As the New Year rolls in, I am in my party dress, sipping a cocktail, and typing at my desk.
I suppose I knew at the start of the evening that this would be its conclusion, but I always hope for an outcome that isn’t me alone with my keyboard and my liquor.
That hope is frequently disappointed.
But I’m not entirely upset or unhappy about this moment. In fact, I kind of like it. Alone with my thoughts and my memories and my moment, I am really very happy.
This has been one of the most difficult years of my life. And if you know much about my life, that is saying much…much that is not good. I have been delving into my history and rooting out the damaged parts of my psyche and fighting a losing battle for health and for employment that pays actual money. I have been struggling with the letting go process that the verge of empty-nesting offers me. I’m really accustomed to grief, but somehow the thought of losing one’s daughter to the world is a type of loss unlike others. Which I suppose gives me the slightest bit of empathy for my own mother. And I have, speaking of my mother, been watching her decline into Alzheimer’s, and watching my dad mourn her situation and struggle through the days as a result.
I have been beaten and battered by life at many stages and in many ways, but this year has been the most psychologically difficult for me. But, in many ways, I am glad that it has been.
You see, I’m a stubborn and independent sort of soul. I like walking through fire, more often than not. I’m not afraid of life. I fight at it. But this year stopped me in my tracks. This year was too much to bear and too much to fight through. And that was a fabulous thing, because breaking under the weight of life forced me to find better ways of reinforcing the beams of my mind and heart and body. I have always made it through things by sheer force of will. But that is not the healthiest way to make it through.
In my defense, I began learning coping skills before I even managed puberty, so I wasn’t really in a position to assess the healthiest ways to make it through…your mind and body sort of do whatever they must to survive at times. And for that I am eternally grateful. But those early skills, while they saved me as a child, are now really unhelpful—even damaging. So, I needed to break in order to build.
They don’t always tell you up front that the building feels the exact same or worse than the breaking for the first six to seventy-two months, however. And while I still feel pain far more often than I feel joy, I feel something. Something to feel is worth a lot after thirty or more years of dissociating and shutting out and avoiding and denying. Feeling feels like so much progress. Feeling in the true sense, where you don’t just emote, but you know why you feel what you feel and you see how it connects to your life and your pain and your joy and your struggle.
So, in previous years…ones where I was alone with my keyboard or my television or my whatever on New Year’s Eve and felt pain…I didn’t really connect to my pain. And this year I can recognize that I wish I weren’t always at home on celebratory holidays, but that I am perfectly and beautifully content watching a movie at home instead of being out as well. And I know that much of that contentment is due to the skills I am learning to help heal the broken parts and allow me to become whole. The more whole I become the more I love being with myself, and don’t need validation from outside sources. (Also, a little of it is knowledge of how awful it is to be trapped on the train with vomiting drunks on my way home at two in the morning.)
Last week I was in my hometown with my family. And it was shocking how quickly I began to seek their approval or tried to fit in with them in some way. On about the third night I broke down and cried and told my daughter, “They will never stop treating me badly. Not ever.” That admission was freeing for me. That I was seeking to be treated as someone else or someone different than whom they wish to remember me as…the role they wish me to remain in…was telling. And the moment when I stopped hoping they would let me change roles or be myself without question or accusation was also telling. It signaled this new way of being in the world. A way that doesn’t require validation.
I don’t need to be told who I am.
I am, regardless of their desire for me to be other. As long as I stop seeking their design for me and follow my own, I have freedom. The moment I wait for them to pigeon-hole me, is the moment I begin to break. I must hold my wholeness, and that means I must hold the plans for who I am and how I am in this world. Mindfulness practices have definitely helped me see that more clearly, but when you are stuck back in your childhood home with your immediate family, it is surprising how quickly you can forget who you are.
So, tonight, having left that situation and having had that realization, I am very happy being me. Being a woman in a party dress with her computer screen and her vodka has never been so satisfying. Because tonight I choose it. It hasn’t been assigned to me or cast upon me or ascribed to my destiny. This moment is mine. Mine alone. And it is beautiful. And I am happy.
Happy New Year!