When we are grieving, we want to be alone with our pain, yet we desperately need to be around other people. It’s truly a double-edged sword.
Going out in public alone, without your person, is painful. At least it was for me. When you live in a small town, everyone knows your story (at least you assume they do). You live with the sideways glances and the whispers they think you don’t hear. Whether people know your story or not, it feels like everyone is watching you waiting for you to crack. This all makes it even harder to leave the house no matter how desperately we want to be anywhere but at home. Home was where all my memories of Mike were rooted. Sometimes the constant presence of the life we shared became overwhelming and I had to get away, even if it was just for a few hours, to give my heart a break. I called it running away from home.
I wanted to be around people but not always with people I knew. Sometimes I wanted to be able to hide in plain sight, to be able to be around other humans who knew nothing about what had happened to me. I sought out places I could go where I could be invisible, blend in with the crowd and not run into anyone I knew. I wasn’t looking for conversation or to meet new people, I was looking for a place to hide.
I would come up with reasons I had to go to the “city” for things I really didn’t need. I would go to a mall and wander around, frequently never entering a store. I knew which stores had the cheery associates who insisted on asking how you were and what they could do to help. I avoided those stores. I didn’t want to engage with people simply to be in the presence of them. I would go to the casino, which ended up being the perfect place to hide in plain sight. Very few people want to engage with you and you can occupy your mind wondering what their story is and forget for a while what is going on in your world.
When I ran away from home for the day I would have to eat at some point (unfortunately grief didn’t affect my appetite for more than a few days). I became familiar with every decent drive-thru place I could find. The thought of going into a restaurant by myself and sitting down for a meal was out of the question! We all know when we see someone in a restaurant alone we wonder why they are sitting by themselves and we either feel sorry for them or assume there is a good reason they are alone.
Eventually one of the casinos decided I was enough of a frequent visitor that they offered me a free room. I hadn’t stayed in a hotel without Mike for years. I traveled for work a lot at one point but that had been a long time ago, I wasn’t sure I was emotionally ready to do it alone again. But I also knew that it was something I would have to do at some point, so I decided to take them up in their offer. I booked a room for a Saturday night and packed my overnight bag.
I was actually looking forward to a night away. I would be able to relax, have a few glasses of wine, do a little gambling, and still remain anonymous. There were a few restaurants so I knew I could get something to go and eat in my room. all my bases were covered. I arrived at the hotel and was checking in when the clerk asked if there was anyone joining me. My heart sank, no was all I said. That was all it took to send me toward the dark place. My eyes welled up and fortunately the clerk finished and gave me my room key before they overflowed. I got on the elevator and made it to my room without seeing another person. When I shut the door behind me I sobbed. I sat on the floor with my back against the door and cried. I sat there thinking of the hotels we had stayed in and the places we visited. We loved to travel and now I would be doing it alone if I wanted to do it at all. When the sobs subsided, I rinsed my face and looked in the mirror. My eyes were swollen and red, so much for being inconspicuous! I changed into comfy clothes, ordered room service, opened a bottle of wine and spent the night in my room watching movies. Not they way I intended to spend the night, but I was in no shape to be around other humans.
The next morning I headed back home. I was exhausted from crying and had a horrible headache, partially from crying and partially the wine. I parked in the garage and walked in the house. The house was quiet. I’m not sure what I expected but coming back to any empty house for the first time brought the reality of everything back with a vengeance. I was alone. The tears came again and they had no intention of stopping. I crawled in bed and stayed there for the rest of the day.
The pain I felt had as much to do with Mike not being there as the realization that I was on my own from here on out. I was proud of myself for staying overnight, even if I never left my room, but I also wondered if it was worth it. Knowing what I know now, the answer is yes. I believe we have to face our realities and force ourselves to do things that are uncomfortable to move forward with our healing. I still had a long way to go but I survived one night, it was a start.