Photo: George Burns
"Alone time is when I distance myself from the voices of the world so I can hear my own."
I used to fear being alone. I understood why after John Bradshaw, who pioneered the concept of the inner child, appeared on my show 14 years ago. John took my audience and me through a profound exercise. He asked us to close our eyes and go back to the home we grew up in, to visualize the house.... Come closer, look inside the window and find yourself inside. What do you see? And more important, what do you feel? For me it was an overwhelmingly sad yet powerful exercise. What I felt at almost every stage of my development was alone. Not lonely—because there were always people around—but I knew that my soul's survival depended on me. I felt I would have to fend for myself. I now think that the sense of being apart from others is what led me to trust so firmly in something bigger than I could articulate, and feel a connection to God.
As a girl, I used to love when company would come to my grandmother's house after church. When they left, I dreaded being alone with my senile grandfather and my grandmother, who was often exhausted and impatient and had no time for me.
I was the only child for miles around, so I had to learn to play, entertain, and be with myself. I invented new ways to be solitary. I had books and homemade dolls and chores and farm animals I often named and talked to out loud. I'm sure that all that time alone was critical in defining the adult I would become.
Looking back through John Bradshaw's window into my life, I was sad that the people closest to me didn't seem to realize what a sweet-spirited little girl I was. But I also felt strengthened, seeing it for myself.
These days I'm often surrounded by other people. I have to interact constantly, so when I get to spend time with just me, I delight in every moment. Alone time is when I recharge and go back to my center, distancing myself from the voices of the world so I can hear my own with clarity. It's when I consciously count my blessings, take a deep breath, and try to absorb the wonder and glory of all my experiences.
I'll admit that my 30s were a blur. After I appeared in The Color Purple, when I was 31 years old, my show went into national syndication and my world went on hyperspeed. At one point I visited 21 cities in 20 days. I would do speaking engagements at night after taping my show. I was trying to fulfill the responsibilities of a blossoming career and hadn't yet learned the art of saying no. That was the unhealthiest period of my life. I was so out of balance. Fat and disconnected. Always doing, always going. I thought that if I stopped, I would surely fail. Now I know for sure that if you don't replenish your well, it runs dry. And things around you falter.
So on any given Sunday, you will find me alone. Filling myself up. Cherishing life and loving every solitary moment.
A Moment of Solitude
How to enjoy the pleasure of your own company
5 reasons you must have time for yourself
How to be alone without going nuts
From the July 2005 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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