I can’t really remember New Years Eve 2015…or much of 2015 at all, for that matter. I’m able to visualize a few snippets of time…like a short highlight reel in slow motion, but for the most part, 2015 was one big, sad, blur. I do know I was more than ready to put that shitshow of a year in my rearview. And so, if memory serves me correctly, I remained home alone on NYE, borrowing a line from Carrie Bradshaw, “by 10 p.m. I will be in bed asleep…and blissfully unaware of how fabulous this night is supposed to be.” I met the conclusion of 2015 with an emphatic “good fucking riddance,” crawled into bed, and thankfully closed my eyes to what had been a year of trauma and groundlessness.
Then I blinked. And now we’re here again. Another year is in the books and it all happened so quickly. I’m starting to believe the people who’ve told me that as you get older, time just moves more and more quickly, which is initially alarming, but ultimately creates a sense of urgency and responsibility to the moment. Rather than lament the passage of time, I find myself embracing my youthfulness and savoring the opportunity to hold space at 27 years young with very few obligations. Which, on NYE 2016, looked like: sisters, sweatpants, sparkling grape juice, ping pong, mandala coloring, and an elaborate silly-string prank executed to perfection.
I’m finding it difficult to describe with any kind of specificity how it feels to reflect on this particular year, except to say that it feels like a hug from an old friend. It feels worn and familiar and deserved. It feels volatile, but victorious. It feels precious and hard-fought. It feels as though I’m standing on a battlefield following a ceasefire…utterly worked, but breathing by the grace of God and maybe a pinch or two of sheer tenacity. For as long as I live, I’ll remember 2016 as the year I both died and came back to life…a resurrection of the most brutal and beautiful kind.
Before it all slips into a difficult-to-access center of my brain, I’d like to pay homage to a few of my favorite moments…2016: the hits.
# 1 And unto us, a Child is born…
Alright, alright, my nephew is not Jesus Christ. But he’s damn close. Jackson Emerson was born on January 5, 2016. When I found out he arrived at 1:01 A.M., I was pissed. I’d waited at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, MI for many many hours…but decided to leave around 11:30 P.M. when my sister’s husband informed us that it was still going to be awhile. I’d been awake for too many consecutive hours and doubted my ability to successfully navigate the drive home if I stayed any longer. So I missed the birth of my nephew, which upset me greatly.
No matter…I met him the very next morning while he wiggled around in some kind of foil-encased ultraviolet-light container. Something was very wrong with his bilirubin levels, so he was being carefully observed and treated and blasted with blue lights in a plastic tub from all directions. It must have sucked in comparison to his previously warm and cozy home inside my sweet sister. Having no idea what any of it meant, I was scared shitless but tried to act like everything was totally normal because I could tell my sister was scared shitless too. Nothing about his birth was what I expected. Not the timeline of events, or the duration of labor (forever), or my sister’s post-birth demeanor, or the hospital room, or his length of stay, or the necessity of NICU…none of it was peaceful or serene or snappy like in the movies.
Almost immediately, Jackson became like a museum…my sister, the curator. I’d visit on the weekends. I mostly just stood over his bassinet, staring at his tiny, sleeping form as if he was a confusing work of Picasso. I’d hammer my sister with question after question about childbirth and infants and taking care of such a teeny little human. She and her husband were so very patient with me and my near-constant visits. I had so many questions about this new baby. I didn’t hold him often…he was too small and delicate and I was too clumsy a person to be trusted with something so precious. I could lose hours watching him sleep, which in hindsight sounds exactly as creepy as it probably looked.
As deeply as I loved him from the moment I found out about his pending arrival, I didn’t experience that overwhelming “auntie” moment until a few months ago. Jackson crawled across the carpet toward me as I sat on my sister’s couch and he used my legs as a means to pull himself to a standing position, at which point he held his arms in my direction…he wanted me to pick him up. My whole heart ached with an emotion I hadn’t felt until that moment. I melted as I scooped him up and kissed him approximately one million times all over his face. I love my sweet boy. He is, without a doubt, the second best gift of 2016 (more on that later).
