By Gwenn Voelckers
It’s a warm August Friday night, and the weekend is stretching out in front of you — a big, empty void to fill. But with what? You can feel your anxiety rising. You can feel yourself spiraling down, questioning the past. And that’s when you grab for the TV remote, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, and head for the couch, or maybe, for bed.
Sound familiar? It’s not uncommon for those who live alone to find time alone at home a real challenge. It’s especially true for those coming out of long marriages or relationships where familiar routines, chore schedules and social obligations filled evenings and weekends.
I can remember many nights after my divorce, coming home after work to an empty house with hours on my hands and a hole in my heart. The prospect of a long, lonely evening ahead was almost unbearable. I was fine during the day, but when the sun started to set or the weekend rolled around, I would start to panic.
After way too many bowls of ice cream and episodes of Dateline, I had finally had enough and started making better use of my “me time.” I am now thoroughly comfortable spending time by myself and have come to enjoy my own company.
In fact, it’s not unusual for me to pass on an invitation out, in favor of spending a nice quiet evening at home relaxing or fully engaged in something I love to do.
If you are challenged by time alone, as I was, consider the suggestions below. You might even clip this column and put it on your fridge as a handy reminder.
• Read. In our busy lives and with so many electronic options vying for our attention, reading can fall by the wayside. It’s such a shame. Reading for enjoyment and enlightenment can turn a lonely evening into a lovely evening.
Don’t know where to start? Ask a friend for a suggestion or select a book from The New York Times’ best-seller list. Snuggle up in a comfy, well-lit place, and let a good book introduce you to new people, new places and new ideas. We are never alone when reading.
• Write. Marcel Proust wrote, “We are healed of a suffering only by expressing it to the full.” Even if you never look back at what you write, the act of committing your thoughts and feelings to paper can be therapeutic. Consider starting a journal if you haven’t already done so.
A few minutes in the evening before bed can be a perfect time to capture what’s on your mind and in your heart. As you work through and write about some of the challenges you face living alone, you will find that reading and rereading your journal entries will be a great way to reflect on and track the progress you are making.
• Clear Out the Clutter. I know this might sound mundane, but clearing out the clutter can be very satisfying and a great way to spend a few hours alone. I spent one recent Tuesday night sorting out my closet and filling two Hefty bags for Volunteers of America. It felt good. I not only lightened my load; I did something for a good cause. As a result, I felt part of something bigger than myself and less alone.
• Pursue a passion. This can sound daunting, especially if you’ve yet to identify your passion, but hang in there. Many men and women in long-term relationships often sacrifice their own interests in favor of attending to the needs of others. The pursuit of what delights you can be lost in the process.
Now’s a good time to rediscover your “loves” and to dedicate your time alone to these pursuits. Do some “internal” digging and identify the things you loved as a child or young adult and make a conscious decision to revisit them now.
Evenings or weekends spent doing what you love can shift your perspective and change your world. Whether it’s cooking, exercising, gardening, writing, or practicing music, when you’re absorbed doing the things you love, loneliness dissipates and you feel alive.
• Reach Out. With time on your hands, you are in a great position to reach out and make connections with others, especially with long, lost friends. This can be a very meaningful way to spend your time.
Just yesterday, I received a hand-written note from a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. I was very touched and inspired to do likewise with my own old friends. Pick up the phone, send an email, or send a “snail mail” note to someone with whom you’ve lost touch.
• “Veg out.” That’s right, “veg out.” Grab the TV remote, a pint of ice cream, and head for the couch — or better — for bed. But this time, do it without guilt; do it without beating yourself up.
Everyone is entitled to an occasional night when they just hang out, do nothing and eat yummy comfort food. Indulge yourself and tell yourself you deserve it. Wake up the next morning — free of remorse — and ready to take on the day: alone at home and “at home” with yourself!
Gwenn Voelckers is the founder and facilitator of “Alone & Content” empowerment boot camps for women held throughout the year in Mendon. She is the author of “Alone and Content: Inspiring, empowering essays to help divorced and widowed women feel whole and complete on their own.” For information about her boot camp, to purchase her book, or invite her to speak call 585-624-7887, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.aloneandcontent.com