What does it mean to be alone?

by Keith Paolino  Dec 11, 2014

aloneOn Sept 1st I resigned my position as Co-director of OneTaste Austin. While I am still very involved in the community and the business, I have spent the last three months “doing the work”, specifically taking a hard look at places in myself that I have been avoiding seeing and experiencing for a long, long time.

And while the last three months have been a serious challenge, there has been a lot of fruit and a lot to be grateful for. I began a relationship with the little one that lives inside of me for the first time in my life. I see a therapist now, an amazing man I was lucky enough to find on my first try. I let go of the fantasy archetype of a mother that I have been holding out for. The one that is supposed to come along and take care of me one day, except she doesn’t exist so she can’t and won’t. I have a greater understanding of the family systems that I grew up in, that I took on as templates for relating to people (thank you Dr. John Friel). I have become aware of the multiple generations of abuse and tyranny that I have been carrying in my body and acting out unconsciously. I have begun to unravel and disrupt the patterns of codependent behavior I have in my relationship, and I’ve begun to see the woman I’m dating in a whole new (wonderful and terrifying) way.

And I’m stuck.

But first…

I live in an OM House. My favorite description of these intentional communities is that it’s an R&D lab for relationship and intimacy (flow practices if there ever were any) built on a foundation of Orgasmic Meditation, revealing and movement (Slow) practices. One part of this research is that adults who may or may not be physically intimate are sleeping in the same bed together. And that who you are sharing a bed with can change.

Except for me. I have been almost exclusively sharing a bed with the woman I'm dating (or sleeping alone) for the entire time I've been living in Austin. There was a couple months where I shared a room with someone, two twin beds. The rest of the time it's been us sleeping together or me sleeping in our bed by myself when she's not in town.

A lot has been shifting in our relationship. These last three months have created a lot of change, both in how we relate and the roles we play. It’s been good, and much needed in order for our relationship to continue.

And then…

…it was time for a room change at the house. She said she wanted for us to try living in different rooms. And it was like she put a gun between my eyes and pulled the trigger.

Everything that I had learned was gone, as though I hadn’t spent a minute looking at my patterns and shadow. I was instantly regressed, shut down, and reactive. All of the templates playing out as though on a screen in front of me. I was devastated. All the victim language came up… How could she do this to me? Doesn’t she know how hard the last three months has been? As though it wasn’t enough, now she wanted to throw THIS on the pile?

I sunk into denial, not wanting to talk about the logistics of the move, feeling powerless to find anything good about what was set in motion. I was pretending (as I have in the past) that if I just ignored it, it would go away. You can guess how well that worked. So the day of the move comes, and I am going down. Hard.

I completely check out of the house, my relationship, my work, everything except therapy (where I conveniently neglect to tell my therapist about what’s happening later that day), yoga (did about 10% of the class and then laid on the mat), a massage (slept through most of it), and coaching a couple (somehow I managed to be present for this one, go me).

As the time of the day comes where everyone is moving rooms, I go out back, in my hoodie and my flip flops in 45 degree weather, and sit in a chair. Heart beating a mile a minute, breathing just shy of hyperventilating, and a wet, old, thick, stiff, stuck knot in my chest.

I am out there for two hours. After about 20 minutes, I start talking to the little one. Trying to figure out what is happening. He doesn’t seem to know. I assure him that no matter what, I will be here and we will get through whatever is happening together. Doesn’t seem to help much. I try talking to God. All he keeps saying is “I am here”. Comforting, yet doesn’t help me understand what is happening for me.

After about 45 minutes, this one thing surfaces from deep inside of me. Something so cold and stark that it is undeniable.

I. am. alone.

And that’s it. That’s the truth. The thing I don’t want to hear. The thing I don’t want to admit.

Then came about an hour of tears and grief and hating myself and hating everyone else and hating my parents and damn everyone and myself all to hell. Then I snuck inside and went to bed.


I have a large, and completely disconnected, family. Blood relatives, none of whom have spent any time admitting or confronting years of alcohol abuse, never mind exposing the secrets of the family’s history of sexual and physical abuse to be examined or confronted. I went back for 5 days for Thanksgiving, and it was something I don’t want to repeat any time soon.

And so I have spent most of the years since high school, where I realized that my family wasn’t the one I wanted, looking for a replacement. In later years, I switched that to trying to create my own family (not through having children, but rather through my network of friends). I have used relationships to substitute for this family I was deprived of. I have used work relationships. I have used pretty much any relationship that could provide some of the sustenance I was lacking.

I have used the community I have help built to provide a family-like structure that I could live within.

It all came crashing down when my girlfriend of two and a half years said she wanted to live in separate rooms.


I have been sitting with this today. All day. I have gone silent on my girlfriend. I have had minimal contact with my housemates. I have spent as much time by myself today as I could. Right now, they are all sitting around the table having dinner together, and I am sitting at Starbucks writing this.

I still cannot pierce the armor around what it means to fully embrace the idea that I have no one but myself. And that it’s my job to create all of my life and that it’s my responsibility when it’s not going the way I want.

I lived with my girlfriend because it was another way I could construct the idea of family. Of security. Of permanence. Of abundance. Things I did not have growing up.

I can see I’m still in the process of tearing that all down (or hiring people to do it for me).

And yet, I can’t seem to feel good, or right, about the idea of aloneness. I know I’m terrified of being alone. I know I will continue to work on finding some good, something that “clicks”, around being alone. I don’t mean literally alone, though I have been creating that today to help me stay with the feeling of it. I mean alone in the sense that I can’t ever really depend on anyone but myself. And I am starting from scratch on how to do that, and how to enjoy doing it, because I grew up in an environment of secrets, manipulation, covert contracts and people who used each other to be able to feel their experience in the world.

I know it’s something important. Rather, I believe it’s something important. Otherwise it wouldn’t be something I was fighting so hard. (Thank you Nicole Daedone for that litmus test). And I am fighting it. Even as I sit here writing this, I know how easy it would be to go home, immerse myself in community, and go on believing that they are my family and that I’ve “done the best I could with what I had”. And forget, for another little while.

Each time I remember, the pain it causes is excruciating. I remember that I am alone when the carefully constructed family and relationship fabrications threaten to decompose or disappear. I remember that I am alone when I have created situations and external circumstances to provide for me the needs that I am unwilling to provide for myself, and those situations change without my agency. I remember I am alone when God gets bored with me playing small and sends me something or someone to take me out of control. I remember I am alone when I can no longer ignore the ways I refuse or forget to take care of myself, and my weight, or my health or my finances rear up and bite me on the ass.

The pain I experience is the breaking of my viewpoints and calcified habits, making way for the man that I actually want to be. One who finds love, security, family, approval, forgiveness and knowing, through my connection to my self, my body and God.

So for now, I’ll try to remember. A little bit every day.

OM Make or buy the damn green drink Write desire inventory Go to yoga Stay vigilant with regards to my relationships Notice where I want to make others responsible for my experience Have fun