When I imagined my future as a teenager, I never imagined marriage. I pictured myself instead entangled in a long series of passionate love affairs with diverse and fascinating men. My actual future turned out pretty much the exact opposite. I became instead a serial monogamist, the type of woman who just likes having a man of some kind around for sexual validation and the occasional unclasping of necklaces.
I got engaged for the first time at 19 or 20, the ring slipped on my finger by my high school boyfriend after a long night in which he'd name-called, verbally abused me, and accused me of cheating on him for hours. He put the ring on without asking the question. I was engaged for a week before, cornered, I got up the courage to leave.
Very shortly after we broke up, I started dating the man I would be with for the next eight years. I hadn't intended to get into a relationship; the relief of being free of that emotionally abusive entanglement had me near-giddy and I was in no hurry to get back into relationship lockdown. We took it slow, but he treated me very well, something I'd never experienced before, and we drifted into a relationship that led to moving in together, getting engaged, and eventually adopting a child together. I fully believed we would be together for the rest of our lives.
As some of you have already guessed, perhaps by the fact that I got engaged something like three years ago and am still not married, that relationship didn't work out. Until now, I have chosen not to write about it (and will not reveal the details of our breakup) both because my ex deserves his privacy and because we continue to co-parent our son together. Although I won't share the reasons for our split, rest assured that the decision to do so was the hardest decision I've ever made in my life, and that I carry around an ocean of guilt about not providing an intact home for my child.
Also, I've now been engaged twice and never married, so I'm operating with the three strikes and you're out mentality — if this shit happens again, I'll be forced to admit I'm just not the marrying type.
Becoming single after spending all of my formative years in relationships was both thrilling and terrifying. As a sober woman in her 30s with a child (watch out, fellas!), I feared I would never find someone to love me again. I didn't know how I would react to losing the built-in support system a significant other provides. I hadn't been naked in front of someone new in a loooooong time. But smack dab at the epicenter of my fears, pulsing and flashing like a pinball machine, was the idea of living alone.
I guess I don't technically live completely alone now. My son spends 50 percent of his time at my apartment. (We also have a fish he named Boonga Boonga.) But for the first time ever, I am living without the companionship and support of another adult.
I'd gone straight from my parents to the NYU dorms, from the dorms to living with my boyfriend, with a brief stint of roommates (both friends and strangers) in-between. My last living situation before moving in with my ex was in a converted warehouse apartment building, with two acquaintances who mostly left me alone and vice versa. This period of time also happened to coincide with the worst of my drinking and drug use; I would freelance copy edit textbooks while snorting lines off a CD next to my futon mattress. I was very attentive to detail.
As a result, I equated living "alone" with being a complete and total blackout mess. Although it's been six years since I drank or used a mood-altering substance, I was afraid that living truly by myself would cause me to plummet right back down the rabbit hole and become the person I was back then.
What I remember most about that period was an intense loneliness that made it necessary to drink myself into oblivion before going home to sleep, or binge-watch hours of "House" and "Gilmore Girls" to avoid sitting in isolation with my feelings at night. And this was while I was actually living with two roommates. How much worse could it be when I spent half the time in my apartment completely by myself?
I took several weeks to move in, dragging my feet on that final door-close moment when I would have stepped irrevocably into my future. What if I was miserable? What if I couldn't handle it? What if I regretted everything but it was too late to go back?
To make it even more overwhelming, my history of living situations also meant that I had practically nothing in the way of furniture and household items. I moved out with mostly clothes and books and had to purchase nearly everything else with the savings I'd fortunately been able to accumulate for just this situation.
I felt like I was starting over, doing things for the first time that I should have done long before. I didn't know how to turn on my utilities, how to buy a bed, or how to put together my boxes and boxes of Ikea furniture. (I hired some very nice dudes off the Internet to do it in the end.) As I often have in sobriety, I felt a little like an Adult Baby, doing things for the first time that I should have done decades ago.
I took everything one step at a time, feeling a burgeoning sense of pride when I navigated a previously insurmountable-seeming task. (One day when I fixed my own cable using the customer service hotline sticks out in my memory as particularly victorious.)
I cried at random times, those serious cries with my face crumpling and contorting. In those moments, I felt hopeless, like I was falling from a great height and wildly grasping at branches on the way down. I was wracked with guilt and fear, constantly worried that I was traumatizing my son and ruining his life. But what I discovered, another one of those easy toddler lessons that had eluded me, was that feelings, even the worst ones, eventually pass. I slowly realized that these moments, horrible as they felt, were survivable. (I just tried to describe this to someone and they just said, "Yes, you just explained how feelings work." Better late than never.)
There were bad nights. I got through the worst of it by streaming episodes of "Louie" until Netflix was all, "Yo, are you still there watching this shit?" And I was like, "Yep, just laying around in my own filth, still." (If you're going through a divorce or quasi-divorce, try "Louie." It helps.)
But I discovered awesome things about living alone. I had never decorated my own apartment entirely to my liking before. I bought things to hang on the wall, and an orange couch, which turned out to be a mistake because it started showing stains almost immediately. I GUESS THAT'S HOW YOU LEARN STUFF.
And, of course, I never reverted to that soul-sick 23-year-old who drank herself into unconsciousness every night. I'm not that girl anymore, and it wasn't just my comfortable home life with my ex tethering me to a saner life. I've put a lot of work in, and the progress I've made held through trying circumstances. Solitude as a 31-year-old sober mom feels more restorative than terrifying.
There is a lot that is hard about my current situation, but it almost all relates to my kid and how to keep him feeling safe and loved. Mom shit, that's the scary shit now. Living alone turned out to be the easy part.