# 2 School is in session…
If 2015 was wandering in the desert, 2016 was stumbling headfirst into a pool of water, even if it took me a hell of a long time to figure out I’d found salvation. 2016 was a year so mind-blowingly packed with awakening, my head is spinning trying to figure out a way to describe any of it. So I won’t. Instead, I’ll provide you with a list of my favorite pieces…the manna, the water, the teachings, the healing. If you are unsure of yourself, if you feel lost, if you feel hopeless, if you feel like you can’t find your tribe or your purpose or your home, if you’re drinking or drugging the pain away, if you desperately want to stop but can’t and don’t know why, if you feel like you’re dying, if you need to rise:
- Carry on, Warrior (glennon doyle melton)
- Traveling Mercies (anne lamott)
- A Course in Miracles (written / edited by Helen Schucman | transcribed / edited by William Thetford)
- Parched (heather king)
- Drinking: A Love Story (caroline knapp)
- Lit: A Memoir (mary karr)
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (cheryl strayed)
- Dry: A Memoir (augusten burroughs)
- Blackout: Remembering The Things I Drank to Forget (sarah hepola)
- Girl Walks Out of a Bar (lisa smith)
- Lust and Wonder (augusten burroughs)
- Eat, Pray, Love (elizabeth gilbert)
The words of these writers broke me open in 2016, their stories like mini-holy texts, whispering to my soul: “sweet girl, you are so not alone. You are special and unique in many ways…but mostly you are not unique at all. Yours is a story shared by many. The path you are walking is well-worn…thousands have traversed the ground beneath your feet. The arms of the universe are willing to catch you. You are held. You are loved. You are one of us.”
I have undoubtedly neglected to include many, many works of art that smacked me upside the heart in 2016, including, but not limited to: books, blogs, quotations, podcasts, articles, friendly strangers, paintings, songs, bumper stickers, lyrics, jokes, conversations, memes, YouTube videos, films, documentaries, essays, hashtags, speeches, commercials, etc., etc., etc.,
# 3 Catching feels…
Oh boy. Literally. “Ohhhh, boy” was how I felt. Oh, this boy. I caught feels…so very, very fast and hard for a guy in 2016. It lasted approximately 13 days. But it was enough.
Inappropriately, drunkenly, making out in the super early hours of the morning, in a different state, with someone I definitely should not be kissing, I felt what I’ve decided to call, “the gut thing” for the first time since I was 18 years old. “The gut thing” is not butterflies. It is not lust, either, but it’s definitely sexual. It’s not purely sexual, though. It’s a wanting bigger than sex…a hyper-attraction at a cellular level. I’d felt it only three or four times before – the last time I was 18 and early in the physical stage of my relationship with my ex. I’d long ago decided “the gut thing” was something that only happened to the hormonal teenage version of me…either that or it was a straight up figment of my imagination.
So you can imagine my surprise, nay, total shock when I felt “the gut thing” at age 26, with a guy I only kinda knew. Something like a New Year’s Eve fireworks show started lighting up my neurological synapses…I wanted this one. Bad.
We’d spent the evening sitting on the back porch of my friend’s Tennessee home, drinking (me: several bottles of red wine / him: several pints of Crown Royal), talking religion, life, love, heartbreak, and, most predominantly, our mutual desire for a political and socioeconomic revolution. (I know…impressive right? I liked to fancy myself an intellectual drunk, nevermind the fact that it was probably 75% indecipherable gibberish.)
Anyway, the other members of our little back-porch philosophy club dispersed and soon it was just him and me. I quickly realized I had a bit of a crush on this enigma of a man. He was so intelligent and spiritual and open and real and vulnerable and interesting and cute.
We spent a week or two texting constantly…but for the most part I knew it was going nowhere for about a hundred different reasons. He was in love with the girl who broke his heart. And I was psychotic.
