Lessons From Living Alone...

By Lucy Harbron - 16:56

Art by @subliming.jpg

Time sped forward too quickly, and in a blur, I had to say goodbye to my flat, the home I’d built myself over the year. I wanted to cry but I didn’t, and I still can’t really decide why. I either packed all my things in a trance of denial or in a state of acceptance, knowing I’d got exactly what I needed from this place. Part of uni life is not really having a home as you’re torn between your hometown and adopted city, the very word takes on an uncertainty as you have to clarify where you mean. But I didn’t feel that this year, my flat was my home. I got to escape the familiar unsettled feeling as I had a full place to call my own, shared with no one, my things unrestricted to one room. And I know that was such a privilege, I definitely see that now. So few people will ever live alone, moving from their hometown to shared uni houses to a home with a friend or partner, and even fewer people get to live alone during such formative and intense years of their life as I did. So few people will ever get to experience the very particular and whole feeling of home when you alone occupy an entire place; no sharing, no need to consider anyone else’s patterns or tastes, all yours. And so many people would consider the thought of all it a nightmare, I had my moments where I did too.

I moved in in September, and in November I was still begging people to come over. I would make frantic plans with half-friends, desperately cling to the frayed edges of relationships I should’ve let die just because I wanted company. I gave so much energy to filling my own space, partly because I thought I should. I live alone so my house should always be full of friends, right? It should be the base, a place for communion, right? I acted as if I was holding space for others, sat in only one seat on the sofa, reserving the rest for imaginary guests that I slowly stopped inviting. If you told me then I’d be sad to move out, I would have laughed, made some joke about missing the décor and that’s about it. Even in the blog post I wrote about it, you can hear it in my words; reluctance. I was dragging my heels for a long time, still refusing the give over my strongest vice, clinging onto reliance as my flat spoke softly, coaxing me into letting go.

And I did, somewhere between December and now. I closed my door and started staying in more. I invested in a salt lamp and a lot of candles and spiced chai tea leaves. I filled the second sofa with blankets and cushions and baked banana bread for myself on Sundays. I stopped inviting people over and started asking people to leave, politely, as my mind longed for space back. I loved living alone, truly. But more so, I learned so much living alone and in the final months, I became so aware of the education I was getting there. Here are the lessons:

Space is so important...

It sounds so ridiculously obvious but I thought I already knew it. I’ve been chatting shit about interiors for years now, about curating a calming space and fairy lights and blah. But it was more than that this year. I felt so defensive of my home, so scared about it becoming tainted. I moved into it so terrified of Sheffield, but also of myself and my memories as I was desperately trying to claw my way out of heartbreak, so scared it would walk its muddy hooves into my new home. So this year curating my space was more an act of self-preservation and defence, I had to build a fortress.

There’s so much power in space and energy that I never knew before. When you live with other people, there’s a big merge of moods and vibes all coming in and out which can be good or bad depending on the day, but it’s always changing. When you live alone, it’s all you. My flat mirrored me, if I was down it felt like the biggest, loneliest place in the world. It really tested me, challenging my ability to comfort myself. I learnt to start manifesting. If I couldn’t treat myself right, I knew I could treat my space right and eventually it would soak through. In this way, my flat felt made for me. If I woke up struggling, the big window forced light into my room, reflecting a pattern of leaves onto my wall. The morning demanded to be seen, it coaxed me out of bed, gently telling me to make some coffee and do some yoga, crossing its fingers that I’d listen that day. I invested in more than just lighting and blankets. I really considered scents and lines of vision, curating moods rather than aesthetics. During the day I burnt candles with orange oil, massaged lemon oil into my wrists and opened the curtains wide in my living room. It felt bright and big and optimistic. In the evening, I turned on my salt lamp, burnt lavender incense, allowed palo santo smoke hug my bedhead as I said to myself; this is my healing space. And I felt that. I learnt to pull myself from mood to mood, learnt how important it was to consider the energy I was filling my flat with, listen out to all the hints telling me to alter it.

It sounds ridiculous I know. But regardless, whether you believe in sacred wood or aromatherapy or any of that, no one can deny the power of a ritual. No one can deny that we find comfort in habit, in having faith in a routine that works. I built my space around those rituals, around lavender at night and coffee in the morning. The fairy lights and pom poms were just accessories.

Give yourself actual time and space...

The best part of my flat was the fact that no one had been there before. Exes, friends, no one but me and my mum had seen it until I invited people in. As a person with a hyperactive memory, leaving places, clothes, songs all dripping with ghosts, this was the biggest blessing. Healing feels so much harder in a marked space, I know. Sheffield felt impossible, and I think if I had to go back to a place that he’d been to, or that I’d known with someone else, I wouldn’t have been able to pull it back. My flat meant I never had to do that, it allowed me time and space without struggling to out ghosts. There were none there, I only had to focus on myself, cleansing me without worrying about external contamination. Being all mine and memory-less, my flat in Sheffield gave me space from the Sheffield I had known. I could grab back some control over the place and my experience there, choosing who I saw and who I avoided, choosing where I went rather than being caught up in a group decision. I could decide everything there, and allow myself time with no interruption or opinion. When I wanted to, sometimes I would go days and speak to no one. I’d take myself for coffee and write, buy ingredients to cook myself a meal, watch the same films over and over, and decide to sleep at 9pm if I wanted. Having total control over myself and my behaviours, being completely unbothered and uninterrupted was heaven for my healing.

