I spend a lot of my free-time alone.
Don’t get me wrong–I have a beautiful family that lives ten minutes away from me and many close, wonderful friends that I see on a semi-regular basis. Working as much as I do, I am not short on opportunities to interact with others but I have found that spending some unstructured time with myself is an important part of my week. This wasn’t always the case.
I remember a time not shortly after arriving home from my mission in Osorno, Chile. I was living with my family but for one reason or another, I had the house to myself that night. I hadn’t been home long and school hadn’t started so I didn’t have much that I needed to do. And I hadn’t really figured out where I fit in being home. Most of my close friends from high school were boarded up in the “honeymoon” phase of their new marriages and didn’t know how to re-insert myself into the lives of anyone else. And being alone like that, with nothing but two seasons of How I Met Your Mother to distract me, I was assaulted by this incredibly heavy wave of loneliness.
I thought I never would, but I suddenly missed having a companion by my side 24/7. I missed walking along with someone in a comfortable silence only because we’d talked so much that it felt like there was nothing left to share about ourselves. I missed having a purpose, something to guide my decisions and actions every day.
Now I’m glad to report that I’ve moved on from that episode, but I’ve been thinking a lot about being alone and being comfortable in solitude. And sure, we could have the spiritual and romantacized discussion that with God, we never are alone, but I’m a little more pragmatic than that. Working with the LGBT-LDS population as I do, I hear stories and experiences from a lot of people who struggle with the notion of living a lifetime without that “eternal companion”. My heart breaks for those who feel hopeless about their future, driven by a deep faith to keep those covenants and thereby give up the opportunity to form a family in this life.For some, the notion of a celibate life is enough to drive them out of the church and/or forsake their covenants.
That’s why I decided that I wanted to extend a challenge to everyone–gay or straight, cis or trans, LDS or not, and everything in between–to love who you are as both an individual and as part of the collective human family. I’ll be writing about this challenge throughout the year and discussing particular aspects and components of healthy self-image and self-exploration, always finishing off with practical applications to improve these essential parts of who we are. Because I believe (and research shows) that once we establish a certain level of self-love, we are able to pursue whatever life course we wish with greater a freedom and capacity to experience all of the joy of living a full, replete life.
So take some time and figure out who you are. This sounds vague, but it hard to come to like yourself for who you are if you don’t fully understand who are. So grab a pen and a pretty notebook and get writing. Writing things down about yourself forces you to make decisions about your identity that perhaps you haven’t thought of before. It’s a concrete way to express who and what you are and I’d argue a very powerful way to be vulnerable
with yourself. Some times it isn’t pretty to look down at the page and see these things written down. But doing so and embracing all of it–the good, the bad, and the ugly–is quintessential in this process. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- List 5 character strengths (loyal, honest, etc.)
- List 5 talents
- List 5 character defects (selfish, immature, etc.)
- Choose a song that encapsulates where you are in life right now
- List 5 pet-peeves
- List 5 things you want to accomplish this month, this year, and in 5 years
- What are some key events from your life that have led you to where you’re at now?
- What do you actually* believe in regards to spirituality or a higher power? Normally, we call this a testimony but without all the social pressures to not express doubt in something
- List 5 things you like about yourself
- List 5 things you want to improve in yourself or the world around you
- What is the best thing you’ve ever done?
- What is the worst thing you’ve ever done?
*this is a tricky one as it can be hard to distinguish what you feel like you should believe in vs. what you actually believe
If you don’t like any of these ideas, there are a number of great writing exercises to help you explore your identity. I like these two posts here and here but feel free to do whatever you feel will help you understand yourself better. It is your journey after all.
The renowned and well-loved researcher Brené Brown calls this process “owning our story”–not only telling our story or who we are, but claiming it and branding it as our own. Working with vague concepts like as shame or vulnerability to make them meaningful, Brown asserts that “owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.”¹ I have to agree with her. Though it takes a great amount of moxy to deal with these issues, but Brown’s research also draws strong relationships between “owning our story” and things like personal power, true connection with others, and whole-hearted living. Things I know I could stand to have more of in my life.
I’ll admit, I’m not sure how this experience is going to work out. I think it’ll be different for everyone who chooses to participate. However, I strongly believe this can be a way to find what so many are looking for: peace with our whole selves. You still might prefer going out with friends, but a night in by yourself won’t be as bad as it used to be. Or maybe it never was. Either way, I extend to you a challenge. Are you in?
¹ Brown, Brené (2015) Rising Strong. New York: Splegel & Grau