My mother let me quit Girl Scouts in fourth grade because she knew my troop didn’t have the vitality of the troop my sister had loved so well. She was right but I wanted out because I chafed under the obligation of those weekly meetings. It’s not that I had urgent business elsewhere on Mondays at 3:30. I just craved the freedom to do as I pleased at least until my mother got home from work.
I’ve spent my life resisting and resenting entanglements, personal and professional that control my time too closely. They make my soul itch.
When my partner said she was going to Bulgaria for two and a half weeks, did I anticipate 17 luxurious days of 24 hour a day freedom? In fact, what I said a few days before her departure was, “You know, I fall a part a little when you’re gone.” She nodded knowingly.
Laura’s had several extended solo journeys during our 18 years together. Although I knew I would miss her, I anticipated each one with some glee at the prospect of so much unfettered time. I thought about all the things I’d do once free of our shared routine. And I can look back at each of those experiences and recall how miserable I was for most of her absence.
For the first day or so I would stay up late reading, watch shows she doesn’t care for, bake frozen pizza for dinner. But I couldn’t enjoy myself for very long. My wheedling ego started using words like “self-indulgent” to describe my behavior. Feeling not free but adrift I craved escape from the self-criticism and sank into behavior that made me feel worse. I spent hours in front of the television but barely watched it as I read the news and played games on my phone. Every unfamiliar creak and squeak in the house sent my mind whirling with fear and I slept badly. I thought about the projects I wanted to work on but failed to even get started. I let dishes and laundry pile up then scrambled before Laura came home to limit the evidence of sloth. Not because I feared her criticism but because I didn’t want a witness to my shame.
It’s been a few years since Laura’s last long trip and I’m happy to report that my ongoing work at being present and practicing self-acceptance has been beneficial. Telling her that I fall apart was something I’d never done before. It helped to say it out loud and without judgment toward myself for experiencing it or toward her for taking the trip.
Approaching her departure date, I did not make grand plans but I did say yes to opportunities despite the risk to my sense of freedom. My brother made a short visit, I went to meetings about the community kitchen and two coaching webinars, and friends in Minnesota invited me to visit for a weekend. That still left a lot of unstructured time. Over the first weekend, when an ice storm cancelled the few plans I had, I decided to lean into the prospect of two days alone to work on my phone/news/games habit. For 24 of those hours I put the phone down (often in a room where I was not). I’ve watched plenty of television and I finished my taxes and kept up with my blog. I’ve done laundry, managed a plumbing problem, and hit a really high score on my favorite app. I eat fruits and vegetables most days but I’ve also baked more than one frozen pizza.
I’ve felt productive and energized. I’ve also felt lonely and sad. I accept all of these moments for what they are—moments that will pass. And it turns out that no matter how I spend my time I like hanging out with me a lot more when I’m not being a jerk to myself.