I like to think that I'm a woman who lives life on her own terms. With passion and courage. Certainly the evidence points in that direction. I gave up a lucrative job on Wall Street and moved to California to heal my body and my life. Now, I work as a coach to help others do the same. Having worked so hard to restore health and balance to my life, you might think that's what I'm most grateful for. But, surprisingly, what I'm most thankful for these days is something I've been running from my whole life: Loneliness.
I'm thankful for loneliness because I finally stopped running and opened the door to my heart and gave it a space of its own. I've embraced it. And because I've treated it with respect instead of loathing borne of fear, it has shared its secrets and its gift with me -- and what girl isn't grateful for secrets and a gift that's perfect for her?
I can almost see your eyebrows arching in disbelief. "Loneliness? A gift? This girl is crazy." It won't be the first time someone has called me crazy, and I'm sure it won't be the last. But I hope you'll hear me out. Because the truth is, loneliness bears a perfect gift for each of us.
Most of us never get the gift because we're not willing to sit with our loneliness. We fill the void with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, reality TV and gossip about celebrities or maybe about our neighbors or co-workers. We combat loneliness with sex, food and alcohol. But we can't outrun loneliness or successfully hide from it because it's an integral part of us; it's hardwired into us. Without it, we forget to seek true intimacy with others but, most importantly, a deeper connection to our own spirituality. It is loneliness that makes us ask the most important questions about our life's purpose and mission, and to listen closely for the answers. I'm thankful to have learned this, even if I've had to learn it the hard way.
When I moved across the country, I left behind more than a beautiful apartment, a well-paying job, my friends and my family. I also left behind a series of failed romances. Being single in a couple's world carries a loneliness that most everyone can understand. Being half of a couple and still feeling lonely is so much worse, as anyone who has experienced it will tell you.
Ultimately, many of my relationships dissolved because I felt lonely even when I was with the man I hoped was "The One." I didn't feel seen. Women, especially, are socialized to believe that the right relationship will fulfill us -- with the right partner, we will never feel lonely again. I believed this. But moving away from my friends and my family to a community where I was a stranger -- being without a significant other and without the routine of an office job -- put me into contact with loneliness in a way I never had experienced it before. Since loneliness was my only constant companion, I began to treat it as a friend.
Remember the story of Dorothy Gale and the Wizard of Oz? How Dorothy learned that what she had traveled so far to find was actually in the back yard of Auntie Em's farm in Kansas all along? It was like that for me. Loneliness was my Wizard of Oz -- and my heart was Kansas. The Great and Powerful Oz of Loneliness, the thing I had feared and dreaded all of my adult life was, upon close inspection, much smaller and more vulnerable than I had imagined. It pointed me in the right direction. It led me to my truest home: my own heart and soul.
Loneliness helped me to understand that I often felt invisible in relationships because I was hiding from myself. This hiding was in part by default. Life is hectic -- we have jobs, families, friends, chores and hobbies -- it's easy to get lost in the noise. Moving to a place where I had none of my usual distractions took care of that. Unfortunately, that meant that I had to deal with the things I'd been hiding by design. I had to admit that some of my hectic pace was because I didn't want to be alone with myself.
I'm not sure why, because loneliness led me to the best friend I've ever known: I discovered my authentic self.
I still cherish my family and friends, I still look forward to being a wife and mother but loneliness has taught me that my most important connection is to my spirit. And for this, I will always be thankful.
This blog post is part of a series for HuffPost Gratitude, entitled 'The One Thing I'm Most Thankful For.' To see all the other posts in the series, click here To contribute, submit your 500 - 800 word blogpost to firstname.lastname@example.org.