That’s what I thought the first time I entered the sensory deprivation tank.
I couldn’t tell where my body ended and the environment around me began. Complete darkness. Complete silence.
I was coming out of my skin.
This is what it feels like to die, I thought.
I’m not anti-social. I didn’t get put in time-out a lot as a kid. And I’m not an only child.
But I used to spend a lot of time by myself.
Like a lot, a lot.
Although I had a younger brother, more often than not I played alone.
But this tank was a new kind of alone.
So silent, it was noisy.
So dark, it hurt my eyes.
Actually, I got used to it after a while. But it did take a while. I had forgotten what it was like to be so utterly and completely alone.
A long time ago, I sold make-believe snow-cones to imaginary friends. I explored the woods behind our house. I collected rocks. I designed treasure maps. I made mud pies. I practiced handwriting in the dirt. I read lots of books. Lots and lots of books.
That was a very long time ago.
By the time I entered my early teens I was so used to being alone that I began to write moody, angst-filled poetry.
I was alone, but I wasn’t lonely.
Friends came and went—they moved or changed schools—but one thing that always stayed the same was the relationship I had with myself, that quiet comfortable kind of companionship you have with a good friend, even one that’s been gone a very long time.
And I found her when I entered the tank.
I had no idea that I would one day live in a house filled 24/7 with noise. There’s a husband, four kids, two dogs, and a turtle (You might think a turtle is pretty quiet, but his tank is LOUD). Not to mention the washing machine, dishwasher, TV, and ongoing Fortnite battles.
Alone? I hardly remember what the word means. And neither do my kids. Every house on our street is filled with families much like ours. Even when we’re not physically together, we’re connected. The noise doesn’t stop just because the streetlights come on and we all go inside.
I love the crazy, loud family I have now, but it was my quiet youth that shaped me into the person that I am today.
If you’ve ever felt lonely, if you’ve ever been sad because there wasn’t anyone to hang with you, there’s a few things you should know:
1) Creativity happens in the margins of our lives. It’s the in-between that allows us to forge new connections, make art, and build new things.
2) Silence helps us make sense of the world. Without noise, we are able to wrestle what’s real and important in our lives. We are able to dream of what our best life can be.
3) Most importantly, when we’re quiet, we are open to listening. Lies are often loud and obnoxious, while the truth tends to whisper in our ear: “You are loved. You are important. You are enough.”
Sometimes, my whole family will be gone and it’s just me at home. And it reminds me of that time so long ago. I remember who I was, my back pressed against the bark of a spindly pine tree, staring up at the sky and daydreaming about the woman I’d one day become.
I couldn’t have imagined then that I’d have all this. I didn’t know that my pretend family and my pretend work would one day be real.
When people ask me, how did it happen?
I say, “It happened in the silence. “
And now, when I need it I go into the tank, instead of feeling death, I find life.
There’s a big difference between being alone and being lonely. You don’t have to be afraid of the silence.