Living Alone in a New City – 5 LessonsIf you carry your childhood with you, you never become older. ~Tom Stoppard
When I was little I’d lay in bed at night and dream about what it would be like to start over. I would move somewhere and no one would know who I was. I’d be living alone and in peace.
In this fantasy I was always the new girl at school. I was quiet and most people just left me alone. I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I wasn’t a complete loner either. To me, this sounded like paradise.
In my late twenties I got to realize my fantasy, moving across the continent alone where I knew no one and could be exactly who I wanted to be, without all the drama that came from years of living in one place.
After more than three years of living out my childhood dream, I’ve come to a few lessons that, although they might seem simple or obvious, are profound and have forever changed me.
1. You Can’t Run Away from Yourself
I’m sure my therapist would have plenty to say about why I had this fantasy as a child, but things are different now that I’m an adult, right?
Not really. Instead of living in a home I didn’t feel safe in, I now carried that home around with me. I lived in a body I didn’t feel safe in. And it didn’t matter how far away I ran, those demons would still be there.
An old friend of mine who spent time in rehab told me how she moved to another state thinking it would solve her alcohol problem. Turns out, this is a common belief, and I think it extends to more than just substance abuse.
In order for my childhood dream to come true, in order for me to be exactly who I wanted to be without drama and expectations of others, I needed to deal with the drama and expectations I carried inside me. Only then can I truly just be me.
2. Friends are More Precious than Gold
When I first landed in California, I didn’t have a job. I spent most days alternating between working out and applying for any job opening I could find.
But there were only so many openings and only so much Pilates I could do. I began to understand what the word lonely really meant.
Luckily I had a friend in Ireland who’d gone through a similar move and was always willing to talk. The time change made it nice because he could chat while my other friends were working. And when he went to bed, another friend from Minneapolis who loved to talk would jump on the phone.
Living in an area where I knew few people made me realize how blessed I was to have the support of my friends, who would stay on the phone for hours making sure I felt loved and cared for on so many levels.
When I moved across the country, I had some money in a savings account. It could buy me groceries and pay the rent, but it couldn’t sing me a silly song on my voicemail or mail me care packages filled with funny trinkets. And that really was what kept me going.
While I still chat regularly with those two, the experience made me work hard to find and cultivate relationships close by. It’s made me more open-minded to different types of activities and people as well. In short, my life has become more full.
3. Allow Things To Be As They Are
In my first few months in my new home, I compared everything to the place I grew up. The produce was fresher. The weather wasn’t as extreme. The people were much more open.
And while for the most part it was pretty benign, comparisons have a ways of eating away at reality. I wasn’t living in the present, and I wasn’t living in the past.
It was this limbo state that kept me from enjoying myself and truly living in the moment I was blessed with. The crazy part? I’m pretty sure I had been doing this my whole life; it was just more noticeable because the change was so big.
Now I make an effort to avoid comparisons of the past and now or this person and that one, and allow everything to be just as it is.
4. Accept Yourself For Who You Are
I dreamed of making myself over into someone who was more stylish and less opinionated; basically, I wanted to fit in.
It’s a common desire for many kids, and I don’t know when we outgrow it. I think I may have been a bit of a late bloomer in that respect, but I don’t think I’m alone.
It wasn’t until I moved somewhere new and had the opportunity to be whoever I wanted that I realized I liked being me. A lot. I’d tried on different hats, but it never felt genuine.
When I decided to just be myself, I finally felt free and honest. There were still plenty of things I wanted to change, but they weren’t things that defined who I was. I was finally setting up boundaries and making a home within myself. Sure there were a few weeds in the garden, but that’s easily fixed.
When we accept ourselves, flaws and all, we’re finally being open to every part of ourselves. We can take the things that don’t serve us and understand that at one point they did play a role that helped us survive and grow. We’ve just outgrown them.
And with that understanding and acceptance of ourselves come compassion, which helped me make it through hard times. It made me a better friend and attracted more compassionate people in return.
5. Accept Others For Who They Are
You know how you hear you can’t love anyone until you love yourself? I think you can broaden that a bit more: You can’t accept anyone until you accept yourself.
It became obvious to me that my own self-loathing came from somewhere. I wasn’t born hating myself. Somewhere along the line I was told (as many of us are) that I wasn’t what I should be. It’s probably why I didn’t feel comfortable being myself.
Although it took a little time, I was able to see how harmful it is to tell others (directly or indirectly) that they should be more like someone else or less like themselves.
For a while, I was annoyed that my boyfriend (now husband) wasn’t as optimistic as me. Then he pointed out that he was positive about big things and why did it matter if he wasn’t as happy-go-lucky as I was?
It didn’t really. I saw that I was trying to change him to be someone else. Why would I spend time with someone if I didn’t like who they were and wanted them to change? Not only is it a tremendous waste of energy, it’s an affront to those you’re trying to manipulate.
And that’s what it was: manipulation. Once I was able to see that and replace it with the compassion I had found in accepting myself, life seemed so much lighter and easier.
Inside everyone is a child, and honoring that part of us is incredibly important. If we can sit down and be still long enough, we can learn many lessons from the lives we’ve lived and from the child within.