There is a silver lining, trust me.
My early 20’s, roughly 22–24, was a very difficult period of time. I struggled with understanding and accepting myself. I struggled with self love. I had relationships where I was mistreated and I didn’t think highly enough of myself to stop it. I was going along the motions of life but couldn’t shake the feeling of being lost.
At 24, my then boyfriend cheated on me. I had taken care of most things financially which was likely the reason for the relationship to begin with. I felt like a fool. I couldn’t believe I let myself get taken advantage of. Instead of turning it around and blaming the guy, I internalized. I blamed myself for being stupid. At the same time, I grew distant from my friends. I wanted more out of life and everything seemed to be falling apart.
I remember receiving a call from my manager at the time. I was a consultant and my current project was winding down. He offered me a project in the Netherlands. It would likely last a year, possibly longer. I told him I’d think about it despite already knowing my decision.
I left within a couple weeks. I knew I wouldn’t be home for at least a month and packed a huge bag. I flew into Amsterdam and took a two hour train into Groningen, my home for the next two years. Lugging the bag up and down escalators and on the street was awful. Once I arrived at Groningen train station, I attempted to hail a taxi for my hotel. I didn’t realize some taxi drivers didn’t speak English. I quickly wrote down the name of the hotel and showed it to my cabbie. I arrived safe and sound but more exhausted than I’ve ever been, both mentally and physically.
Sitting there alone in my hotel room with a huge suitcase and sore feet, I cried. What was I doing? Why did I decide to do this on my own? What did I need to prove? Why did I come? I should just go back home and get another job.
Those thoughts frequented my mind for the next two years. But over time, I grew to love the Netherlands and my experiences there. It’s been 12 years since I left and I can confidently say that the loneliness I experienced was essential for my personal development and growth.
I’m a different person now. I’m comfortable with myself. I am able to do things alone without feeling scared. I have grown so much in the past decade that I am grateful to my awful boyfriend because if he didn’t cheat on me, I would never have decided to do better for myself.
Loneliness is part of the journey of life.
Each time we experience loneliness, we grow. What I focused on during my time abroad helped me get through the tough times.
Because I was by myself, I spoke to everyone that would speak to me. I spoke to strangers daily. I exchanged books with a man who worked at the hotel. I spoke to the woman who owned the coffee shop where I’d buy my morning coffee. I spoke to the train conductor. I literally spoke to everyone. What was the result? People remembered me. After doing this for a period of time, I’d get greeted when I went to the coffee shop. I became friends with the man who had similar interests in books. I started making friends.
After being in the Netherlands for a couple months, I enrolled in a class to learn Dutch. I never spoke Dutch well — it’s a hard language to learn. But I did learn some phrases that helped me communicate during my time there. By the time I left, I had a whole community of friends.
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, the amount of time I spent by myself was essential for self-acceptance. If I wanted to grab a drink but had no one to go with, I took a book with me. At times I would sit by myself. While this was awkward at first (and boy was it awkward), it quickly became normal for me. I slowly became comfortable with who I was. Being alone doesn’t matter when you’re comfortable with yourself.
My time in the Netherlands was the loneliest point of my life and also the time of most growth. If you are in a position now where you are lonely, where you feel like you don’t fit, where you want more, all I can say is hang in there, you will emerge a butterfly.