Me, Myself & I: Conquering The Fear Of Being Alone


Single & depressed: A solo 40th birthday turned into a blessing

The day I turned 40, I was inconsolable.

I spent the entire day laying on the couch, crying at what my life had become: I was divorced, childless, unemployed, and overweight. I was also in the midst of a very deep depression.

I was not dating anyone, living by myself, and having very little contact with the outside world. As a result, no one called or emailed to wish me a happy birthday.

This was supposed to be a milestone year, and it seemed no one cared.

In retrospect, of course, it is very clear that after months of ignoring my friends and family because I was too busy moping about being alone, they all simply let me be alone.

But at the time, of course, I took it as proof that I was unlovable. I was utterly convinced that the remaining days of my life would be the same as this day: miserable and lonely.

Shortly before that, I’d read in the news about how one of my favorite guitarists was found dead….six days after he’d passed.

“That’ll be me,” I thought. “I could die right now and no one would know. Nobody would even care.”

Indeed, days would pass – sometimes weeks – and I would not call, email or text anyone. Apart from the occasional check-in from my mother or sister, those same days would pass with no one contacting me either.

In retrospect, I do not blame anyone for giving up on me; it was clear I’d already given up on myself. But upon further reflection, I would actually like to thank those friends and loved ones for leaving me alone. They taught me the great life lesson of facing my deepest fear.

For as long as I remember, I’d been a loner. But this was by choice, completely on my terms. Oddly enough, I also harbored a very deep-seated fear of being left alone, which was completely different than my loner’s love of solitude.

I looked on my time to myself as restorative and healthy, learning to love my own company and get lost in my own imagination.

But this time was nothing like that. It was not restorative, healthy or loving in any way. It was profoundly lonely and I was paralyzed with fear about it. The cycle became very clear: the more time I spent alone, the lonelier I got. The lonelier I got, the more alienated I felt. The more alienated from others I became, the more time I spent alone.

 

A difficult milestone

Added to that was the specific set of problems associated with being single and 40-years-old. It’s one thing to be single at 25, but it’s a whole other level of alone to be single at 40.

Suddenly, my lack of marketability became very real. I finally understood what single women 40 and older were talking about when they spoke of the difficulties in finding a suitable partner or even in getting a date.

Of course, I was in no condition to date anyone, but I was not aware of that at the time. What I really needed was some medical attention, but I had no health insurance.

Instead, I turned to prayer. And after many months of centering prayer, regular confessions and Eucharistic Adoration, I came to the realization that, in facing my deepest fear, I was conquering it.

This provided a certain measure of comfort, as I started to understand that while being alone was not pleasant, it was also not the most painful thing. I did, after all, still have family and friends who loved me and who would have been supportive if I’d only reached out to them.

But the most important thing I realized was that my fear of being alone had led me through years of destructive relationships. Now that I had been alone – really alone – for quite a while, I was less willing to enter into anything destructive again. After all, if I’d been alone once, I could do it again.

I no longer felt I was risking my sanity if I chose to avoid someone’s company.

In effect, I’d learned to become more discriminating in who I spent time with. I became acutely aware of people who’d been negative or discouraging to me. I quickly realized that I’d been fine without their company, and no longer desired their companionship.

This was an unexpected perk, because once I cleared a space, new friends appeared. These new friendships I made were far more supportive, positive and life-affirming. Months later, when I became ready to date again, I sought out a whole new caliber of partner. Although I had lessons to learn, I understood quickly that I was approaching dating in a completely different way; I no longer felt desperate.

I was not motivated by my fear of loneliness. Instead, I was a strong, independent woman, with passions and interests of my own, simply seeking out a suitable partner.

The second thing I’d learned in this process was that in conquering my deepest fear, I came out on the other side less fearful in general. I now liken it to a child who is afraid of needles: the entire time leading up to the shot, that child is gripped with fear and dread. But when the time comes, the shot is over before it even registered. And as we all know, the needle itself never hurts nearly as much as we anticipate.

Being alone seemed so much worse in my imagination, wrapped up in doom and fright.

After months of living in a self-imposed exile, I felt ready to take on new challenges. I returned to taking dance classes, only now I was ready to perform, after years of hesitation. I went back to teaching, ready to branch out to adult students, who I’d previously found too intimidating to work with. I started writing again and found a writers’ group to join, after years of shyness about my work.

As a result, new experiences I’d never dared to dream of became a reality to me: I am now a performing dancer, a published writer, and college professor. I am blessed beyond measure and would never have realized it if it weren’t for having faced my fear. In hiding myself from the world, I opened up parts of myself that were hidden inside of me.

I have nothing but gratitude for that one milestone birthday spent alone.