“Psychotic” might be slightly hyperbolic…but only slightly. You see, I was SO excited to feel something for someone, having essentially decided I’d fucked up my one shot at “true love” and thus condemned myself to a lifetime of loneliness, that I assuredly scared the poor guy with my intense enthusiasm. I made no attempt to hide how I felt. And by that I mean, I told him I hadn’t felt this way in so many years and I felt such a strong connection to him and I wanted to see him as soon as possible…what’s so creepy about that? Answer: literally everything is creepy about that.
Not so shockingly, he disappeared soon after and I got over my infatuation…lessons about the art of subtlety now firmly ensconced in my dating tool bag.
Embarrassing? Hell yes.
Worth it? HELL YES.
It was the first time post-breakup that I experienced the thing…“the gut thing.” I felt a strong intellectual and spiritual and physical connection to someone. Because of my little short-lived romance, I know it’s possible. I also know, I was only ever meant to have that exact experience. I was nowhere near ready for a relationship. I was a spinny, drunk, lost, pscyho…thoroughly incapable of entering into any sort of commitment.
It was a disaster. But an awesome disaster. I’m grateful for my mortifying two-week gut-thing circa Spring 2016.
# 4 “You can put yourself in the way of beauty…”
I’m the kind of girl who’s gone through just about every phase you could ever imagine. I spent two years dressing like a Green Day music video extra and pretending I could skateboard (spoiler alert: I’ve never successfully skateboarded in my entire life). I tried to get into the whole “gym rat” phenomena (purchased expensive clothes, shoes, apps, gear, etc.) only to find out I actually hate working out in gyms. A year ago, I walked into Ulta and spent over $250 on designer make-up and brushes because I became obsessed with the idea of looking like one of those girls who appears flawless on the daily. That lasted approximately three days before I decided it’s fucking ridiculous to spend longer than 5 minutes per day applying makeup.
I keep waiting for the whole hiking thing to fall out of favor like every other phase and fad and identify I’ve ever tried on for size. Much to my surprise, my love of the outdoors continues to grow and morph as time marches on. And 2016 was a year of many, many great hikes:
- Fall Creek Falls State Park | Spencer, TN | March 2016
- Empire Bluff Trail | Empire, MI | March 2016
- Island Lake State Park | Brighton, MI | February 2016
- Black Mountain Forest Recreation Area | Cheboygan, MI | July 2016
- Maybury State Park | Northville, MI | July 2016
- Clinton River Trail (Jackson’s first mini-hike) | Rochester Hills, MI | August 2016
- Bald Mountain Recreation Area | Lake Orion, MI | May 2016
- Highland Recreation Area | Highland Charter Twp, MI | June 2016
- Holly Recreation Area | Holly, MI | 2016
- Seven Lakes State Park | Holly, MI | 2016
I put myself in the way of beauty in 2016 and often and I’m proud of the miles I logged.
# 5 Clean
For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I felt clean as the clock struck midnight on NYE. I had no big resolutions. I am already a non-smoker and a teetotaling, booze-free badass. If I accomplish nothing more in 2017…if I lose zero pounds and don’t find a new job and put nary a dent in my credit card debt…I’ll still be clean and free and brimming with pride. Things could all fall to shit tomorrow or next week or six months from now. If they do, I’ll ask for help and get back up. But as of today, I’m closing in on three months of sobriety, which is longer than I’ve ever managed to stay sober before. It feels exactly as incredible and hopeFULL as it sounds. And so, as much as I love you, sweet Jackson Emerson, you were indeed the second best gift of 2016, because the first best gift is the one I gave myself…the gift of being here at all, both in mind and body.
Two thousand and sixteen was a year of the highest highs and the lowest lows. It was a year of pain and darkness and of growth and light. It was a year of falling apart and giving myself enough space to be put back together. It was a year of surrendering and finding strength in the surrender. It was a year to remember, but perhaps more importantly, it was the kind of year upon which to build the next…with purpose and gratitude.
Cheers to the blank slate of 2017! May we all be deliberate in our choices, mindful in our actions, and compassionate to one another – always, always. ♥