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I was half-listening to the news on the radio as I got ready for work, and kept hearing the word "hermit," which is odd, sort of like hearing the word "hobo" in a news broadcast. Turns out Maine has itself a bona fide Hermit, holed up in a wooded camp since the late '80s, not talking to anyone since the '90s, and now the subject of much media speculation. It even made the British tabloids, so you know it's weird.
Our Hermit isn't the back-to-the-land woodsman you'd expect to survive in the North Woods for dozens of really cold winters, though; in fact, the dude didn't even hunt or fish, and apparently hasn't even lit a campfire in all his time out there. No, our Hermit is more of a breaking-and-entering kind of guy...stealing his food from a nearby camp for developmentally disabled kids (while a roll of bills from the '90s literally molded in his pocket).
Clearly something is not quite right with the Maine ex-Hermit...if not when he first decamped for the woods and a life of solitude for no apparent reason (except maybe something about Chernobyl, but not really), certainly after years of never talking to other living souls and having only Rush Limbaugh on the radio for company. Too much alone time without anyone or anything to provide reality checks can do more harm than good.
There's a certain purpose implicit in those who take to the woods to observe and reflect (like, say, Henry David Thoreau did), and I can understand the mix of creative temperament and overwhelming emotional reaction to public scrutiny that causes public figures from Emily Dickinson to Brian Wilson to withdraw from the spotlight. And except for the most dedicated introverts among us, most of us can benefit from the occasional solo downtime, away from critical scrutiny or even basic human interaction, if only to see how well you function without your life "stuff" going on all around you.
But there's a different kind of withdrawal from society that many of us experience, and for those prone to depression or addiction, we can cross that line between "taking a little alone time to regroup" and "haven't put on shoes or talked to a live person (never mind family or friends) in a week" without even realizing it. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt (and wore for a whole 3-day weekend). Not good.
The process of conquering addictive behaviors can be awkward and uncomfortable, and very unpredictable, and for a lot of us, we don't necessarily want that to play out in front of an audience 24/7. Face it, it's easier to be miserable and feel off-kilter and not have to apologize for it than it is to feel you have to justify your behavior, or modify it so that others won't be uncomfortable. We may not have the mental energy available to navigate the weirdness AND explain it to anyone else, or to learn all those new coping skills (imperfectly at first, and frequently with extra swearing and tears) while others are watching. Some of us just find it easier to...I dunno, step back. Lay low. Go to radio silence.
And that can be fine---even restorative---in small doses. People need to know how to function as autonomous beings, on some level at least, even if their default social setting is "the more the merrier." And natural introverts often find time alone something of a relief. But left too long, alone time turns into isolation and a lack of connection (with family, friends, community), and we start to lose a clear sense of our own selves. Like the Maine Hermit, we stop recognizing our own reflection, because nothing's being reflected back at us, bad or good.
There's a reason why most addiction professionals value the role of community support in the recovery process, and why people who combine such supports (clinical or community) with other methods have the most success. And there are times when going it alone isn't necessarily the most effective approach...at least in the long run. So go ahead: have yourself a private little meltdown. You've earned it; change is hard! But don't go too long before reconnecting with others. Community has purpose, and this community in particular has a pretty good one.
I know this doesn't have anything to do with the topic, but all this talk of Hermits reminded me of the tasty molasses-based cookie, so here's a recipe for you. Mmmm, Hermits.
Who's Your Li'l Buddy?
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