This is only the second year I can remember where I’ve woken up on the first day of the year and was pretty sure that the year ahead wouldn’t completely suck. It’s a new feeling so I’m just going to just roll with it. Happy New Year.
I made major changes to my life and how I wanted to live it about a year ago. I made the biggest change about 5 months ago and so far, no regrets. I often spend the start of a new year, and the whole month of July and the whole month of December, in a state of introspection, brainstorming, and existential crisis. I remain interested in changing my life but I’m not obsessed with it like I was decades ago. In my defence, I’ve made some big changes. I’m a completely different person now than I was at 25 or 30 or 35. Life and circumstances forced some of those changes, but I made the biggest and most life-altering changes because I was sick of my own shit and I knew how to make a plan.
I wish I could remember the date in the first half of 2000, but I remember how I felt. That day I mailed a “Dear John” letter to my “boyfriend” who was serving a 2.5 year sentence in a minimum security federal prison. I was jobless and homeless and I went to hide out for a few days at friend’s place out in the country. My “ex” had his mother call around to look for me. I told all my friends to tell him I’d got a waitressing job and moved to Toronto.
What I’d actually done was apply for welfare and move into the loft bedroom at my grandparents’ house. I found a job. I tried to behave like a grownup. I pretty quickly made a mess of everything. Lying to people. Still lying to myself. Still trying to manage other people’s opinion of me with two faces and outright falsehoods about my life and living situations.
I was trying to be better. I had books and websites to show me how I could improve my lot in life. They were my bibles on my road to redemption. I was hooked on programs of self-improvement but only of the “get your shit together” variety. I was hell bent on making my bed every day, having a shiny sink and being more productive. I had no idea what the hell I was doing, but I had no laundry backlog and I could find my keys and wallet without thinking about it.
I was writing 3 pages long-hand every morning in a practice of “Morning Pages”. I was reviewing my day and setting up my to-do list for tomorrow each evening. I laid out everything I needed to get dressed and out of the house the next morning, just so I could get 20 minutes extra sleep. I did weekly reviews and brain dumps but I was still a horrible person who couldn’t function as an adult in the real world. I maxed out a credit card on cognitive behavioural therapy and told everyone who found out about my shit credit that I was a shopping addict.
December 2000 rolled around and I was barely able to keep some of my balls spinning and my plates in the air but the facade was cracking. Since high school, I’d always set the resolutions to drink a case of Jim Beam daily, smoke 5 packs a say and gain 20 lbs. But the end of 1 January I’d have failed and I could get on with fucking up my life in other less grand ways.
The first day of this year meant I had to be up at the crack of dawn to attend and work at a community event with my boss. I didn’t want to go, it was -30C outside, and I had this feeling of being run over, knowing I was miserable and alone in the world and it was all my fault. I got up, I got dressed, and I stood in a city park downtown, freezing my ass off that morning. I resolved to do something better with my life.
I didn’t. By the time I my birthday rolled around in July, I was doing better but not good enough. I had lost that job. I was working a better job, but it was a contract position and the funding was up. I was dating someone who broke up with me or I broke up with them every couple of weeks. My lies about my life and what it was costing to cover up those lies cost me two apartments. I was living in a house share situation with someone I’d met at a 12-step meeting and that person’s 3 other roommates. I defaulted on my credit card so I had to stop going to therapy.
But I had learned something. I’d learned that trying to manage what other people think of you is exhausting and expensive. I stopped being a shady bitch. I started writing even though I was terrible at it. I started reading everything. I let myself love and be loved. I went to art house and indie movies at every opportunity. I tried to quit smoking again. I failed. I moved in with the person I was dating and I found My People on the internet. The relationship ended 9 months after I moved in. It devastated me and I was completely blind-sided but 3 months later I was fine without him.
I made better choices. I moved away. I was miserable and sad a lot but I got back into therapy. I did everything better, but not all at once. There were years I felt I made no progress at all.
It was 18 years ago today I stood on that bright morning in the freezing cold. I was 26 years old, and I was just ready to begin the fight of my life. Eighteen years ago I didn’t know that I didn’t have to hate myself for what I couldn’t do. I learned just this past week that what I can do has value and it’s probably beneficial for me find my worth in me, as I am now, rather than in what I wish I could do but can’t.
I’m a completely different person and I’ve attained some hard-won life skills, but I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t there, in that park on that freezing cold morning, 1 January 2001.