Being alone doesn’t have to mean being lonely

Rachel D’Sa, Columns Editor // Illustration by Cynthia Tran Vo

My solo trip began late this past July with a solid crying session over leaving my kitten at home. My mum had to pry him away from me as she waved for my dad to open the car door so I could load in quickly, haul myself to the airport and make my flight. I was upset. Upset about leaving my cat, but more upset that I had gotten myself into this stressful situation during finals season a few months prior when escapism seemed pleasurable, and I was happily booking this trip.  

What initially started off as a week-long motorcycle track racing trip, turned into a full-fledged Eat, Pray, Love ordeal. At the time of booking, I had been feeling suffocated by my life in Vancouver, and felt the need the seek out inspiration elsewhere. After much deliberation, I settled on a mini tour of North America – Montreal, Toronto and New York. 

I spent the first few hours of my trip in a Tim Hortons near my Airbnb calling friends and family, waiting for my room to be ready for check-in. The three-hour time difference meant that I was trying to get a hold of people at 5 am. My biggest fear as someone who constantly struggles to initiate conversation with those outside my immediate social circle is that I would wind up in my own thoughts the entire trip.  

Back home in Vancouver, there is always the option to go back to the comfort of what and who I know. But the fear of feeling alone ultimately overrode my uneasiness towards socialization with the unfamiliar, and this newfound motivation resulted in making friends with a supposed retired neurosurgeon, my tattoo artist and my bartender. These unexpected companions led me to spontaneous dinners and techno shows where I met even more friendly, warm individuals.  

While befriending locals kept me diverted from the pang of homesickness, I found my nights to feel empty. I felt like a complete stranger to myself without outside distractions. Toronto felt like a skeleton of a city to me upon my arrival. The socializing tactics that worked for me in Montreal lost their effect and I found myself stranded in the hustle and bustle of downtown.    

I’m no stranger to the practice of mindfulness but it was only halfway through my time away that I realized I hadn’t been listening to my body and following my heart in what I needed to do in order to feel comfortable. Taking the time to slow down or even stop to breathe and reflect on internal conflicts had never seemed more important. I found myself with a frown on my face despite the immense privilege I had. Aside from independently funding the expenses, the position I was in made for the experience to be possible – and I completely and selfishly overlooked it. My health, my upbringing, my confidence and supportive individuals around me made it all possible – and I hadn’t even reflected on it enough to appreciate and savour my good fortune. Permitting myself to sleep in and take extra time getting ready without putting pressure on myself to even leave my Airbnb, helped me take the step towards being more present. I started making the conscious decision every morning to venture out of desire and not out of feeling the need to, practicing gratitude with each experience I submerged myself in.    

By the time I had made it to New York, I had gotten used to eating alone. The difference between wining and dining myself and simply grabbing a quick bite for energy became apparent to me during my time in the Big Apple. With no one to talk to, when I felt the need to express my affection towards the light-as-air ricotta that created marbled landscapes in my gnocchi, or simply to make light small talk to fill the silence between bites, I turned to my own thoughts for entertainment. Reflecting on how much I had grown in terms of independence and maturity, I was able to practice a little bit of self-love. I no longer felt upset with myself for forcing the spontaneity of everything.    

I briefly passed through Times Square on the last day of my trip – a final salute to the days of total independence. I noticed a young girl holding a sketch of her own head, a forced smile plastered across her face, with her mother squatted low to the ground with a camera in hand. All my family road trips and vacations ran through my head. The memories of yelling at my dad to stop taking pictures, and complaining to my sister about my sore feet, came flooding back – and so did the times that I’d hold my mum’s hand in a lively crowd and feel an instant sense of security. For the majority of my trip, I’d acted off of impulse spurred by the fear of missing out, and from what I later discovered was more so the fear of feeling lonely than actually being alone. There were many times when, much like my adventures featuring my obnoxious family, I needed a hand to hold, but this time I needed to know when to let go. Mindfulness doesn’t need to be taken on a vacation to be practiced and loneliness doesn’t have to manifest from being alone. Whether you need to cry over leaving your cat in order to leave the house, or you can find it in yourself to walk out in the world purely out of an urge for adventure, finding confidence in your independence is courageous enough. 

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