 

 

Birthday blogging






9 Comments

  1. Angie-584510 August 24, 2011 Reply

    There is a difference between being lonely and being alone. I am alone but not lonely. I am divorced, annulled, childless and almost your age but I am convinced I am where God wants me to be. He knows what is best for me and the salvation of my soul. So at the end of the day my civil status is not my most important thing but my relationship with God and people around me. As much as I would like to meet Mr Right, I truly believe my happiness relies in accepting the present moment as coming from the very hands of God. If God wants me to marry, it will happen not matter what. If He doesn’t, then it won’t happen. Thy will be done!

    “My past, O Lord, to your Mercy; my present, to your Love; my future, to your Providence!” ~ Padre Pio

  2. Olga-742926 August 24, 2011 Reply

    very good insight, thank you for sharing :)

  3. Matt-4608 August 28, 2011 Reply

    Catherine…thank you for a great blog post! I’m in the same situation you were before you had your transformation. I’ll be 40 next Saturday.

    Dating does get harder when you turn 40. I think it is the same for men, too.

    Great comment, too, Angie! It is right…we have to accept God’s will for our life at that particular time in our life. Then we can experience the most peace and satisfaction.

  4. Barbara-741301 August 28, 2011 Reply

    Catherine, Thank you for sharing this insight with us middle-aged (!) women. I found myself relating to so very much of what you shared. I was married to my best friend for 20 years. We were deeply in love and inseperable. Sadly, I lost him to a greuling 3-year battle with cancer in 2009. We depended on each other so much, and once he was gone I didn’t think I would survive without him, the pain was so intense and stripped me of all my confidence. But after 2 years of complicated grief, I decided that being in a prison of sorts was not what the Lord wanted for me. I packed up and moved from Arizona back to my home state of Colorado, and immediately returned to my faith. I placed my grief at the foot of our Lord’s cross, and prayed intensely. After just a few weeks of intense prayer and reflection in the presence of the Lord, I felt whole again. I am now happy and content with myself, alone or otherwise, and feel God’s presence and love in my life, which has saved me and allowed me to live again. I am also now open to the possiblilty of finding a soul mate again, not to replace my late husband, but to continue on with life and love in the sacrament of holy matrimony. However, I must say, that for the first time in my life, I feel old! I am 48, and find that the Catholic dating sites can make one feel even more so that way! It often seems that the men my age are looking for much younger women, and, as you know, that can make a woman feel older! So I have to keep praying to keep my conficence in myself, and know that I am OK the way I am. God Bless You! Barbara

  5. Ian-744971 August 29, 2011 Reply

    “What I really needed was some medical attention, but I had no health insurance. Instead, I turned to prayer. And after many months of centering prayer, regular confessions and Eucharistic Adoration, I came to the realization that, in facing my deepest fear, I was conquering it.”

    I think it’s important to know that neither of these are substitutes for one another. There are people who really do need medical attention that prayer cannot resolve and there are people who get medical attention who also need God in order to resolve things.

    • Cate Perry
      Catherine Perry September 2, 2011 Reply

      Ian, you are absolutely right. Prayer should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment – we are not Christian Scientists, after all! In fact, the friend who became my emergency contact pointed out that very same thing! I have, in the meantime, gotten health insurance and am getting my needs met. Thank you!

  6. Mary-272665 August 30, 2011 Reply

    This is a very relevant article that I can relate to! I appreciate the author’s candid expression of her experience. Moreover, I am grateful she came out on the other side of her experience having grown as a person. The best is yet to come!

  7. Cate Perry
    Catherine Perry September 2, 2011 Reply

    Thank you all for your comments!

  8. NancyTerese-765001 November 25, 2011 Reply

    I “survived” my very first Thanksgiving w/o being surrounded and “drowned” by family members and their needs. It was great!

    After giving Thanks to God at Mass, participating in Christ’s infinite sacrifice, I raced home to enter my first 5K race as a walker. As a serious beginner w/ feet well bandaged, I put on some of those new fangled, fancy sneakers and walked at least 1/2 of the distance in 37 minutes! I’m sure a record distance for this houseplant. Then dropped in to check in on the local nursing home and my buddy Mary who is 92 and decling, waiting for the Good Lord to call her home.

    Oops – Time to scoot home to help serve twenty three neighbors and their families in my HUD complex for elderly and disabled at noon. I did eat sparingly of the bountiful feast – aren’t we blest as Americans to have so much to share and feast on.

    Sprinted up the 4 floors to my apartment to meet my neighbor who has become a dear friend and drive to her sister’s for a homey, relaxing dinner with them. Then blissfully watch the Waltons and pursue the ads to see if I was misssing anything but avoiding the Black Friday shoppers like the plague! My friend and her sister dozed off and it was just me. THis Thanksgiving “alone”, i.e. away from family, was truly a wonderful blessing to me.

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