I don’t do “alone.” I am a middle child, never without a sibling to antagonize. I am a serial dater, finding myself in a relationship pretty much continuously since I was 16. I am an extrovert with a side of people-pleaser, desperate to perform and be affirmed.
But here’s the catch: I have had a human being dependent on my physical body for the past four and a half years straight. Whether I was gestating, nursing, or bowing to a small person’s constant demands of “up, up, UP,” my body has not been my own for a very, very long time. Even extroverts need alone time, even if it’s only so they can come roaring out of seclusion to be their usual sparkling selves again. It took me a long time to understand that the deep exhaustion I felt had nothing to do with never again getting that mythical good night’s sleep, but rather that I needed to rediscover what it means to be my own person.
I needed to be alone.
I felt enormously guilty about this realization. I do not like leaving my family. I spend a lot of time at work on evenings and weekends, so I leave my husband and kiddos more often than I’d like to admit. I try to minimize missed bedtimes for anything other than work. Especially when my babies were wee and still nursing, I could not imagine willfully leaving their presence. But those days have passed. My girls’ growing independence means they require just a bit less energy to parent, and my husband and I have each perfected the art of the solo bedtime. Technically, nothing prevented me from going away for just a bit – nothing but my lingering sense of guilt and obligation.
Maybe you know this feeling, too. You know what you need to be strong, well, focused, energized, and peaceful. In order to get there, your family must make a short-term sacrifice. How on earth can you justify your increased familial stress for your own selfish gain? Oh, Mama: you ask for so little. You give so much. For the sake of your ability to continue to give in meaningful ways that don’t turn to eye-rolling obligation, take a step away. Just for a moment. Go be alone.
Allow me to make it easy for you. What if I told you that there were numerous places in the Twin Cities area whose sole purpose was to provide peace and solitude? What if I told you that you would not have to see literally another human being ever while you were there if you didn’t want to? What if I told you that you’d only have to look at green trees, blue water, or the back of your eyelids for the entirety of your stay? What if I told you that I did just that and not only did my family survive my absence, but I came back better for it?
I spent two nights at a Franciscan center of spirituality offering hermitage retreats. They don’t mean hermit like “crazy person who hides out in the woods,” they mean it in the religious tradition of those who have sought solitude to meditate, pray, and rest. You can follow the example of wise women like Catherine of Siena or Julian of Norwich, but instead of dedicating your entire life to being alone, you can simply dedicate as many days as you need. But if a center with a religious backing isn’t to your liking, or the idea of a cabin in the woods without power, running water, or wifi gives you the jibblies, don’t worry. Just search for “retreat center Twin Cities” and you’ll find numerous options.
Every retreat center will likely have its perks and concerns. You’ll have to find one that’s right for you. Here are a few considerations that you might want to make when scheduling your alone time.
Organization: Many centers have a sponsoring organization or parent group. In most cases, these centers have a religious affiliation. Read the fine print. If a particular religious affiliation would help your away time, look for that. If you’re not sure religion would be for you, see if the organization requires a religious commitment from you or welcomes all people. Some even state specific codes of behavior and lifestyle which might prohibit your registration. If a website isn’t clear, just call them and ask.
Cost: Most centers have some kind of expense, whether a flat charge or a suggested donation. The place I stayed, for instance, asks for $115 a night to cover expenses, which includes all your food. If you can pay more, your donation helps cover the continuing cost of maintaining the facility. If you cannot give the suggested donation, you’re welcome to pay what you can. I rounded my two nights up to $250, which would be at least what I’d spend for a girl’s weekend at a hotel. (Now is a good time to note: a girl’s weekend is a completely different thing from alone time. You should do both. At different times. Trust me.) Check your budget, consult with your family’s finances, and see what works for you.
Food: Different places have different policies. The place I stayed simply drops off a little basket of food with apples, oranges, bananas, a few loaves of homemade bread, cheese, and the most incredible bran muffin you have seriously ever eaten. Some places have full kitchens and invite their guests to join them for one, two, or three meals a day. In some cases, you have to purchase a separate meal plan. Some places easily accommodate food allergies or sensitivities; some simply cannot make those adjustments. Some places invite you bringing in your own food; others have very strict rules about what you can bring with you. Always ask ahead.
Accommodations: I grew up camping. My husband and I take vacations into the Minnesota wilderness where we have to pack our own toilet paper. I didn’t mind someplace a little rustic, and I found it: no power, water, toilet, wifi, and barely even cell coverage. But just because I found restoration of my heart and soul in a place where I had to walk about a mile to a hot shower doesn’t mean you can’t find someplace a bit more posh. Some retreat centers offer accommodations more similar to a hotel room. If you’re wondering if a place will suit your needs, you can check out its Yelp or Google reviews. Better yet, most places will offer you a tour of their facilities. Take the kids for a day trip and see it for yourself.
And yes, I said that the whole point was to get away and not have to talk to people and maybe even get some temporary distance from your beloved children, but if not saying goodnight to your kiddos would break this entire proposition, rest easy knowing that I found enough cell coverage to FaceTime my girls each night before bed. Don’t be ashamed to make sure your phone has a bar or two as you walk around the grounds of your chosen retreat area.
Schedule: Do you remember how I mentioned that the reason to go to a retreat center is to get away, to be alone, to recharge, to be cared for, to rest? Maybe it’s been a long time since you’ve done any of those things, but maybe the best way to do it means not having plans. Just show up. You will probably take a nap, like, right away. But after that? Maybe go for a walk. Maybe go sit out by a lake. Maybe sit in a screen porch and listen to the birds. Whatever. Hide the clock, turn off your phone, and tell that voice inside your head to be quiet and chill out.
When the day came for me to make my reentry into the world, everything seemed to move too fast and roar too loud. I had to turn the radio off and drive back roads to get home because it all felt like too much. Even this edgy extrovert suddenly realized that I let too much noise into my life. It suddenly felt exciting to figure how what I needed in my life and what I could set aside as so much busy work.
My three short days as a hermit helped me in many ways. It gave me space to renew and rest. It helped me discern what makes me busy and what gives me life. It gave me a place to nurture my spiritual self. But best of all, it helped me remember how much I love having small people dangling off me, chattering away about kid stuff, and waking me up far too early in the morning. Sometimes you need a little alone time to appreciate all that. If it sounds good to you, I hope you can find that, too.
Where are some of your favorite places in the Twin Cities to take even just a night to get away? What have you learned about yourself when you finally took some alone time?