I really didn’t want to do this; write a post reflecting on this past year. In all honesty, the last few months of 2019 were really fucking dreadful. It’s been tough to look back on all of the wonderful things 2019 showed me since tragedy struck my brother in late October, extending its tentacles outward onto the whole of my family. But, clinging to the optimist that I (was) am, I will lean into the 2020 idea of having clear vision, and spend some time looking back. While I am happy to admit that I met a few of the intentions I set for myself in 2019: To live the year with resolve, to make amends where I can and to let go where I cannot. There were a few areas in which I fell short. I did a lot of letting go, but in doing so let a little too much of myself go as well.
I heard a song on Spotify as the year came to a close that drew into sharp focus how much I miss, am missing. The people and the pieces of myself that aren’t as present as I’d like them to be. Listening to those dulcet tones of a song I’d never heard before, I realized how much of 2019 I spent playing catch up; I did so much looking inward, that I often forgot to look up and out. I didn’t photograph much. I didn’t go camping. Not even once! Unless the backyard counts (it doesn’t). I didn’t make my beloved annual canoe trip down the St Croix River. I didn’t socialize much. I didn’t share my writing here – or anywhere really with any sort of frequency, but then, I also didn’t write. The weight of everything I didn’t do was threatening to crush me, and so I decided it was time for a different perspective. Sure, there was a lot missing in 2019, but when I truly look back at the year, there was so much more that I found. So it has been comforting to view 2019 as a sabbatical, of sorts. While I did still give a little too much of myself to others, I gave most of myself to me first, focusing in on doing the necessary work to re-create Athena. Caveat being, I knew it would be necessary to un-become the old me first.
I’ve done a lot of things wrong in my life. I mean really fucking wrong. Most of my mistakes and missteps occurred between the fall of 2016 and the spring of 2019. I sure know how to just cram shit in. Now that I’m firmly and healthily on the other side of the destroy everyone else while I destroy myself Athena years, I have the ability to wax intellectual about the psychology and trauma that led to my poor choices and bad behavior. In an interesting turn of events, however, I’ve also come to realize that doing so defeats the purpose of true accountability. The why doesn’t matter to anyone but me. It’s the what that stays with people. And oof. I’ve got a lot of whos and whats to make amends to and for. Truthfully, I am thankful 2019 held a giant mirror up to my face, forced me to look at myself and really reckon with her, so that I could finally see what I had been refusing to look at for so long. So that in doing so, I could seek to understand – to heal and resolve and leave behind me – all of the whys.
At the end of 2018 and into early 2019 I was intent on letting the bridges I burned light my way. Hell bent on destruction I spent several months attempting in earnest to destroy another’s character. It was easier to blaze a fiery trail and destroy someone else as I sought ceaselessly to erase my own pain than it was to do my own work. Or so I thought. It didn’t help that I got swept up in a tide of other people’s advice and opinions, but the onus, truly, is on me. At the time I was struggling to see myself as anything more than a helpless victim, and I thought that’s how everyone else saw me, too. I wallowed in that pit for months. God was I good at it. Everything that was wrong with me and my life was because of what happened to me. It belonged to other people. It was because of other people. But hate casts a long shadow, and by early spring I was struggling. The cognitive dissonance resulting from my victim-centered storytelling was crushing me. It wasn’t the truth. At least, it wasn’t the whole truth. Nothing is ever one thing. It became necessary for me to challenge the stories I was telling myself and seek, instead, to review the events of my past through a clearer, more unbiased lens.
When I was young, or at the very least, younger, I heard the phrase “hurt people hurt people.” It stayed with me, I used it to brace myself against the cruelty of others, and to help the girls navigate their own experiences with cruelty. But I never thought it applied to me. As I reflected on my past, honestly this time, I saw finally in a massive punch-to-the-stomach knock-the-wind-out-of-me needed-the-entire-box-of-Kleenex-in-therapy view that I was also a hurt person who had hurt other people. Talk about wild revelations! Of course I didn’t mean to, so I offered myself grace, but that’s not the point. What came of my glaring look back was my own need and desire to finally say to those I harmed most, “I am sorry.”
When a caterpillar enters its cocoon, it turns to goo, becoming an indecipherable mush. Still, it’s a living, sentient thing awaiting its transformation. It has no figure, no form, yet it worries not. The caterpillar trusts this process. I’m no butterfly, darlings. I am still very much in my cocoon, a sentient pile of goo, doing my best to trust this process. Leaning into the knowledge that, like the caterpillar, my unbecoming is for my greater good; necessary for my metamorphosis. The truest and most sincere apology that I’ll ever be able to offer those I’ve harmed, including myself, is accountability coupled with an apology and followed by changed behavior.
