With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, the state of being alone gets a bad rap. Stores bombarding us with love-themed messages, and brands flooding our vision with images of couples getting cutesy and cozy, can highlight the fact that we’re spending the day on our own. It’s understandable why some may feel disheartened.
While it’s wonderful to have another person cherish you on this holiday, the most important relationship to have is still the one with yourself. Dr. Nancy Irwin, PsyD, C.Ht., one of the primary therapists at Seasons in Malibu, a CARF-accredited, dual-diagnosis addiction treatment center, believes that setting aside proper “alone time” is much more attractive than one is often led to believe. “[You get] an opportunity to go within and strengthen the relationship with the self,” she says.
Perhaps, especially for many people in recovery, this is a nudge to practice checking in with our long-repressed shadow selves. After all, as you leave rehab, walk out of the meeting rooms, or conclude your therapy session, you spend a good chunk of your waking life sitting sober and alone in your own thoughts. The biggest challenge, at this point, comes in developing the skill to be content with our own company.
Dr. Irwin, who specializes in hypnotherapy and treating a whole range of emotional and behavioral issues, argues that finding ourselves in these solitary moments can be quite restorative and enjoyable. She shares with us the 4 steps to having a stronger relationship with ourselves.
1. Know the difference between loneliness and being alone.
Just because no one’s around doesn’t mean you’re unhappy, and being surrounded by people doesn’t necessarily quell your yearning for something deeper. Being alone, Dr. Irwin explains, simply means there are no other human beings in your presence. “It’s a fact,” she says. Being lonely, on the other hand is a feeling. “[That’s] an emotional state … where one may or may not be in the presence of another human, but feels disconnected.” Remembering to differentiate the two can help bring your current situation into perspective.
2. Decide on a healthy balance just for you.
We each have different personalities, desires and needs for human connection. Therefore, the best way to define what a balanced life means for you is to audit yourself. “We all have 168 hours in a week,” Dr. Irwin says. “How do you want to spend that? Do you want 20 hours socializing with others, or does that overwhelm you? Does 10 feel better, and you need 20 to yourself reading?” She suggests whipping out a calculator and setting your “budget” for work, leisure, fitness, socializing, and other activities that are important to you.
3. Strive to learn everything you can about yourself.
As you peel back the layers and begin to understand the person inside of you, don’t be afraid to delve deeper. Let hope that you will one day learn about your true self—free of from other’s expectations and judgment—guide you throughout this lifelong journey. “The stronger sense of self one has, the greater their chances of being in an interdependent relationship,” Dr. Irwin states.
4. Have a backup plan.
As you explore new ways to become an improved version of yourself, remember that your safety and recovery should remain top priority. Expanding your boundaries takes courage, but tread carefully because it doesn’t take a lot to find yourself slipping back down to square one. If, at any point, you feel the urge to use drugs or alcohol while you’re alone, Dr. Irwin’s advice is to not dilly dally. “Isolation is the breeding ground for relapse,” she says. Once you realize you’ve reached your personal threshold, don’t hesitate to head over to a meeting or get in touch with a person who has "been there."
While Dr. Irwin warns us to be wary of becoming too self-absorbed or intolerant of other people’s needs, these steps are meant to teach you the difference between utter boredom and peace of mind. “Balance is the key,” she says. “Most people learn to trust the flow of life after they have braved being alone and doing the deep work required to heal.”
We thank Dr. Nancy Irwin for her insight and expert tips and Seasons in Malibu for sponsoring this post. Seasons in Malibu is a CARF-accredited, dual-diagnosis drug rehab and alcohol addiction treatment center in Malibu, CA specializing in treating a wide variety of addictions, such as alcoholism, opiate addiction, cocaine addiction and prescription drug abuse.