Last year when the boys went away for almost a month, I found myself free of responsibilities (for more than a few hours) for the first time in many, many years. I planned to do so many things: repaint my studio, get the house super clean, make repairs, visit friends. I didn’t do any of that. For almost three weeks straight I did nothing at all. Nothing.
My friends were worried at first, especially Jill From Texas. She’d call every day, concerned. “But what are you doing?” She’d ask. Nothing. “Come hang out with us,” she’d say. I’m really enjoying being alone. That I sounded happy was all that convinced her I wasn’t having a nervous breakdown.
Having laid down the weight of single parenting for the first time in years, I realized my mind and body just needed to….stop. I sat on the bench swing in the shade for hours at a time, my book lying next to me unread, watching the trees and the bugs and listening to the birds. Cup after cup of tea, glass after glass of water. A long walk every day. I’ve always had to remind myself to eat, so cheese and crackers, yogurt and fruit were pretty much all I could be bothered to make for myself. I meditated. I slept at least eight or nine hours a night, and then took a two hour nap everyday.
At first I felt guilty. All my plans for taking care of things, catching up on things were tossed aside, and I felt as if I should be doing….things. Vague, important things. Social things. House things. But then I started to realize I was doing a thing: I was stopping, and that’s a thing you never put on a list of things to do, is it?
By the end of three weeks I felt wonderful, physically and emotionally, and I had learned some things about myself. Briefly stripping away all the accoutrements of the life I’ve created allowed me to get back to a personal sea level, and allowed me to see what this Katie who I am now really needs and wants.
I’m a lot more introverted than I thought. What seems like extroversion is actually panicky nervousness, and I just make nervousness look like sociability, I suppose. I like being alone. I like simple and peaceful. If I reshaped my lifestyle to allow more time alone, I theorized, I’d feel more at peace. I’ve made those changes this year, and I do. I’ve noticed that in giving myself needed alone time, I’m less stressed by socializing. Maybe even enjoying it.
Intellectually, my mind needed me to stop throwing things at it. It was crammed with unfinished thoughts and unsolved puzzles, and in computer terms it needed a disc cleanup, a defrag, a system restore. We all know you can’t use the computer for anything else while it runs those maintenance programs, don’t we? I let my mind go into sleep mode.
Physically, I felt gorgeous. When I finally dragged out the make-up and tweezers after three weeks I was shocked at how good my skin looked. Bright and almost line-free. I had only lost a pound or two (I wasn’t eating much, but I wasn’t doing much, either), but damn, I looked good. My body looked smoothed, as if things had resettled where they were meant to be after years of stress shoving them rudely around. It was these physical changes which caused me to realize that what I was doing, this stopping, was important. My body and skin looked better because they had been given a break from work, and I liked the way they thanked me for time off.
Stopping is necessary. For many women, mothers especially, stopping doesn’t seem plausible, it even seems selfish. Stopping means we are denying the people and things around us their needed attention. Selfish is often our go-to word when self-preservation should be the term we use instead. Learning that I need to take care of myself to take care of others–I need to put on my own oxygen mask before I can help the passengers around me put on theirs–was a lesson which took a long time to learn. But taking care of myself was always active: eating well, exercising, keeping my friendships strong, feeding my spirit. Stopping is entirely different. Doing nothing at all, stopping, threatens to seem more selfish and extravagant than busy self-care. But stopping, letting everything go blank to see what bubbles through on its own, letting everything work itself out without fiddling and fussing at it? That is trusting your mind and body to do its thing, and that is brave and sometimes necessary.
I can’t imagine if or when I’ll ever get another chance for such a prolonged period of stopping, but I did make the decision to stay home and do nothing for the week the boys are away with their Dad at the end of the month.
This time I’m scheduling my stop, I”m prepping for my stop and stocking the house for my stop. I’ll be very busy stopping, and I don’t want any distractions.