My apologies – here and in person – cannot and do not erase the past. And that’s okay; erasure isn’t absolution, it never will be. I can’t go back. None of us can. No matter how great a writer I am or hope to become, I will never be able to rewrite or edit over the mistakes I have made. I can only choose to keep learning from them so as to continue moving forward – onward – with grace and kindness and forgiveness and a willingness to do better. Most importantly, I need to continue to forgive myself so I can continue to live the apology others deserve. Over the course of 2019 I did reach out to those who I felt deserved an apology most, letting them know that when and if they wanted it, were ready for it, or needed it, I was ready to show up. Honest. Accountable. Sincere. With no expectations or strings attached. I’m happy to report that some bridges are being mended; new and better relationships are being forged beautifully, with hope and kindness and compassion. Yet, as is to be expected, there are others that are gone forever. Their season – and lessons – leaving indelible marks on the fabric of my being. I am incredibly grateful for both. I will continue moving forward through 2020, and for the rest of my life, apologizing by doing. By choosing better. By looking inward and growing forward. Ever pulling bits of goo together in an attempt to make my wings.
When I reflect back on the whole of 2019, I see a myriad of things; some I left behind, others I picked up along the way, a few more that were tried on, ill-fitting and out-of-style, only to be discarded. The girls both grew another year older, as did I. They’ve changed and blossomed into new and increasingly beautiful humans, and I continue to be in awe of and bewildered by them. By far, they are the greatest pieces of my life. I made a few new friends, who’ve shown up in unexpected and soul-changing ways and have woven themselves forever into my heart. I deepened a couple of the truest friendships I’ve ever known with people who show me what love and acceptance looks and feels and sounds and acts like. They’ve inspired me to continue practicing love, getting better at it every single chance I get. In April I rejoined the employed-by-others workforce and dusted off my Medical Device chops. It’s been a wild ride and I’m thankful to be a part of such a wonderful company, and to have the opportunity to help others every single day. I learned how to respect other people’s boundaries and how to set my own, though I’m still practicing enforcement. I went to therapy every single week and worked hard to dig as deep into myself as possible so as to heal the pieces of me that were still so hurt. It was rarely easy, and even less often fun, but to see how far I’ve come leaves me feeling such a strong sense of pride. Of accomplishment. I may not have gotten a lot done in 2019, but holy shit did I do a lot.
It’s funny what happens when you set aside your ego and embrace the darkness of your own shadows, meeting them with love and compassion and empathy and kindness. I’m not an ugly person, but I have done ugly things. It’s strange to write – even stranger to experience – that acceptance and healing of all that ugly has allowed me to hold nothing but gratitude for every last ounce of my past. Don’t get me wrong, there are countless ways in which I’m disappointed in myself, things I would always do differently if given the chance. Yet now when I look back I no longer judge her, the old me. Instead, I pull her in closely, hold her tight, and remind her gently, “Now that you know better, you’re doing better. At every opportunity you’re given. What a wonderful turnaround, kid. Keep it up.”
I still don’t know what’s next; where I’m going or where I’m meant to be. Once again, the changing of the year did not provide me with a Crystal ball. I’m okay with that, too. I no longer wonder if it’s right; What I’m doing. Where I am. Where I’m headed. Contrary to my Big Aries Energy, I don’t need to be right anymore. I’m content to just be here for now. I have spent 38 years go-go-going, and I think maybe it would be good for me to be still for a little while. Or, maybe I’m still a little stuck and just don’t know which direction to walk. That’s okay, too. 2019 showed up, showed the old me out, and taught me that it’s never too late to try harder, to love bigger, or to become a brighter, better version of yourself. It also reminded me, sometimes gently and sometimes with a high five to the face with a chair, that this wild and precious life of mine is not a race. There’s no speed limit or requirement. As Machado would say, and as I’ve reminded myself of often over the course of the last year, “Wanderer, there is no path. The path is made by walking.”
So this year, I intend to keep wandering down the path of knowledge. To keep challenging myself and seeking expansion. To keep dreaming impossible dreams if for no other reason than the sheer beauty and promise of them. To keep learning how to play the violin. To keep singing off key and to be okay with the fact that I do. Because, after 38 years, that’s probably not going to change. To spend as much time as I can getting to know my daughters as they grow and change and blossom. To let them see me do the same. And, more than anything else, to continue to keep hope alive in my heart for the unimaginable. This year, as a new decade begins and I come closer to the end of another, personal one (my thirties), I am going to make a few more stops along this road and enjoy the view. Because, as Ferris Bueller would smartly remind us: Life’s pretty short. If you don’t stop to look around once in awhile, you might miss it.”
I see you 2020.Stretched ahead of me, bright and warm and full of mystery and unknowns. I’m ready for your magic and am looking forward to the view.
PS: Please be a little kinder, too. I’ll try to do the same.