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To Sit Quietly in a Room Alone


According to French philosopher Blaise Pascal, "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone." “All” is an overstatement in my estimation, but I do believe that some of our problems stem from an inability to be comfortable by and with ourselves. This seems especially true of many dysregulated eaters.

An only child, I spent a great deal of time alone and sitting quietly in an adult world. I never thought much about doing so until I began to hang out with “Joyce” in junior high school. She had to keep busy whenever we were together. If she wasn’t with me, she was out with other friends doing something. When we had sleepovers at her house, she kept the radio on in order to fall asleep. When we did homework together, she needed the TV on in the background, which made it hard for me to concentrate.

It was only when I learned about anxiety disorders in social work school that I realized why it was so intolerable for Joyce to sit quietly or be alone. Her parents split when she was a pre-teen and her mother, though a loving, fun woman suffered from alcoholism and worked long-hours to support my friend and her older brother. Joyce was a latchkey kid and spent a lot of time alone because her brother spent most of his out of the house. 

Looking back, it was easy to see that Joyce was lonely as a child and grew into a lonely adult. In our 20s, she always had a boyfriend even if he was all ill-suited to her. And she had more roommates than she had room for in her Manhattan eastside apartment. Her life was full because internally, emotionally she felt empty. Sad, because she was a talented musician and artist, fun, easy to talk to, and a good friend, who was overly compassionate toward others. Today we might call her co-dependent.

I often wonder what thoughts or feelings she was running away from, what would have happened if she were locked in a room alone and asked to sit quietly. Would she replay the fierce arguments her parents had before (and after) their divorce? Would she be filled with resentment that her brother was allowed to go out with his friends and do who knew what when she had to stay at home and take care of the house when her mother was working? Would she chide herself that she was a college drop out and could have done more with her artistic or musical talent? 

I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of being able to enjoy being with and by ourselves in order to find peace in the world, especially when there’s little of it around us. This simple task is a life skill as surely as is any other, one that is crucial if you are to become a “normal” eater.