A Fresh Start
I've always been a sucker for a new year. There's something about a new beginning, a fresh start, a clean slate. Even if it's all in my head, January 1st has always felt like starting over. Like opportunity. Like endless possibilities. And I'm the worst New Year's Eve date there is. I stay home. I remain sober. I go to bed early. I don't go to parties. I don't watch the ball drop. I don't kiss anyone at midnight.
There are a handful of holidays, like Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick's Day and Fourth of July, that my husband would refer to as "amateur hour." Where people go out and get wasted just for the fun of it, entirely missing the meaning of the day. I've never been interested in being among a crowd of out of control, unpredictable people. I certainly wouldn't want to be out on the roads with all the drunk drivers. And where I grew up, instead of fireworks going off at midnight it was gunshots. So I've always preferred skipping the festivities and staying safe at home.
But besides that, I was more excited about waking up rested and ready to crush all my new year goals. I would vow to start a 30 day cleanse. To train to run a certain distance. To use a daily journal of gratitude. I would focus on being present, being productive and being my best self. I would create vision boards and buckets lists. I would plan to be a whole new me. But when my husband died, my only goal going forward was to just survive. To get through it all. To keep my shit together. I fell out of the tradition of resolutions and aiming for greatness. I was happy with just good enough.
That first year, I appeared to have it all together. I was working. I was functioning. I was showered and made up most of the time. But on the inside I was falling apart. I was searching for answers. I was ruminating on what I could have done differently to save my husband's life. I was trying to accept that everything had changed. I was working hard to pretend that I was fine. To prove that I could handle it. To convince myself that it could have been worse. I was pushing all my emotions down, not realizing they would eventually catch up to me. I thought keeping buys and distracted was the cure. Until I started to feel like a volcano getting ready to erupt.
I thought for sure the year after that would be my year. I left my job and started to focus on myself. All my buried emotions and childhood demons came out of hiding. All of the resistance and denial was causing panic attacks. My walls were starting to come crumbling down. Then the pandemic hit. It was a relief at first when the island shut down. I was no longer expected to keep up with everybody else, running errands and getting to appointments on time. I didn't have to feel like a failure when all I could do was hide on my couch. Now everybody else was in the same boat. There were no obligations to get to the bank or the dentist or to get my hair done. Everything was closed. But after time, the loss of structure and freedom kicked my anxiety into high gear. Like everyone else, I started to feel like a caged animal. Trapped. With no way out.
I was positive the following year had to be better than the last. But it wasn't. In some ways it might have actually been worse. There were moments of hope that kept being taken away. It would seem as though the world was returning to its normal state, with another surge or variant to follow. I would have days where I felt like I was moving forward and making progress to then be hit with another grief grenade. It would knock me on my ass, feeling like I was having a setback, and all I had gained was lost. I would plan and then cancel trips, either because of fear or grief or both. It was push and pull. Forward and back. Highs and lows. I was starting to feel like this was as much as I could grow. I hit a wall. I was starting to feel stuck.
Here we are about to end a string of very challenging years. And going into this new year, I'm not exactly sure how to feel. I am hesitant to get my hopes up but I don't want to be negative either. I have to say, my old goal setting ways are creeping back in. And for the first time in a long time I feel the tiniest bit excited. Not because I have forgotten that my husband is gone or because the pandemic has gone away. But because it feels like it's my time now. My time to feel good about taking care of myself instead of feeling guilty. It's my time to know how much he would want me to be happy. It's my time to apply all the knowledge I've gained and start living my life again.
It turns out there is no timeline for grief. I don't see it ending any time soon. I'm grieving the loss of my husband. I've grieving the loss of my marriage. I'm grieving the loss of what was comfortable and predictable and safe in the world. All of our lives have been affected. It has been a struggle for every single one of us. In so many ways my life has been forever changed. There has been trauma and there have been breakthroughs. It's never going to be perfect. I will never feel amazing every single day. And maybe that is no longer my goal.
What I'm aiming for now is to allow however I feel without fighting it or putting a positive spin on it or trying to make it go away. To be kind to myself no matter what thoughts or feelings come, no matter if I understand them or not and no matter how much I wish I felt some other way. To be able to enjoy a moment without feeling terrified that the next bad thing is about to happen if I do. To be able to be present, without feeling like I have to get through whatever it is I'm doing until I can hide again. To keep my body feeling strong and loved so I don't constantly fear that it might fail me somehow. And to face discomfort just enough to keep growing without feeling like I want to run away. Most of all I'm going to focus on grace. For myself and everyone around me. It hasn't been easy. We've been through hell and back. This next year may not be amazing. It might not even be happy. But hopefully we can all be gentle with each other. So here's wishing you a gentle new year.