I started 2014 on the shore of an island in the Mediterranean Sea and I ended 2014 in a yoga studio in the heart of Denver, the city where I was born. Both moments, I was alone. Alone with strangers. Last New Year’s Eve, I sat next to the waves and began to understand that what I needed from 2014 was a year of reflection.
I don’t talk about this much, but I have a severe panic issue. It’s an issue big enough that it disrupts my ability to live a normal life at times and sends me into uncontrolled panic spirals that are nearly impossible for me to escape using any tool I’ve ever learned in therapy or in life. I sometimes suddenly believe that someone I love has died. Occasionally this is just magical thinking stuff. Like I’ll have a feeling. Or I’ll “read the signs.” Other times, I’ll see a missed call from my parent on my phone and I’ll know I can’t call back for a bit and I’ll eventually get so worked up at the possibility that they’re calling to inform me of a death, that I’ll actually have to leave whatever situation I’m in to contact them as quickly as possible. I have a terrible fear of the phone ringing in the middle of the night with news of death. For this reason, I wear ear plugs when I am at my parents’ house. When I came home this summer, I hardly slept the first two nights I was home. I eventually convinced my parents to turn off the ringers on the house phones closest to my bedroom. I slept with ear plugs in and with the door shut. Sometimes even that wasn’t enough. I worked with my therapist on some good old fashioned exposure therapy. I’d sit in my dark room in my silent house at midnight or 1am or 2am or 4am and I’d not have any protection against sound and I’d breathe. Our goal was to get me to do this for 5 minutes without panicking. It never happened. I made it 2 minutes 30 seconds one night. That’s it. But when I adopted Malta, I had to stop wearing ear plugs so I could hear her whine to go to the bathroom outside in the night. And I thought I’d never make it through this.
I’ve been at my parents’ house for 20 nights now, and I haven’t used ear plugs once. I’ve only come close to panic a few times, and each time, I’ve managed to get things under control by reminding myself over and over that I am powerless. That I’ve survived every death I’ve experienced thus far, which has unfortunately been many, and that I am still here, standing, happy, and whole.
Here’s another thing I don’t talk too much about: alcoholism. I avoid labeling myself in any way in regards to this issue for fear of offending someone who is “really an alcoholic,” whatever that means. I often wonder if I am “really an alcoholic.” I do not know. I ask alcoholics. They do not know. The point is, as of today [yesterday?], December 31st of 2014, I’ve been sober for four months. [Yes, I did have one very purposeful glass of bourbon in remembrance of the day my friend passed away, but I don’t count this for whatever reason.] I haven’t been in a program, but I have been depending on the support of friends and others I know who are. I don’t know how to talk about this or how to even think about it other than to say that I do not feel like I have a healthy relationship with alcohol. My instinct to spin out fuck-it bucket style overtakes me often when I drink, and I seek to revel in the destruction my drinking may bring. This has manifested itself in a variety of dangerous, sometimes even life threatening ways, whether it’s related to alcohol poisoning or operating a vehicle or other unhealthy decisions. I still believe I have power over this, which may be a delusion. But it scares me. And so I’m doing what I can to avoid alcohol because I don’t know what else to do.
These aren’t the issues I imagined I’d be addressing when I decided to make 2014 a year of reflection as I looked out into the waves in Sliema bay 365 days ago. I imagined I’d do my 365 photo project and that I’d see what my life looks like. I imagined I’d think a lot about my past relationship and that I’d move forward and find peace with the violence that situation did to my life. I imagined I’d learn what it is about me that drives me to the same men, and I imagined I’d manage to end so many of the cycles I’d fallen into over the years.
In October of 2013, my mom had stroke-like symptoms and ended up in the hospital for a day. We eventually learned that she was fine, but I completely lost my shit. So much so that I called X, the one person who’d hurt me most in my life, and only a few months after things ended. But he was my person, my rock, my anchor, whatever bullshit metaphor you prefer that means he was the person I depended on for my emotional stability and wellbeing [which is hilarious if you know anything about our relationship]. He was cold and distant on the phone, having answered it at a bar, and he provided no support, no relief, and no way out of my panic spiral.
In November of this year, a similar thing happened to my father while I was in New York City for a conference. And it wasn’t until then that I realized just how incredibly significant 2014 was for my growth as a person. Because I panicked for 2 seconds, recognized that there wasn’t a thing in the world I could do to resolve this problem, took a deep breath, and calmly awaited updates. Everything is fine. I mean, we still don’t totally know what happened, but he’s ok. And I’m ok. And everything is ok. And not because I did anything to make it ok. The serenity prayer has never been strictly about recovery for me. It’s about everything. Sometimes I feel that prayer so deeply, that I am solipsistically convinced that it was written for me. Because my biggest struggle my entire life has been accepting the things I cannot change. And ultimately, that is what 2014 has been about for me. Reflection. Acceptance. Strength.
In 2014, I mourned and overcame the loss of my best friend, who I thought I would marry, who I was ready to spend the rest of my life with, who left me suddenly one day, and who took everything I knew about myself and love with him when he did. I still love him, but I fell out of love with him. And that is a miracle I never really believed would happen.
