My name is Courtney and I am a raging extrovert. “Hi, Courtney.”
Growing up the youngest of three kids, and having shared a room with my older sister until I was 16 when she left for college, I rarely had time to myself. That was okay for me since I was born the kind of child who seldom took a breath. I love people, and I fear aloneness. When my sister moved to Chicago to go to school, I remember feeling scared — scared to be in my room alone; scared that I wouldn’t have someone to quietly talk to at night until my eyes and my brain felt quiet enough to sleep.
I filled those last three years of high school with commitments to theatre, a devotion to the church, time spent with friends. My memories are hazy, but they are also busy. Sitting in stillness doesn’t register among them.
After high school I moved to Fort Wayne to attend college, and my social life continued to thrive. I was never the most popular gal on the block, nor was I the coolest, by far, but I was always surrounded by, at the very least, a small tribe of friends. My senior year, after having reconciled that I no longer identified with evangelical Christianity, my college roommate, and close friend, decided we lived on different enough plains that she didn’t care to spend time with me under our shared roof or otherwise. In 1999, during a harrowing January blizzard, when I was snowed in in our little apartment on Home Avenue with she and her then fiancé, I knocked on her bedroom door looking for a friend or some company, and she gave me a little hand held video game to play to keep me occupied. It was the loneliest I had felt, until 2014.
My marriage fell apart in 2014, and thus began my first real adult battle with loneliness. After college I went through a slew of roommates who were all wonderful in their own rite, until I met the man I would marry in 2001, and took up residence with him. Together, our tribe of friends would multiply, and because we were so ridiculously lucky and loved, being alone was an anomaly. I literally had NO idea how to be. Just be. This is, by the way, a critical life skill I hope to model for my son, who is an only child at my house and constantly seeking other children with which to engage. I get it. And maybe I even perpetuate it.
Though I felt hopelessly alone during the last year of my marriage, the first time I ever lived alone was 2015, the year I got divorced. It was terrifying; and it has remained an enormous challenge for me. It’s not that I can’t take care of myself. I’m actually in a better place financially than I have ever been. And I have a massive support group; people willing to build me a deck, mow my lawn, bring me soup when I’m sick. In terms of survival, I’m doing just fine. The problem for me is sitting in that quiet; appreciating stillness; disconnecting from others and learning to just listen to my own voice. It’s an art, and one I haven’t been conditioned to develop or appreciate. But I’m working on it.
Recently, my therapist recommended meditation. Always a skeptic of this practice for me, not others, I told her I can’t meditate. It’s not my thing. “Well maybe that’s exactly why you need it then,” she countered. I’ve started a practice, and it’s hard. I set the timer on my phone and 5 or 10 minutes of silence feels like a goddamn lifetime. But I’m doing it anyway.
It’s interesting. I spent the better part of two years post divorce longing for a partner. Even though I wasn’t actively dating on a regular basis, there was always someone lingering — a possibility. Over the last 6 months, although there have been moments of yearning and a handful of dates, I’m learning the beautiful and challenging art of being alone(ish). I qualify this because I’m still rarely alone. My social calendar is about as over-stuffed as they come. But on a rare Friday night, when I find myself alone, with no plans (which in full disclosure isn’t for lack of reaching out to friends), I am firmly reminded of the need to understand and really feel what it’s like to be quiet. There’s something for me to learn here. I’m not even sure what it is yet; maybe just that my company is enough all on its own; that there is this fascinating and strong human who lives inside this shell of a 41 year old, slightly beat down body, who is actually my best ally, and biggest cheerleader.
I am a work in progress. Aren’t we all? And sincerely, the most fascinating part of all of it, is recognizing my own ability to listen to me; to wrestle with my own conditioning in order to continue on the path to my most healthy self. Or is it healthiest self? Ah, who cares?