Tonight we went to my friend Kim's house for a Farewell to 2016 Unparty. It was a lovely gathering, during which guests were invited to write the things that happened this year that they were ready to leave as we enter 2017. I could have written a novel, but just wrote three index cards, which I dropped into her backyard fire put, leaving the lovely trace of smoke in my hair. And no, I won't write what those three things were, because that's between me and the fire pit and Jesus! (Except for that one card. You can see that.)
Yes we all know that 2016 was, well, you know. I won't add to the chatter about the state of the year, or its lows, because the entire world knows.
I will write about 10 things that happened in my world this year. Some are very big and joyous, others are profoundly sad. That is what is in a year: daylights, sunsights, midnights, cups of coffee, inches, miles, laughter ... wait, that's another story.
Here are 10 things that happened this year, and what I learned from them. I should note, that they are not in any way of equal importance, but all were important to me.
1. Got Sober. For real. My first attempt started in 2015, and the seeds of wisdom planted during that time were with me even during my worst hours back in March, on a day that I hope will be written in permanent ink. Why do I write "hope?" Because though I am 110% committed to recovery as a way of life, I never want to get cocky and take this hard-fought battle for granted. There's a reason "One Day At A Time" is embroidered on pillows and it's because what a whole lot of us believe in. The blessing of not having to numb myself to this world is a 24-hour a day thing to me. It is everything, which is why I write about it so much, like here and here.
What I learned: See above: total and complete life transformation, still in progress. Including that it's really not about booze (!), but about this lifelong spiritual journey of surrender, acceptance, and not being such a boor. Most of the things I learned in 2016 come from this way of life. It is hard and awesome.
2. Hung Out on The West Coast. After spending so many years traveling mostly throughout the South for work, 2016 marked the year that I went West. In May, a lovely trip to Los Angeles to spend time with my brother and his fiancee (and our friend Beyonce), and in November, a long weekend in Portland to visit my BFF Cliff and his husband with my other BFF Stephanie. (There was one awesome Southern trip -- spring break with friends on a bee farm to hang out with my dear friend Jenny and her new baby. Queens!)
What I learned: I need more time on and near West coast beaches and mountains, respectively. Also, don't put off taking trips with friends and family.
3. I Lost My Mother-in-Law. This summer we lost my mother-in-law, Syl. She was a bright and beautiful woman, with a sharp sense of humor and fierce love for her husband and sons. She was a true Southern lady, an avid reader, and die-hard fan of Alabama football. She was taken by a terrible disease, cared for for a long time with love by my father-in-law. Caregivers, by the way, are people we can learn a lot from. Like unconditional love.
What I learned: Love never fails.
4. Got Published and I Published. Well, this has been happening for a while, but this year I went way outside my comfort zone and started writing the kinds of things that I have been wanting to write for long time. Essays filled with really real stuff. I'm particularly proud of what I've been doing as a contributor for Tues Night, a publication for badass GenX women, and the stuff I'm doing on my own. I started publishing on Medium and have found more of an audience there (they like me they really like me), and soon in 2017 will unveil a new look and focus for this site.
What I learned: I am more committed than every to using my abilities to tell stories of life unedited, those of restorative narrative, and those that help break down stigma related to addiction and invisible illness. Writing about recovery is huge for me, as is the decision to go public about it. Everyone is different, but I believe I could never be honest as a writer unless I shared this huge part of my life. It's not my entire story, but it's a hugely important part, and my goal is that in sharing I can help other women.
Plus I still write about travel and pop culture and health and caregiving. And media! And vintage clothes!
5. Learned Pilates is My Exercise Love Language. Wait, you can't tell from my rock hard abs? Progress not perfection, baby. (See #1.) I started Pilates as an adjunct to physical therapy from a car accident in May that triggered massive chronic pain. Pilates has helped me connect with my body in a way that I never have. I have an instructor who treats me with compassion, kindness and firmness (when necessary, and it is necessary a lot!). This all happens while she educates me in the classical Pilates method, which is nothing short of magic.
What I learned: When I complain to my instructor and ask her why I have to do a specific exercise, she says, "Because you can." Boom.
6. Turned 40. Sure did. My friends surprised me with a beautiful book of letters, and my parents gave me a flamingo cake and beautiful presents. We celebrated by going to Miami, where we lay in the hamam at The Standard, and walked through Wynwood Walls, which I promptly fell in love with. I love being 40, and wouldn't choose any other age (though I do miss my 25-year old metabolism.) I take no shit and have laser sharp priorities. The latter is deeply intwined with item #1 too.
What I learned: I'm lucky to be 40. The older and more experienced women are the more badass we are. We take no shit. It is pretty great.
7. Turned Down "The Opportunity Of A Lifetime." Back in the summer, while we were waiting on results from a biopsy to determine if my father had melanoma (he did not, thankfully), I was presented with an offer to do something in the field that I left last year. It was with big name players, and really had me excited at first, but after much soul searching I chose to not pursue it. I I liked the people a lot, and maybe it was an opportunity of a lifetime, but I've chosen another route -- my own. It was a big turning point for me because it was among the first times I listened to and trusted my gut and said no.
What I learned: I'm not the person I was at 25 or 35. I can stand up for myself.
8. We Lost A Beloved Pug. This was not a good summer. In addition to my mother-in-law's death and father's cancer scare, my beloved dog Gatsby died. Turns out that they miscalculated his age when we adopted him and he was really about 14 when he passed (we thought he was 7 or 8!). But he went peacefully, and the last night I spent with him, I carried him to the grass and he lay at my feet and I wept deep, visceral tears. I knew our time was ending, and was thankful for the years we had. I miss him, but know we gave him a better life than the one of abuse he knew in his early years.
What I learned: The unconditional love of a rescue dog.
9. I Worked. While all of the above was happening I worked really hard at my full-time job. I worked with writers and hope that I pushed people to grow, and I grew too. I work with talented, smart, kind people, deeply creative. From them, I learned.
What I learned: That I'm lucky toward with talented, smart, kind, creative people.
10. I Let Go. In a late contender for this list, I started the process that took 40 years to learn: how to let go. For my 40th birthday I bought myself a Giving Key, with the word "Effatha," which comes from The Bible and means "To Be Opened." Here's the story behind that, and the story of who I gave it to. If 2016 was the year that I became truly open -- open to changing, open to following another way than mine, open to a new path for my life -- now is the time I begin to let go. To release the person I was and step into the person God made me to be.
To that end, yesterday I was having lunch with my friend Suzee and I shared that there are those parts that I struggle with really letting go of. Upon which, she ran to her car and handed this to me: a new key. A Giving Key.
What I learned: I couldn't have made this year up, planned or written. All we need to do is to show up, to be open, to leave our past selves behind and step boldly into the unknown. (Easy, right?) If I can do it, anyone can. And when we do, God sends us the people we need, at precisely the right time and with the message that we need to hear. Let go, let go, let go.
With love and gratitude for all -- good and bad of this year. Let go,