With space, Sheffield came back to me. I could retreat to the neutral land of my home then slowly march forward, reclaiming places one by one as the hands of heartbreak loosened, replaced by my own arms around me. A year later, I feel great. I feel so free and in control of myself. I feel ready to move forward and leave behind all the memories, a feeling I know my flat helped cultivate.

I love me...

While self-love is a huge, life-long journey, I feel it stronger than ever. This year, in the silence of solo living, I’ve gotten to know myself. I’ve seen quirks about myself that I’d never noticed, I’ve talked to myself like a friend offering jokes and comfort and confrontation when needed. I’d laugh with myself because why shouldn’t I. I found a friend in myself, and she always wants to sing along to my music and watch the same TV shows. I felt this new sense of sitting with myself, each night as I would journal, forcing myself to really consider what I felt and why. There was no one else to hide behind, no one else to talk to, so I had to get to know myself, I had to welcome myself in.

I think that’s why a lot of people would be so scared to live alone, all that time with no one but yourself. We don’t want to be left alone with our thoughts, having no option but to listen to the voice in our heads and confront it. But that’s why I did it. I’ve been in relationships my entire teenage life, I’ve been distracting myself from myself for so long that I needed to have no choice. I needed to force myself to hang out with myself for longer than the time it takes to do a face mask and go in the bath. I needed more than the stereotypical self-care night, I needed something intense and radical because my reliance was damaging me. It worked. That’s all I can really say. I now look forward to time alone, seeing myself as a best friend who I genuinely love spending time with. By learning to take care of myself, I see so much value in myself, so many great qualities as I treat myself with patience and care and empathy. I love the joy in me, the life. I love the fun in me that I used to only ever see in the face of another, I love that I know need no one to bring it out. By getting to this point of complete contentment with being alone, I now feel like I can better evaluate my interactions with others. When I love hanging out with myself, why would I give time and energy to hanging out with someone else that doesn’t make me feel as good? When I’ve set a standard of treatment within myself, why would I lower it? Turns out what The Slumflower’s book can’t seem to teach you, living alone can.

It’s wild to me that it took this. It took living alone for me to learn that I am truly complete, needing no one. I’m whole; the simplest, most radical lesson. I’ve spent a whole year alone and I haven’t died of loneliness, instead, I feel the most in control and comforted I ever have. It's sad that I had to actively learn it, to force isolation on myself to be able to see that I never needed anyone to hold my hand. Women especially are rarely given space to be alone, our loneliness isn’t valued but is shut down as a holding period, we’re on the shelf until a new companion. We go from parents to partners, we don’t walk home alone, we stick close to friends. If we spend too long silence or alone, people ask if we’re okay. There’s so much expectation to have a partner, to please others and fit into expectations. We’re treated as a half, waiting for the other side to find us and complete the circle. No. I’m everything. I’m all.

On Valentine's day, I spent the day alone. I went to the library and worked, I took myself shopping and bought myself a gift, I cooked myself homemade pasta and brownies. Tell me where I need a companion?  I sat in my flat, surrounded by candles and comforts, I laughed out-loud to a film, I wrote myself a love letter. I looked after myself, wholly and entirely. There was no empty space, there never was in my flat. It was all mine, filled up by me and my moods and my thoughts. Somewhere along the line, I realised I was the same; whole and content belonging entirely to myself.

Move in with yourself if you can. It’ll change things, it’ll force change on you and make you wonder why you were ever scared of it. Looking back, I wonder why I was so resistant to shutting the door and being alone. Why was I ever scared of myself? When I’m the only person that can guarantee myself full and unconditional love and companionship. Move in with yourself and you’ll learn the limitless loyalty of yourself, learn to cut reliance on anyone when you see the strength of relying on yourself. If you can’t, dedicate more time to yourself. Turn down invites, close your door, talk to yourself. Actually talk, out loud, whisper with yourself and share jokes. Write letters to yourself divulging your deepest feelings and enter into a dialogue. Cook yourself a meal, do not share it. Pour yourself a glass of wine, light candles, romance yourself. Nurture every mood and every feeling with no interruption or pressure to suppress it. Feel your own energy, unaffected and all-consuming. Realise that you need no one to survive, live, thrive, bring you joy, bring you comfort. You have everything you need in yourself, you’re the best housemate you could ever find because you’ve always lived together. Make a best friend out of yourself, and love the time you spend alone.

I miss my flat so deeply. I miss the décor and the fireplaces and the feeling I had each morning and each night as I woke myself up and rocked myself to sleep. But it taught me what I needed, and I hope its new occupiers find what they need there too as I wander onto my next house knowing I’m always at home with myself.

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