What I’ve Learned From Living Alone
Living alone taught me to love myself.
The first time I lived alone, in graduate school, I was a mess. Not only was I going through the immense pressures of a challenging grad program, I was living alone in a part of town that was crime-ridden. I am never one to take issue with living in an ungentrified area—in this case, South LA—but my anxieties made it difficult for me to relax, especially after I experienced a near break-in.
I felt haunted. After grad school, I went back to my hometown in Ohio with every intention of moving out to the East Coast. I had a bad experience in LA, and I planned to *thrive* in New York City. Why would I come back?
But then, my sister, who happens to be my best friend, moved out to LA for a job. I followed suit because I wanted to give the city another chance, this time with the support of a loved one. I wanted a fresh start. And I wanted to try living alone again, this time, in a way that would help me grow and flourish.
And grow I did.
I love living alone. It gives me a kind of inner peace I’d never experienced living with family, friends, and partners. It’s like I’m giving the introvert in me a chance to shine and thrive. She comes out full-force at night, after a day of work, to be creative, relax, learn about the world, and entertain herself.
It’s a kind of solitude I’ve never experienced before, but it is beautiful. I can wear a silky robe around my apartment, dance like no one’s watching (yeah, really, I am that cliché), and just truly be myself. I never thought this part of my personality would come out, but it’s out there alright.
Through this experience, I’ve learned to love myself. I’ve learned to be introspective and self aware. I started journaling and being creative in my spare time. I was left alone with my thoughts—which can be a very, very frightening thing, not just for me, but for anyone. But instead of running from them or living in constant fear, I was able to accept them—and accept myself.
I never used to like myself, and living alone means I can let my inner soul shine. I grew up in a very loving, but sometimes strict and critical, household. I experienced a lot of anxiety growing up, and almost never felt like I could relax. Between work (read: school and homework), extracurricular activities (there were many), and play (every now and then), the constant distractions meant I didn’t have time to be alone with my thoughts. I didn’t allow myself to fully understand myself; I wasn’t able to.
Living alone has given me permission to embrace being myself—in every shade. I have learned to love my strengths and accept my shortcomings. There was a time when I didn’t want to acknowledge my shortcomings. I was afraid. Anxious. I could rarely admit I was wrong.
I used coping mechanisms to extrinsically redirect any sadness, guilt, fear, and pain I felt. I didn’t allow myself to feel these emotions. Instead, I channeled them into anger, vindictiveness, impatience, and sometimes rudeness. I wouldn’t allow myself to feel what I needed to feel. I wouldn’t allow myself to forgive myself.
Living alone allows me to really feel painful emotions, from my past to the present day. I realized I have to sit with these wounds; I have to address them and face them head-on to heal. I can’t keep distracting myself from what’s going on inside my heart.
It’s imperative that we all have the alone time—the real alone time we need—to heal our wounds. When we are constantly distracted by work, social activities, and societal demands, we don’t have a chance to breathe and reflect.
For me, living with others was always distracting. I am a social person. I naturally gravitate toward chatting with people and putting introspective thoughts out of my mind. After all, it’s not always comfortable to think some of those thoughts, and to feel some of those accompanying emotions.
Since living alone in this cozy little studio, I’ve confronted my demons and pain. I’ve healed from the traumas of my past: my childhood, my teenage years, relationships that went sour, and so much more.
You don’t have to live alone to get to this point. You just need to put in the work. For me, living alone helped immensely. As an ambivert who sometimes leans more toward extroversion, forcing myself to be alone and give myself the attention I need has been the best healing I’ve ever had.
We all need to heal.
Belinda Cai is a multimedia journalist who frequently writes about lifestyle, social and environmental justice, and identity and culture. She has a master’s in journalism and communications from the University of Southern California, and hails from Cincinnati, Ohio. When she’s not writing, she’s Wikipedia-spiraling, staying active, enjoying nature, and thrifting. Check out her website and Instagram.