Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was.Cheryl Strayed
I like being alone. I am a “Unicorn Ambivert”…I enjoy gathering with friends, occasional humorous banter with another person in the grocery check out line, and times when I am outgoing, and there are more often times when I must unplug, disengage, detoxify and be completely by myself.
It’s an afternoon stroll through a used bookstore with no need to look at my watch. It’s when I grab a tent and some supplies and take off to the woods for a three-day Thoreau-cation. Alone can mean sitting at home, with no television or voices other than the music I choose to transport me to the secret rooms I occupy inside my soul. Being alone makes me a better writer, employee, brother, friend and lover. When I can’t find time alone, I suffer. When I suffer, I tend to make those around me miserable. Ask anyone who knows and loves me and they’ll tell you it’s true.
Alone is a place I go frequently. It used to frighten me not to have an audience or a chaperon. As a child, grownups taught me to be fearful, dependent, to check in, ask for permission. I learned I could not be trusted; that if left unattended, most likely, I would fuck things up. Often asking permission for alone time was answered with “no, you may not” or a disregard for this being a “real need”. Sometimes, it came with deeper, more shaming replies like “how could you?” “I don’t trust you alone” or “I can’t leave you alone for five minutes without you ruining something”. So for a long time, I stopped asking.
I was unchaperoned when I contracted HIV. I was alone with the virus when I was first diagnosed, lonely and scared for months after. I was thin and brittle like dried paint. I stayed to myself, convinced I’d be alone, if not forever, for the foreseeable future. I was dirty, rejected, and ashamed. I’d ruined everything–just like “they” always said I would. The peace and quiet I used to covet without interruption, interrogation, obligation and responsibility became foes instead of friends. When being alone turned into isolation and depression, it became a prison instead of a comfortable room of my own. I feared I’d be forced to “Check In” for the rest of my life, and that I’d never be allowed to have any secrets, ever again.
It has always been my wish–and it is still my wish now–to have a place all my own, secret, calm and orderly, where no one else could enter uninvited. Sometimes that place is within. Sometimes it’s a place.
In the television series “Six Feet Under”, the sons of Nathaniel Fisher discover after his death that their father had a secret room in a building across town. He never shared it with anyone. There was nothing, (save a half-smoked joint in an ashtray), incriminating or damning about Nathaniel Fisher’s secret, private space. It was his and no one else’s. The grown sons realized they simultaneously knew more, and even less, about their father’s life.
One way I began to heal from HIV was by finding space in my life that was all mine again. When faced with my mortality, I became very protective about how, and with whom, I chose to spend my time and energy. I realized that I had scattered and spread my energy for so many years until my private room had become a corner. The room key had been carelessly given to men who trashed it and left me to clean up the mess. It was the scene of dramas with fair-weather friends who seemed loyal at the time, but in reality, were as flimsy and two-faced as playing cards.
For too long, other people mattered more than I mattered. Other people’s’ judgments, opinions and their acceptance became the currency on which I bought and sold my self-worth. After I became HIV positive, I had zero party pals left. They stole my self-worth, packed up and moved on to the next town while I lay sleeping.
I was alone, and yet, I wasn’t. HIV tried to tell me I had no “me” left, no one and nowhere to turn. It attempted to take away the pleasure I used to find in my most private moments, in my deepest creative thoughts and replace them with fear, uncertainty and dependence.
One day I decided to stop isolating and get out of bed. I looked in the mirror and saw me, and I whispered, “I love you”. And then, I knew that the person I’d been neglecting, abusing and devaluing all these years was me.
HIV, thankfully, caused me to take a compassionate look in the mirror. It caused me to find love in the small, private rooms of my wounded heart instead of looking for it in the seductive eyes of a hot man in a bar or online, or in the false promises of “I’ll stay the night and hold you, I’ll always love you, I’ll never leave, and I think you’re perfect just the way you are”.
I began to heal when I made those same promises to the man in the mirror. Now, when I take alone time, I am never truly alone. I have my healed and loving self for company.