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window

It’s a little sultry and foggy outside and if it was 10 degrees warmer, it would feel just like a May evening Jeremy and I spent in New Orleans six years ago, strolling hand-in-hand along cobblestone streets.

Instead, he is in Washington DC with Jesse (week-long father-son trip over Father’s Day…Can you say AWESOME dad?) Plus, Dylan is with Sheila and her family at her Aitkin cabin.

So, I am home. Alone. And though I love my family very much, I am more than content for the time being.

I remember distinctly that when I was a young woman–nearly 20 years younger than I am now–the prospect of being alone made me feel nothing but apprehension. I had married young (21) and still had much to discover about myself. For me, a day of solitude was like spending the day with a stranger. I wondered:

Which thoughts were my family of origin’s thoughts? Which were uniquely mine? Which pastimes gave me joy vs. those which were Jeremy’s favorites? How could I possibly get it all straightened out and recognize my true self, distinct from all of these outside influences?

As life would have it, I became very ill at the age of 25. Experiencing severe arthritic pain and fatigue and faced with a devastating diagnosis of lupus, I took some time off from work. Part of the process I created for prioritizing my health included stretches of time alone, searching out joy that was truly my own. Each morning for several months I woke up to a relatively schedule-free day. Days that, aside from doctor’s appointments, included simply leaving our apartment and setting out to walk. Walking was very painful for me at that time, but essential therapy.

While walking, I intently listened–to my heart, to my thoughts, to my energy, to what made my heart sing. Gradually–and with much determination–I discovered what it was that I truly felt, wanted, needed, cared about, enjoyed. I began to differentiate.

Differentiation is a natural process in committed relationships that involves developing more of a self while growing closer to your partner. Men often sacrifice their relationship to hold onto their sense of self. Women often sacrifice their sense of self to stabilize their relationship. Differentiation is about having it both ways: having a stronger sense of self and a stronger relationship.

People screaming, ‘I got to be me!’ ‘Don’t fence me in!’ and ‘I need space!’ are not highly differentiated. Just the opposite. They are fearful of ‘disappearing’ in a relationship and do things to avoid their partner’s emotional engulfment. Some create distance; others keep their relationship in constant upheaval. Declaring your boundaries is an important early step in the differentiation process, but it’s done in the context of staying in relationship (that is, close proximity and restricted space). This is quite different from poorly differentiated people who attempt to always ‘keep the door open’ and who bolt as increasing importance of the relationship makes them feel like they’re being locked up. The process of holding onto your sense of self in an intense emotional relationship is what develops differentiation.- Passionate Marriage by David Snarch

As I have grown up emotionally, as I have become more differentiated, solitude has become a good friend, offering me a place to reconnect with myself in the midst of living out very strong relationships. I have learned to remain very closely connected to my family of origin, husband, children and friends, while recognizing that I need to also continuously cultivate a strong sense of self.

“Solitude is painful when one is young, but delightful when one is more mature.” - Albert Einstein

So now I know. With 24 hours of solitude to embrace, the issue is not WHAT I will do. It is HOW MUCH I can squeeze in.

It’s astonishing to me now that there have been many times in the past when I was so depressed and anxious that I didn’t want to live. And now that I am feeling better? I wish that I had the equivalent of 5 lifetimes. There is so much to see and do and try and experience and so many people to love. Now that I feel better, I want to catch up on all that I missed in my first 40 years.

I could happily spend this 24 hours of solitude doing any or all of these things: Painting our bedroom, blogging, working on my bloggers e-course, working (I know…but I love what I do and designing a web site is so creatively satisfying!), reading, going to the library, running, doing yoga, gardening, cooking, going to Value Village and Tuesday Morning and Marshalls, getting a massage…and sleeping in. And I know that I will pick a few of these and make the best of it.

So now that I recognize myself–as I continue to become more differentiated–it turns out that as much as I love the people in my life, I also really enjoy hanging out with me. And it’s essential that I do so. So I make sure that happens sometimes.

Umbrella

And apparently I also love umbrellas with pink polka dots and tops from Anthropologie and horse-drawn carriages and sultry temperatures.

And trips to New Orleans with my Jeremy. Even in the rain.

So I make sure that happens too.

It’s all part of becoming differentiated: Having strong relationships and a strong sense of who God created me to be as an individual.

I’m learning.  xo

Rachel