In February of 2017, my sister treated my husband and me to a night away. When we checked in, the woman at reception asked, “Is it your anniversary?” No, not until June. At dinner that night, the waiter wanted to know, “Is it someone’s birthday?” Nope, we just missed one, and the other is months away.
The next morning, the man who brought us breakfast asked me, “Is there a special occasion?” I decided, in the light of day, and with a good night’s sleep under my belt, to answer with the truth. “You know what? It’s just been a really hard year.” The man nodded, knowingly, then smiled and left me alone with my poached eggs and welled-up eyes.
Let’s be frank: 2016 was a shit show on every level. A minority of Americans somehow elected a dangerous, inexperienced narcissist as our president. Global terrorism and a national obsession with guns left us shattered weekly, daily. Our earth was angry – fires, floods, hurricanes, blizzards. On a micro level, it was a rough year for our family, too. My career was derailed, not once, but twice in that lousy year. My husband’s work shifted dramatically, as well. My back went out in a rather spectacular fashion, leaving me completely immobile, sitting on a toilet at a friend’s house, wondering, “How long will I be here before someone notices I’m missing?” We adopted a dog we love, but who found great satisfaction in digging up expensive irrigation and landscaping, and who swallowed a distressing number of socks, sipping them down like noodles. The kids had their share of ups and downs, too, as did our extended family, and they have their own stories to tell, for sure. The winter began early, with a rainy, stormy bang, leaving us with downed trees and massive leaks all over our newly remodeled house. And the capper, a week before Christmas, all that rain brought down the 75 year-old cobblestone retaining wall behind our house, gifting us months of nervously watching the hill above us slide down to become the hill just behind us, stopping barely a foot from our back door. Needless to say, there was not a lot of sleeping that entire rainy season.
Our family boldly started 2017 off by setting an intention for more joy, but I was still mired in sadness and rage that quickly settled into defeat and despair. I was so profoundly shaken by the year before, that I turned down every offer of work, convinced that another spectacular failure was imminent. I cut myself off from friends and family, feeling utterly unworthy of their love and support. I stopped teaching and practicing yoga and meditation. I walked around like a shell of who I had been before. I basically looked the same from the outside, but my insides were empty, hollow. I had failed everyone, and I was embarrassed and profoundly sad. As if mirroring my mood, the rain kept coming down, along with the mud and the rocks. Our back yard situation became the daily, physical, and utterly unavoidable metaphor for everything in my life – all crashed down and broken apart, but somehow still sliding toward an even bigger disaster.
And yet, and yet. I still labored, often in the dark and without much hope, toward the promise we made as a family. I searched hard for that joy, and, when it appeared, I dug deep to embrace it. At some point in the spring, the rain finally stopped. The literal and figurative sun reappeared. I decided to stop wallowing and start accepting the help the universe was offering me. I accepted a freelance gig working for a dear friend. I accepted a request to teach yoga. I accepted lunch invitations and dinners with my girlfriends. I accepted my sister’s offer to join her family for a week at the beach. At the end of the summer, I accepted a fulltime job. In the fall, Harry and I accepted a loan to rebuild our wall. And about a month before the end of 2017, our entire family accepted a crew of workers, just as determined as we were to clear away the physical detritus of 2016, and build a strong foundation for 2018.
So, that brings me to the New Year. If 2016 was the year it all fell apart, and 2017 was the year of hitting bottom so I could begin to rise, then I’m choosing to declare 2018 the year of rebirth. The Hindu god Shiva’s work is to destroy in order to rebuild. And while he’s certainly visited us before – hello, flooding our house from the inside out - I feel like his blueness took up permanent residence with us toward the end of 2015, and he brought with him lots and lots of lessons for us to learn. The last two years have been all about major destruction for me and for our family – both physically and emotionally.
This process has wiped out who I thought I was and forced me to become who I’m supposed to be. Not the perfect person I was trying to project, but the real, human, me. The me that makes mistakes. Lots of ‘em. The me that knows that just trying my best is more than good enough. The me that knows that, as long as I am kind and brave (shout out to Glennon Doyle), then, that’s enough. Then, I’M enough. I’m choosing to spend time with the people who love the flawed-ass me, and who don’t want or need the perfect me to show up, like, ever. In my new job, I leaned into the fact that I had a lot to learn, and watched as help greeted me at every turn. At home, I let go of the idea that I had to do everything, and made room for others to rise to the occasion. And while I wept very real tears the day my youngest had to walk to and from school, alone, for the first time ever, I also wept with pride when he returned home, tired, but puffed up from meeting the grown up challenge.
I am deeply grateful for the opportunities that others have given me, but I know my revival is nobody’s job but my own. I have to do the work. But here’s the kicker, and the hardest part for a people pleaser like me: how that work is accepted or viewed or judged is not up to me. Not even one little bit. The yoga sutras present the idea of Abhyasa Vairagya – encouraging us to make great effort, but without attachment to the results. I’ve always been all about the great effort, but letting go of how it’s received is soooo hard. I want everyone to like me. I want everyone to be impressed by the work I do. I want people to think I’m smart, I’m kind, I’m funny, and that I’m a good mother and wife. And I am all of those things, some of the time. But I am never, nor is anyone else, all of those things all of the time. It’s just not possible. And pretending it’s possible is not only unsustainable, in the end, it’s both exhausting and false.
So, for 2018, here’s my plan. Continue to seek joy, and pray for the ability to accept it. Ask for help, and say, “yes, please” when it’s offered. Embrace brave and kind as my new mantra. Abhyasa Vairagya. Release the exhausting and false narrative of perfection. And know in my bones that destruction, destruction, destruction leads to rebirth, rebirth, rebirth, if you’re willing to put in the work and let the rest go.
Happy New Year, everyone. Sending you much love and wishes for your own kind of 2018, filled with lessons and learning and love and laughter.