Begin again

Flourish Vol. 45

There’s this spiritual cliche people like to plaster on their Pinterest boards. Depending on your predilections, it’s either spoken by God or the universe, and it goes like this:

I had to make you uncomfortable or else you wouldn’t have moved.

But you know, being cliche doesn’t always make something untrue.

Like most people, this was the most uncomfortable year of my life; the first time I admitted openly that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, that I couldn’t go this alone. A year that felt like bursting out of my own skin, like losing faith in everything, like being short-circuited by terror and grief, like letting all the old ways wither and die.

Sitting here writing this from my home in Oregon, it blows my mind that at this time last year, I was still waiting for my “lightbulb” moment. I was tired of Los Angeles, frustrated with the stagnation of my life, pleading for a lightning strike of inspiration that would make it all make sense. The discovery of some burning passion, a chance meeting with my soulmate, a stroke of luck that would set my life aflame and set the wheels of my one true purpose speeding headlong toward destiny.

But for all of my posturing, my grinning and bearing and tentative belief that my luck was about to change, behind that hope was a shadow realm of fear. I was bored and unfulfilled and stuck in a daily cycle of disappointment that was wearing my psyche down to dust. But I was also afraid to rock the boat, to burn my life down, to take any sort of risk at all. Desperately self-conscious about what the world might think of my life choices and hard decisions and wildest dreams, terrified by even the slightest hint of embarrassment or disappointment. If you never try, you can never fail. I avoided all threat of discomfort in the name of saving face — so nothing ever changed.

But 2020 did not allow us to turn away from discomfort; it was an electrical shock to the system, an ice bath of a year in which we lived surrounded by grief and pain. We stood on the precipice of our greatest fears, or drowning among them. We marched headlong into the eye of the storm, whether we were remotely ready or not.

In Los Angeles, I battened down the hatches, stocked my shelves, tried to reassure my loved ones and bolster myself with creature comforts as I watched everything I ever believed in burn from behind glowing screens. And with the world as we knew it gone, there were only so many ways to distract myself before all of my nightmares came knocking, too.

So this was the year I became well acquainted with fear. With the shadow realm, the darkest corners of my mind and all the ugliest parts of myself, loosening my grip on everything I thought I wanted more than life itself, reconsidering everything I swore I’d never do. Realizing that some nightmares were actually dreams, and some dreams were actually someone else’s. I plunged to the depths I always knew were there and came back up for air, with a renewed appreciation for all of the life above the surface.

In spiritualism, there’s a practice called shadow work, and it feels like I spent all 365 days of this year neck-deep in it. Looking my demons straight in the eye, sitting in silence, in loneliness, in heartache. Taking a magnifying glass to the pieces that were broken, lifting the hood on systems that were no longer working. Allowing myself to cry for others’ suffering, to scream at the top of my lungs about the injustice of this all, to acknowledge the rawness of my own grief, to make peace with uncertainty. To peel back the mask of who I’ve spent much of my adult life pretending to be, and introduce to the world the person I’ve always been, no longer caring in the slightest what others might think of her.

This was a year that brought us all face-to-face with our own mortality, with loss, with systems that are impossibly backwards and broken. We learned, in stark black and white, what mattered and what did not. Who would be there for us and who would not. This was not a year for pretending, for posturing, for polite smiles. This was a year for true colors and hard truths, for taking nothing for granted, for dusting off all the hopes and plans and I love you’s and I’m sorry’s because tomorrow is never, ever a guarantee.

This was a year to stop bullshitting myself, stop making excuses, stop whispering about my wildest dreams under my breath and swing for the damn fences already. And with great risk, I like to think, comes great reward, because this year has rewarded me more than I ever imagined, or feel deserving of, really. Blessed is not a term I use often, or lightly, but it has somehow summed up this impossible, wretched, life-affirming year. And on the eve of a new one, as this flame burns down to nothing, all I feel is gratitude. That I am alive, and healthy, and employed. That I am with people I love, that they are healthy and employed, too. That from so much discomfort was borne some of the best things that have ever happened to me. I know that my privilege is immense, and my survivor’s guilt is, too. But I have learned this year too that if you are not going to mark your accomplishments on the walls of your own life, few others will.

Two-thousand-and-twenty brought me a life-changing surgery (and another gnarly surgery), an out-of-state move, a promotion. I weathered pay cuts, furloughs and partial unemployment, covered the pandemic and protests, spoke at a Columbia Journalism class. I paid off my car, finished Invisalign, scouted out Denver solo, took my best friend on a free trip to Catalina Island, started playing piano again. I dyed my hair pink, dyed my hair green, aggressively saved and invested my money, marked three years in therapy, found out I'm going to be an aunt, and maintained this newsletter — even when delving the depths of my mind was the last thing on earth I wanted to do.

This is more for record-keeping than grandstanding, and in fact it's probably a paltry list compared to some peoples' 2020, but I am trying to be better about staking out my right to to happiness and celebrating my own wins — even if the biggest win is just surviving.

I am not the same person I was when I began this year, but I don’t think I’ve changed. Instead, this feels like excavating, like shedding skin, digging down deep to the person who has been dying to see the light of day my entire life. This is a year for leaving what is no longer serving you. For letting the old ways die. For blazing new trails. For asking yourself, when all the cards are on the table, what do you want to do with this life?

If you are still reading this, we made it. We lived through this. Thank you for sticking with me in 2020, for making me stick with documenting this year, for bearing witness to the horror and beauty and mundanity with me. Thank you, thank you, I love you.

Onward.

-Olivia

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