Saturday, January 6, 2018

Growing Old Alone

I was terrified when I turned forty and my eighteen year marriage ended. There were big financial concerns and concerns about my children's welfare. The biggest fear was what if I grow old alone. I feared my life could become arid and meaningless and I would have non-stop loneliness. For several years I managed to go on with life by ignoring these fears. My implicit goal each day was to reach exhaustion so as not to experience the silence of being alone. Silence, that huge empty space where there are no distractions, no cushion against attacks from within. Today I am still single and turning 70. I am growing old alone!

December 2016, I counseled my last client, sold my house, and moved to Florida. I retired! The trip
down to Florida distracted me with ice storms and scary hotel stops with  my dog and cat. When I arrived in Florida I was busy settling into a new state and a new home. I found new tasks to stay busy. I wanted to meet new friends, find a comfortable church, and teach Mindful aging classes. I went to meet ups, attended four different churches, started a Mindful aging meet up. After six months of non-stop distractions, I realized there was something wrong with this plan. Every meet up, church activity, and social gathering felt like a collision. I came home feeling like a wreck, on empty and very alone. I don't think there is anything lonelier than feeling alone when you are with a group of people.

I was starving for real connections. Avoiding talking about politics or anything controversial seemed empty, passionless, and a waste of time. I longed for meaningful authentic discussions. I missed lunch with close women friends; long lunches lasting several hours talking about what we loved, what we believed and what was happening to better understand life. I missed close responsive and sensitive women friends who knew how to share without protecting whatever came to mind.

My life was in limbo. How do you go from a carefully scheduled life of a small business owner, psychotherapist and Mindfulness teacher to days that have no design or order? I spent weeks, months, with few social outings. I would ask myself about isolating and depression and the answer would be, "sometimes a person has to simply endure a period of time alone." I renamed this time as silence with a purpose, solitude. Solitude is a place to find ones self even during the arid and meaningless times. I believed it was a place I needed as I transitioned to a new stage of life.  I was right!

Restorative Solitude
“Alone time is when I distance myself from the voices of the world so I can hear my own.” –Oprah Winfrey
I have to admit when I started my journey with solitude, it was to avoid emotional pain of confusion and fear. One month I was a psychotherapist living in Wisconsin and the next I was living in Florida and retired. What was I thinking? If I were my therapist I would be saying’ jumping into retirement without creating a space between the old and new will create chaos and is just another way to run from self. You need time to transition. Pregnant emptiness created in transitions has always been difficult for me. I have had the busyness habit for a long time. I was retiring alone; it was time to face that old fear of growing old alone.
The first few months in Florida I spent with my busyness habit, disconnected from feelings and inner self. I was trying to run away from the emotional and spiritual work facing me. Gratefully I continued another habit, a long standing daily practice of meditation and journal writing. Meditation was a peaceful time without judgment and journal writing gave me insights and clarity. Both helped me to surrender to the challenge at hand. The direction toward silence turned painful loneliness to restorative solitude.
My first discovery in silence was the peacefulness of doing nothing; waking up without an alarm clock. I questioned if all of this free time would lead to laziness or I would feel guilty because I wasn’t using my time well. Then I laughed at myself and my inability to enjoy retirement. My meditation and journal writing reflected the journey to a new way to be.
Questions I asked myself:
  • Who decides what a meaningful life is?
  • What is my purpose and how can I use my experience, education and passion?
I spent time listening and believing I was on the right path through solitude. I was right!



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