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Monday, December 27, 2010

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

Truer words were never written about 2010.  At least for me. 

2010 will go down as being one of the best years of my life.  Not because it was easy; hell no.  But because it was the year when everything changed.  Every aspect of my life turned upside down; I left my well paying job to become a volunteer, I moved countries, my marriage fell apart for good, it…was a very tumultuous time.  I can honestly say that this year has been the most transformative of my life.  I grew, changed, and freaked out with the best of them this year.  Blessing rained from heaven and I fell between the cracks of life for awhile.  

Things got pretty bleak, and then things got much, much better.

This is the year that I really had to face myself and all the really ugly things that I had been denying.  I had to dig deep and really learn something about loving myself more completely, to stop hiding in other people and enjoy my own life more fully. I took risks, huge risks.  I sold everything I own (pretty much) and lived out of one suitcase for five months.  I jumped without looking.  I took leaps of faith every day.   

I travelled around the world, made new friends, reconnected with the old ones, had some pretty amazing entanglements and ate some great cheese.  I reflected, screamed, raged, cried, sang, played and danced my heart out. 

I think the most important thing was to realize that I have very little control over things that happen.  I can only control my responses; everything else is beyond my control.  I think it is a completely delusion and a waste of time, now, to try and control anything. Life is messy; people do stupid stuff to each other all the time.  That’s part of being human; no one is perfect. What a boring place the world would be if we didn’t have conflict or make mistakes.     

Anyway, psychologists used to have a stress test with key indicators of stress and man, I scored the highest you could score in one year.  Technically I should be a basket case.  Or so emotionally cut off I can’t feel anything.  Or just be a bastard to everyone and blame everyone else for my problems.  Or drink myself under the table.  Or do all kinds of bad things to other people.  There are a thousand ways this could have played out for me.

I guess I chose a different path cause I don’t feel or do any of the above. I’m pretty sure I’m not a basket case.   

During challenging times, I guess you can choose to walk the bitter victim path of blame, anger, hatred and misery or a path of acceptance of responsibility, growth and change.  I chose the latter.   I figured out that you either learn and grow or you just stay the same bitter, horrible person you were.  And I couldn’t be that person anymore.

I remember one game changing moment came in early January. The old bed in my apartment had an interesting fault.  The slats would come unbalanced and the mattress would usually slip to one side.  You usually needed two people to adjust it and even then it was always a bit of challenge. So there I was, one January evening, contemplating my life, when CRACK, the bed slipped out and my face was suddenly facing the floor.

I panicked; I had never fixed the bed alone before.  After about an hour of trying to adjust it the old way, with a partner, I gave up.  I sat in the middle of my bedroom floor and I cried.  I didn’t know how to live this new life alone.  My face turned bright red and I just wailed with frustration, anger, loss and grief. Then suddenly, everything became really calm and still.  I realized that the reality of me being in a couple no longer existed; no one was going to help me out.

No one was worried if I didn’t come home for dinner or if I was stressed out at work. I had no one.  I had lost not only my husband but my dear in-laws who had been such a supportive, loving family over the years.  I was 20,000 miles from my family, in a foreign country, completely alone. Those things hit me hard. Before that moment with the bed, I had been full of bravado and anger; enough to be really cut off from the reality of the situation. Now, I felt the full impact of the loss, wanting to sink into the deepest hole on earth.

And suddenly, in the storm of self pity, came this calm. 

I got up, pulled the mattress completely off the slats.  I picked up the slats and put it firmly back into place. I put the mattress back.  I tidied the bed and it all took me less than two minutes. I went to sleep.  I woke up the next morning and realized that I could do this; I could be alone.  I could manage on my own; I didn’t need anyone else to fix things for me or prop me up.

This revelation was pretty awesome; in that moment, I knew that despite the ups and downs, I would come out of things okay. But if I was going to do this right, I was going to have to stop running and face things full on.  I made a promise with myself that I wouldn’t try to cover up my feelings, I would ask for help and I would feel my way through every moment of the process.  I had to accept that the life I had known was gone forever and the future was a complete gray area of no guarantees.

Was it always that easy? Nope, there have been dark, dark days indeed. Has it been scary? Absolutely mind numbingly terrifying.  Have I wished things were different sometimes? Sure, I play that game.  I wouldn’t say that I’m happier than I have ever been but I’d like to think, I hope, I pray, that I’m smarter, wiser, more loving and independent.        

People say that everything happens for a reason.  I think that’s far too tidy a sentiment.  Or that everything that happened is meant to happen.  I still think that’s a heap of bollocks as well.  I think it’s better to say that something happened, you made a choice and you can learned something from it.  That you won’t repeat the same mistakes or hurt people the same again.  I think, for me, that is much healthier. 

When my dad came over last December, we went on a brilliant road trip together around the South Island.  Dad is sort of my spiritual guru; I trust him completely.  He is very loving and forgiving of people, even when they don’t do what he thinks is best for them.  As we went through the countryside, we listened to a LOT of music together but one song was a favorite from the Mountain Goats.  The lyric he loved the best was:

“I am going to make it through this year, if it kills me.”

We both laughed and laughed.  When I said goodbye to him at the airport, he told me that I would have a rough year.   I sort of didn't believe him; I thought I was totally over it.  I was wrong. 

He said he felt that through the year I would be sad, frustrated and alone.  But he smiled and said that I was going to make it through the year, even if it did kill me.   Later, in October, we spent a lot of hours together.  He put his arms around me and said “Kid, you made it through the hell year; I’m proud of you. It will all get better now. Trust in God and trust in that.”

He was right; I had turned a corner.  I felt it in my bones; the years of sadness, anger and isolation were over; now it was time to celebrate the coming through of a great ordeal and to start a new.

I am truly grateful to all the friends, family, lovers and strangers that carried me through this interesting time of change.  I could not have done this without you.  And despite all my self love, independent blah blah blah diatribes, I did lean on all of you quite a lot.  So thank you.

And thank you, 2010.  You have occasionally been a bitch of a year but I can honestly say, I’m glad I lived through you. I had some of the best moments of my life this year; such amazing highs! And less amazing stuff too.

2011 already appears to be a much more stable year; Casa Turchese is going to be in full swing (Marco is going to put in an outside wood fire pizza oven!!! Tessa going to help me train for a 21 k in Bali in May), more travel is in the cards (Bali, back to N.Z. in October probably!), kittens abound, new hobbies (hello Karate, mural painting, guitar and Melanesian cooking), new languages (hello Italian, pidgin, and catching up on my French!) and many new adventures await.

Already I know one thing about being here in the Solomons: it is wasn't what you expect.  I don't think I could ever work hard enough to balance out, as a thank you to this place, everything that I have learned already about myself from being here. 

I hope you have a year, sometime, like 2010.  Not because I hate you but because of how much I hope you will grow through meeting some pretty big challenges.  Sometimes you need certain things to happen in your life to humble you.  I can honestly say I have MUCH more empathy in my heart than I did a year ago.

So if you do have a year like this one, I hope you chose a path of kindness and forgiveness, love and empathy, strength and occasionally being a bad ass. If you do have one of those years, email me; I’ll be a support person. Cause I’ve been there.  And because I owe the universe some pretty big favours. 

I thank you, 2010! I hold you in my heart with much affection; loving and respecting the past and looking forward to a new year.

Till 2011,