It’s been a while. And a lifetime has passed.
This has been a year of discovery and disaster, a season of calamity so intense and truth-revealing that a number of numb days passed by unaccounted for, in which I stumbled about, a bizarre shell of myself. Other days were so immensely joyful and weird and full of possibility that I gazed into my own face in the bathroom mirror and mouthed the unfeasible question, “What is this life?”
A wonderful, perfectly neurotic and beloved dog fell impossibly ill and could not be saved. With her end came also the end of my marriage. There was anger and sadness, betrayal, and subsequent confusion, then realization. And as this important and decade-long relationship came undone, it was at once a jolting and violent end, as well as a slow unraveling that had begun many years ago.
A number of women close to me have been in crisis for what feels like several seasons now. There have been deaths and near-deaths. Upsetting breakups and drug addictions, two miscarriages. Loss and heartache. Hopelessness. A young relative nearly ended her life and set the entire family into a distressing orbit of total helplessness.
If I’ve looked as though I’ve been wandering around in stunned bewilderment this past year, you’re not wrong. Forgive me. I’ve been adjusting to my new normal, but I’ve been doing it the only way I know how: slowly, clumsily, painfully.
Sometimes yoga and a calm phone call with a friend or my mom are enough to bring me somewhat back, at least for an afternoon or so. Other days, frantically eating popcorn over the sink and chasing it with a bottle of wine, the mania behind my eyes, is the necessary action. Sleep is scarce and Fridays are for walkabouts, headphones in and music blasting as I pass through familiar Manhattan neighborhoods. I walk everywhere. Sometimes with a purpose, like to pick up my dry cleaning or sushi. Always with sunglasses, the dark protectors of my soul.
“It’s a state, not a trait.” This is what my therapist will tell me, over and over. Don’t confuse your True Self with your current Messy Self, because she is temporary and crazy and disordered, like the state you’re in. “But just because thoughts or feelings are temporary doesn’t mean that they’re not here to teach you something in the moment,” she says. “Be open to the process.”
Which brings us to the process.
We like to start the New Year in ways that often gloss over the disasters of the previous twelve months, don’t we? A new year means clean-slating our way into January with expectations of betterment, no space for wallowing or whining. I’m not ready to be done with my wallowing or whining. I’m a pragmatist who believes that life is good and cool and also bad and dumb.
A disastrous year: 2014.
These are things I’ve learned and am still learning, sluggishly. In no particular order, and by no means the sum total of all learning this year:
Radical Self-Care is necessary and comes in many forms.
These are confusing times. Your Radical Self-Care might look different from day to day, even hour to hour. It’s good to have a little time to put in the work—therapy, meetings, appointments, sitting in stillness with someone wiser than you. The sacrament of puttering around and employing fistfuls of snacks as required. These are good and helpful things. It’s equally good to self-medicate and dance in clubs until 4am with strangers, collapse into a bed and let the darkness wash over you even as the light of day creeps in. This too is RSC.
I don’t want or need much from people these days. Just (sometimes) cuddles and (almost always) laughter. Simplify and pare down and edit, edit, edit.
The tribe of women is strong, and it’s real. Trust women.
There has been no greater takeaway for 2014 than this. Ask for help when you need it and it will appear, sometimes as an impromptu home-cooked dinner, a Saturday afternoon sewing class, a DJ set at the TriBeCa Grand, an hours-long afternoon coffee or wine or brunch date (with built-in time for weeping). The writer Anne Lamott says that American women are raised to be the flight attendants of others’ lives, and of the whole world. My women have been the most loving, brilliant, independent and fierce guardians of my little heart. These women saved me.
Don’t confuse familiarity with comfort.
It’s sometimes easier to not change or to make a change. Not all change has to be difficult, though. Realize when you’re creating your own difficulties, and stop being so ferocious with yourself.
Love your creatures.
Your dog, your cat, your cactus.
A lesson will be repeated (over and over and over) until it’s learned.
This is an absolute rule of life.
Make sure you have a playlist.
More specifically, a self-indulgent ambivalent bitchface playlist. Try to have equal parts super-depressing, nostalgia-inducing acoustic ballads peppered with gangster rap for when you require a loud and proud spastic sing-along, and solitary dance parties.
Speaking of ambivalence…
It serves a purpose right now. It’s survival mode. Going stone cold in the face and the heart protects the temple.
You’re gonna go a little bit nuts.
Some days your eyes will pop open and you’ll immediately be overcome with sobs. Other days you’ll have a good streak of Radical Self-Care and reflection and calling all the right and good and smart people, followed by a frenetic need for salty crunchy food and silliness. And that’s ok. Because also: you’re going to survive.
Sleep is invaluable.
However you need to get it, get it. Wine helps. Xanax helps. Deepak Chopra meditations help. Anything is better than being awake in the darkness. Like the Charles Simic poem “The Voice at 3am” implies, no Great Life Idea comes from an exhausted, confused brain.
Be okay with ambiguity.
You will return to yoga. And running. And reading and writing. And normal meals at normal hours. Eventually.
Trust the process.
Because you’re going to go through it, and it’s going to look inexplicable and insane and also, beautiful and inspiring. And no one—I really mean this—can tell you to hurry it up, please, or squeeze your process out of you to meet his or her own needs. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for your crazy and you’re on your own time, your own terms now. Trust it with your head and your heart. As Ms. Lamott would say, go slowly, and majestically.
Today’s agenda: to welcome 2015 with a movie and a friend, sitting quietly in a dark theater, the side-by-side fellowship of stillness, darkness, and plenty of snacks. It just seems appropriate, and healing, and part of today’s Radical Self-Care.
Here’s to a new year.