Rummaging beneath our Christmas tree, my sisters and I found an oddly-shaped gift tucked way in the back. The tag read “To: The Girls | From: Santa.” It was December 19th (or thereabouts). In that moment, I accepted as truth what I’d mostly-known for a few years by that point: Santa isn’t real. What a bummer. I remember a transitory space in time when the logical portion of my brain reasoned against the existence of Santa Claus, but the wildly imaginative and hopeful portion allowed for a small percentage of belief in magic. My mother’s mistake in placing a ‘Santa’ gift under the tree a week too early sealed the deal…there was no more room for believing. (To her credit, I was probably 9 or 10 years old – an admittedly inappropriate and outrageous age to still entertain a belief in Santa Claus, even if it was just 10%).
The way I felt during that transitory period, when I assumed (at least conceptually) Santa wasn’t real but needed a bit more proof in order to know for sure, was how I felt writing the first installment of this piece. Everything I said I learned was true-ish, though a more accurate title would have probably been: “18 Things I’m Pretty Sure I’ve Learned…or Will Learn…in 18 Months of Stumbling Around Lost and Confused and Sad…But Also Maybe I Haven’t Learned Anything at All.”
By the time July 2016 rolled around, I was desperate to attach meaning to my life. I was approaching my 27th birthday and the passage of time felt like an all-out hostile assault. I wanted to be where I wasn’t, which is to say: I wanted to have my shit together and I didn’t. I felt pressured to have accomplished something: to have moved on, to feel a certain way, to not feel a certain way, to have grown, to have changed, to have gained all sorts of applicable wisdom. After all, 18 months had passed and that’s no small thing, though to me it felt like the blink of an eye.
So I started making a list of things I had kind of, sort of learned and had almost come to believe as true. It was shaky at best. I was remarkably insecure…utterly lacking in confidence, treading just enough water to keep my head above the surface, but on the inside I was drowning.
Summer 2016 was bottom-y for a lot of reasons. I was not okay, but I think I did an okay job of keeping that unfortunate piece of truth hidden. My unraveling was not so noticeable day by day, but in hindsight, it’s a wonder I made it out alive. I had sex I can’t remember and didn’t want with men who had no business in my apartment. I started popping sleeping pills on top of alcohol with an utter indifference as to whether or not I’d wake up the next morning. I didn’t give a shit about anyone or anything, least of all my well-being, but it didn’t necessarily look like that. I went on lots of hikes and cooked lots of meals and worked out sometimes and spent a bit of time here and there with friends and family and I made my life look alright on Instagram. I don’t think anyone had a clue that I was dying, but I was definitely dying and I didn’t particularly care.
It was during that tortuously dark summer that I began writing ’18 Things I’ve Learned in 18 Months of Single’ in an attempt to convince myself I was somehow better now…that I’d emotionally traversed a great distance. I can best describe the first eight months of 2016 as miserable, punctuated with brief reprieves of being almost fine. It’s evident I wrote Part I during a reprieve.
I wanted to feel as light and airy as my writing suggests. I wanted to be confident and self-aware. I believed…with about 90% certainty…that I’d eventually learn everything on my list and I’d eventually feel better, but I had yet to find definitive proof of a light at the end of the tunnel (that pesky 10%). I figured, what’s the harm in owning these lessons a little prematurely? There wasn’t really any harm at all…except for the fact that I felt a bit disingenuous and found it impossible to write Part II.
I was spinning out of control. I was hitting bottom, digging a bit more, and hitting bottom again. I was so ashamed at my lack of progress and I’d already half-lied about the enlightenment I’d supposedly found during the past year and a half. So I didn’t write Part II. Instead, I kept spiraling for another few months (you know, to make good and certain that I was done with dying).
Funnily enough, I re-read the first nine items on my list today and they are all, in fact, true. But this time they’re not just truths, they are my truths and they are things I have really learned and now hold in my possession. Even the light and silly things feel grounded and more impactful than I’d originally intended.
I figured now is as good a time as any to add to the list…even though 18 months have come and gone and ’18 Things’ actually feels somewhat limiting. I’ve chosen to avoid explaining the following lessons in any sort of detail. My lack of explanation has less to do with laziness and more to do with the fact that while I know all of these things for sure, they mean something different each day and I’d prefer to leave my lessons open to the evolution of time and context.
10. My life is infinitely brighter, more manageable, and more joyful without alcohol and I am proud as f*ck of my decision to live out loud…chasing a better more.
11. I can do hard things.
12. My politics, sexuality, and spirituality are all up in the air – being carefully tended to and discovered and sculpted via teachers, books, prayer, and experience.
13. It’s okay to forget who you are, as long as you return to yourself again and again and again and again…
14. “You said you feel as though you’re dying, and my dear, you are. Parts of you are dying unto themselves because that is how we go from being someone who exists to someone who lives. The problem isn’t that you’re dying, it’s that you think dying shouldn’t hurt so bad. But it should. Let it.” -laura mckowen
15. I still love J…probably more than I should…with no end in sight. And I still cry when I hear a sad song and I still think about him 20x a day and I know we shouldn’t be together. And that’s all okay.
16. We are all just mirrors for one another. If you feel strongly about something or someone (good or bad), walk toward it and allow it to reflect back to you what you need to know.
17. My heart and mind often behave like a pendulum…swinging between one end of a spectrum and the other, and this is one of my life’s greatest challenges: to find balance between the extremes.
18. I am held by the Universe…by God…by Love…whatever you want to call it. I am held and so I cannot fall.