One year ago today, I pressed publish on the most painful post I’ve ever written. I had been lost in what had grown to be an unhealthy relationship, and the brutal way that it ended pushed me into one of the darkest periods of my life. I was quite certain that I felt my soul was being ripped right out of my body, and I didn’t see any end to the ocean of pain that I was in. Life held no joy. It seemed at times like it might drown me.
One year later, and I survived.
One year later, and I am happier than I ever thought possible. One year later, and I smile every day. I am healthier, both physically and mentally. I am living my dream of traveling the world. I feel more confident in who I am and what I am doing on this earth. To quote Katy Perry (because who doesn’t like to quote pop songs when baring their soul?), I am wide awake. One year later, and I look around at my life with overwhelming gratitude.
This year, and the painful period of my life that immediately preceded it, taught me so much. On this funny little anniversary, I want to pause to remember that most of the cliches are true — what doesn’t kill you does make you stronger, and there are more fish in the sea, and wounds are healed by time, and all that. And thus, a few hard-earned lessons from this year —
1. To Trust My Intuition
Much of the pain that I went through last year could have been lessened — or at the least expedited — had I listened to my intuition. I knew that something was very, very wrong in my relationship and that I wasn’t living in truth, but I had become an expert at muffling the sirens going off in my head. I did it for a lot of reasons, one of them being I had spent so many years madly in love with my boyfriend that I almost forgot it was an option not to be with him. Another, I’m sad to say, was that I didn’t have the confidence that I could live the lifestyle we were in by myself. Today seems unimaginable, but at the time I had become so dangerously dependent on another person that I couldn’t imagine going it alone. And so I dismissed my intuition as anxiety and over-imagination and continued living on pins and needles.
Today, I know that when something feels off, that’s because it is. I recognize that my intuition is one of my greatest assets and I respect this gift that I have been given. I will try never to betray myself by silencing it again.
2. To Accept Life Rafts Without Drowning Others
I am blessed with a unbelievable web of people who love me — caring family members and compassionate friends who stood by me in a time that I could barely stand myself. In the midst of my sorrow I was constantly humbled by the ways in which people reached out to me.
But there is a line. As time went on and I was still struggling with pain and anger, I could see the thinning patience on my friends’ faces. They wanted to the old Alex back, but I didn’t even remember who she was. I was still flailing in that sea of misery, and I was trying so hard to climb onto people to use them as life rafts that I almost drowned a few in the process.
In the future, when I am in crisis, I will remember that line. One mistake I made in recovering from this particular life blow was not seeking professional help, which would have eased the burden on my friendships. Nothing is more important to me than my relationships with family and friends, and I need to remember to protect those bonds with everything I have.
3. To Make Every Moment Count
In the immediate aftermath, when I was still numb from shock and simply going through the motions of saying goodbye to my life in Thailand, a friend gave me some serious wisdom. “Life is going to be like a miserable hellfire for quite some time, okay? So you can sit in bed watching Dexter reruns like a zombie, or you can just learn to function through the pain and at least do something productive with this horrible period of your life. Every day is going to be shit for a while no matter what. You might as well make it count.”
And yes, I did sit in bed and watch Dexter reruns for a while — duh. But I took that advice to heart and forced myself to go through the motions of keeping up with my work, going to the gym, and even socializing when it was least what I wanted to do. I booked myself the craziest summer schedule of all times, following the “action is the enemy of introspection” school of thought. When I finally turned a corner, both emotionally and mentally in Hawaii, I could look back on the previous six months and while I knew they had been full of pain they had also been filled with progress. I know that moving forward I will give this advice to anyone sitting at rock bottom like I was — eyes forward, one foot in front of the other, and savor the small moments of joy that break through the seemingly impenetrable wall of awful.
And this lesson, to make every moment count, has another meaning for me as well. While Mark was not the first man I loved, he was the first I considered to be a true partner in life. While I may have logically accepted that someday he might not be by my side, accepting it in reality chilled me to the bone. There were times that I was so naively confident in what we had that I didn’t savor the moments, or work to make sure they would last. Impermanence is a concept that I struggle with and fight against, but in many ways it can be a gift. Accepting that even the most special relationship won’t last forever is a reminder to enjoy every moment that it does. I will take this with me into my future relationships.
4. To Find Joy in Solitude
When I got back to New york after my life in Thailand fell apart I went out for drinks with one of my dearest friends and lamented how I dreaded traveling alone, how I didn’t know how I’d make it work. “Someday you’re going to realize that it was you all along,” she told me, and I probably rolled my eyes or burst into tears or something equally eloquent in response. But she was right.
In the stillness of time spent alone, I have learned to hear myself more clearly. I have realized how capable I am of making friends, and being funny, and being spontaneous, and all the many things that I always thought I was relying on someone else for. These days, when I spend too much time with another person I actually find myself wistful for my own company. I know the true joy of being confident that there is very little I can’t achieve on my own.
I wanted to write this post for a few reasons. One, perhaps to be a life raft to someone else going through a hard time and wondering if life will ever stop raining on them. Two, as a thank you to those that held my hand in real life and didn’t let go, and as a virtual cheers to those of you that reached out to me through comments, emails and messages in my darkest hour. Your kindness and compassion and wisdom astounds me and I can only hope that I can pay forward a fraction of that next time I see someone struggling as I was.
I’ve never been happier. Just three hundred and sixty five days ago, there were moments where I didn’t think that was possible in this lifetime, let alone in one year… but a lot of you did. To everyone who reads here, shares my experiences with me, and comes along for the ride — thank you for being part of something that makes me smile everyday.
What a difference a year makes!