in all aspects of my life. One of the biggest causes of self-loathing is the need to get everything exactly right. I strive for perfection and success, and when I fall short I feel less than worthless. So instead of berating myself for messing up and stumbling backwards, I am going to give myself a pat on the back for making an attempt and coming as far as I have. Not everyone is willing to continuously put themselves out in the world to try to succeed, and it is amazing that I keep doing so regardless of how many times I fail.
  4. The people I compare myself to compare themselves to others also.
    A friend once told me this, and it never really hit home with me until right now. (As I sit at compare myself to every person walking by, have you…) Everyone compares themselves to other people, especially now with social media allowing such ridiculous claims or wealth and health and high-end living to be circulated throughout the globe. It’s smart to remember that the people who seem to have it all actually do not though.
  5. Sometimes being annoyingly simple is best.
    I love being a complex person. I like thinking about others rather than just myself all the time, I like having a busy schedule and partaking in life on a daily basis, I like throwing myself out into the world and learning new concepts and ideals.However, sometimes being annoyingly simply is okay. I won’t be successful if I keep telling myself I’m a failure, I won’t reach a higher potential by believing I’m not living to my full capacity, and I won’t become more worthy or lovable by saying I’m not. Just be simple, Ashley, and believe in the positives.

The only way to achieve self-love is to love me for me, regardless of who I am, what I look like, where I stand, and even if I know I want to change.

I am a great friend, a passionate worker, a trusting girlfriend, a caring volunteer, and a hard-working individual who goes for what she wants. I am a good person. And being good is enough for me to love.

Staying Adrift in a Sea of Compliments

“If you live off a man’s compliments, you’ll die by his criticism.” -Cornelius Lindsey

I think every girl goes through a phase where she hits rock bottom in the “self esteem” department. For some this phase is during those awkward middle school years, or perhaps during her first few relationships. For others the phase may stretch into her adulthood and not only detriment the majority of her relationships, but also her career and social life. Still, others may never truly overcome their low self esteem and live in a fear of never being enough for their entire life.

I classify myself in the first category. I have recognized that when, after my first long-term relationship ended, I had hit rock bottom. I didn’t even find myself having low self esteem; I had no self esteem.

Looking back, this fact saddens me. Not only did I believe myself incapable of ever finding love again, I also criticized my body, my appearance, my abilities, and my reputation. With this kind of thinking, it’s now easy to see how I allowed certain people into my life who had no benefit to my overall health and success so soon after the breakup.

I had such a sour outlook on myself that the only real sustenance I consumed were compliments. There is one case in specific I’d like to share: I was dating this guy who really knew how to articulate his “feelings” well. It seemed that everything I wanted to hear, he said. I was told how beautiful I am, how strong, how determined, how special of a person I am with unlimited potential and capabilities. All these things were the exact opposite of how I felt at the time. For a girl whose mirror is so clouded with fear and sadness, these compliments became more than they were meant to be; these compliments became my life line.

To ensure my caloric-fill of compliments, I made some poor life choices. I visited the bar with this guy almost every night for a month. I starved my body of real nutrition to fend off any “fat thoughts.” I completed the bare minimum in all my coursework, denied myself of sleep in fear of dreaming, and focused more on my outward appearance than on my inner stability. I became an empty shell whose only fill was smooth words. So it’s no wonder that when the relationship ended and the compliments ceased, I felt as if I was drowning.

As I waded through the crowds, sometimes a kind statement or small gesture kept me afloat. However, I began to find that no compliment truly ebbed my insecurities. This revelation was what I had been seeking. It was as if a mountain peak had finally caught my attention. It took only a few moments to decide I didn’t want to drown, so I started to swim towards the island.

The salt-water of compliments changed to the fresh-water of clear thinking. As my swim neared the island, I found my feet skimming sandbars. I was able to stand, on my own, with my own two feet. I didn’t need any flotation devices, and I definitely didn’t need anyone’s assistance. I stood strong. I stood proud. I had won.

In hindsight, it is still unclear to me what finally caused that mountain to peak. Maybe I had a dream, or God answered a prayer through a simple meandering thought. It doesn’t really matter though. What matters is that I was once completely lost, living on compliments, and focusing solely on what the world thought of me. I didn’t care what I thought about myself. And then, out of the blue, I questioned new aspects of life and my reality shifted.

One of the biggest questions for me was this: why is it that it seems some people believe only the best about themselves, while others, especially women, seize onto the most self-critical thoughts they can come up with? Well, ladies, it may actually be a physical and intellectual habit that we cannot control. In our brains there is this thing called the anterior cingulate cortex (I’m no scientist, I just know how to use Google…) that actually causes judgmental thoughts and negative thinking. In women, this part of our brain is actually larger and more influential than that in men. It helps us observe the emotions in others, so it’s like we’re built to be responsive to the needs of those around us. We are more emotionally sensitive by nature, especially with disapproval and rejection.

So it is no wonder that my rock-bottom came after my love was rejected. My womanly worry overtook me. Yet, even in the worst of times, I somehow managed to navigate life fairly well, graduate college, earn an income, and strengthen the most meaningful relationships with my friends and family. I could walk without weaving and chew without spitting. I continued to live.

No amount of flattery can undo the progress I have made in approving of myself and loving who I have become. A kind word here or there can still make me blush, but I no longer intake those compliments to fill my heart or build myself up. Though the future is full of crashing waves, I won’t be knocked back down. I am who I am, and I could not be happier.