Playing Alone

Before I left for the trip, my best friends made me a flash drive filled with messages and letters and videos for me to play when I felt lonely or missed home. It’s easily one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

And today, I finally watched the last of the messages (not because I was particularly homesick, but because I was on a long train and the messages, more often than not, make me laugh out loud). Today was no exception – I cracked up all through the video from my pseudo twin brother, JP.

He said a lot of sweet and silly things,  but one thing really stuck out.

With a bit of surprise, he said, “Whoa. Wait Allison. You are going to be alone. I know you’ll meet people and people will meet you, but really you are just doing this by yourself. It’s really just you. Think of all the time you’ll have to think and figure out who you are and what you want.”

Yikes.

It’s a good thing I didn’t watch this when I was just getting started.

I think I was seven years old the last time I played alone. Maybe eight if I’m feeling generous.

I remember sitting on the living room floor building a dinner party for my Barbies. I lined up a series of VHS tapes as a dining room table, little raisins gracing each place setting as a meal fit for a mis-proportioned plastic doll and her (identical) friends.

I remember this moment in vivid clarity because it was rare – the solo play time was a typical non-occurrence, but my sister was sick and my parents were trying to give her her shots upstairs.

Barbie’s lovely dinner had the soundtrack of a three year old screaming.

Before and since, I can’t ever remember being truly alone.

With the exception of when I’m reading (which is, admittedly, often), I’m usually surrounded by people. I’m as extroverted as they come – drawing every last drop of my energy from interactions with those around me.

Back when the anxiety used to come in waves, the immediate antidote was to get me around people. It was a surefire way to stop the panic.

I’m a think-by-talking, life’s-a-stage kind of girl.

My parents repeatedly noted how much quieter the house was without me in it. Because when I came home, I narrated. I talked. I wanted there to be noise and fun and excitement.

For the last three years, I have lived alone (which I LOVE, by the way), but even that is different than hanging alone, being alone. My house had a permanent open door policy – there were seemingly-constant dinner parties and movie nights and kids sprawling in the living room.

And even without having people over, I spent the majority of my time at work with some of my best friends, getting all that thinking/talking/laughing/socializing out all day long.

Even at my lowest – when friends were few and hard to come by – I hadn’t been alone. I’d been a student, surrounded by peers and teammates and, of course, my family, even when they felt a little bit far away.

So imagine my surprise when it finally clicked that I am traveling alone. Like, alone alone.

Whoa.

You would think that I might have realized this earlier, but for whatever reason (travel buddies or the excitement of the adventure or simple ignorance) I didn’t. It wasn’t until recently that I realized one of the biggest personal benefits of this trip so far:

I have learned to play alone. 

As few as a couple of years ago, I’m not sure I would have been able to fill 15 hours a day on my own. I mean, yes, I could have done it, but it would have done a number on my brain and the anxiety would have been spilling out all over the place.

Now, I almost enjoy it.

I’d still rather have a buddy (come on, people. I’m still me.), but I’m doing it. I’m surviving. And I’m having so much fun along the way.

It took me uprooting my entire life and jetting to the other side of the world to learn to be content alone.

Little seven year old Allison being forced to play Barbies could not have seen that one coming.

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