In 2014, I visited Malta; Seattle; Palm Springs; New York City; Israel; Mexico City; and Asheville, North Carolina. I spent time in both my homes: Los Angeles and Colorado.
In 2014, I lost some friends, but I did so with purpose, with reason. Because I made a conscious decision to only hold onto the things and people that provide me with support, that inspire me, and that add zero stress or negativity to my life.
In 2014, I almost dropped out of my PhD program because let’s face it, academia is THE. WORST., but then I made a conscious decision to stay because I want to be a teacher, and because for me, that means teaching the courses I want to teach, at the college level, wherever that may be. And because I want to prove to myself I can finish this very hard thing. And because I want to prove to Jake I can do it. Because he’s still with me always, pushing me, pushing me until I can hardly stand but keep standing.
In 2014, I almost bought a house. First in Colorado, but then in Los Angeles. Then I realized how much more expensive a house is than simply what it costs up front [which is no small chunk of change to begin with]. And I realized that my desire for roots does not need to manifest itself in a house. And that my desire for independence, to be solitary and to support myself and to build a life without another person also doesn’t have to take the form of a house. But could take the form of something much cheaper and much less likely to have a water heater explode…
In 2014, I adopted a dog. Which I’ve wanted to do for years, but which I felt like I should wait to do until I was in a relationship so that I’d have help from a partner. The above paragraph is all I have to say about this one. Oh, and that I’ve learned so much about patience and how little I have of it and compassion and kindness and how much I need these things for myself and for all the living creatures in my life.
In 2014, I taught two courses at USC, I volunteered countless days tutoring kids at 826la. All of which means I spent my year doing the one thing that is most important to me in life, which is educating.
In 2014, I thought constantly about what I want in a partner, about what I want in myself, about what kind of friend and lover and partner and family member and community member I want to be. I was challenged often, especially on the community member front since communities are so precarious and since shit severely hit the fan toward the end of this year in this country.
In 2014, I, for the first time in my entire life, told someone I had feelings for them, which was less important for the confession itself and more important for it being the scariest thing I’d ever done. Because that is not the kind of person I am. As honest as I can be on here and in every other way, I have never been able to be honest about romantic feelings. Rather, that is not the kind of person I was. I am a different kind of person now.
In 2014, I stood in a yoga studio in Colorado and I went into a standing back bend and my mouth went numb and everything got hot and I blacked out and when I came to, I was still standing but I was shaking and didn’t know where I was. On a different day, I lay on the floor of another yoga studio and I suddenly felt roots shoot from my back into the ground. And I became certain that this Colorado earth is my home. I spent one morning of this year listening to a journalist talk about his essay collection on the DF while in Mexico City itself and I started to go blind in one eye. Everything got cloudy. I went upstairs to my hotel room and removed my contact lenses and the cloud, like a milky haze, was still there. I later found out that my cornea filled with fluid because my contacts were too old and had become less porous and weren’t letting in enough oxygen. I had a parasite. I had the flu. I had a variety of other sicknesses one picks up from flying in 24 airplanes and working with countless human beings under the age of 20. But my daily stomach aches went away, which I attribute to the fact that I’m no longer in a terribly stressful, unhealthy relationship, and to the apple cider vinegar I drink every morning as per my best friend’s instructions. And I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. My thighs are so strong from commuting on my bike that my jeans hardly fit in that area anymore. I can do all the physical activities I attempt to do, and that no longer results in injuries like it used to. Because I’ve strengthened my body in a way I never thought possible and I’ve made fitness one of the most important parts of my life. It took me 25 years to understand why it is important to take care of myself in this way, but now that I am here, I am never looking back.
I’m saying these things because no one else is going to say them for me. No one else is going to talk about or even care about my growth. I have to care about that. There is no boyfriend or girlfriend. There is no doctor or parent or mentor. I am responsible for making decisions about my life, and for the first year ever, I made sure to make every decision with purpose, with intention, and with clarity of heart and mind. And I am going to celebrate these things, as obnoxious as this all sounds, because no one else should have to care about me except me. And I finally care. I really care. Not because who I am will get me the love I want or the things I want but because who I am is who I am. And who I am is all I have. Ever. So here is my celebration, my reflection, at the end [though technically also the beginning] of the year.
365 days ago, I stood outside myself and watched everything spin and made a promise to myself to be reflective, to examine who I am, and to consider who I want to be and what it will take to be that person.
Today, I stood barefoot in the snow on my front porch. I dug my feet into the frozen earth. I stood inside the person I spent the last year discovering, and I made a promise to myself to move forward like something gentle and swift and fearless. I made a promise to myself to be the sun.
I chose to end and start my year in a yoga class. As 2014 came to an end, I stood in a circle holding hands with strangers I’d just spent an hour and a half practicing yoga with and we screamed numbers in reverse. And after a brief moment of silence after the cheering, we squeezed each others’ hands tighter and spent the first five minutes of the year using our voices to create vibrations in ourselves and in others. The cult of Americanized culturally appropriative fitness regimes. An om circle. Problematic, like most things I love, but I’m committed to this studio and the kind of practice it provides.
At the beginning of class, our instructor asked us what we want in 2015. I broke into a huge smile in the dark and I felt myself catch fire.