2020 was a horrible year. I sat on the COVID committee at work and was overwhelmed daily with calls, text alerts and the amount of communication I had to put out. I had horrible, severe anxiety that year.
2121 didn't provide the calm and recovery that we had hoped for. I started out doing Dry January and made it six days. This was not the year to throw away life's reliable crutches.
Then came 2022.
In JANUARY, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Doctors found it during my regular annual mammogram in December. The whole experience moved very quickly from "We just want to do an ultrasound to get a closer look at this dense tissue" to "You have four tumors in your left breast that are too spaced out to do a lumpectomy."
In FEBRUARY, I underwent a double mastectomy.
I wasn't going to let them take just one. 1) I didn't want to live in fear of the cancer returning to my surviving breast, and 2) My saggy old original one would never match my pert, new fake one. Going into the surgery, I had a lot of fear but mostly about the recovery. My whole life I've been told I have a very low pain threshold. When I was a kid my mom used to say, "I never know if you broke a leg or skinned a knee because you scream and cry the same either way." Later, I surprised her and everyone else by delivering a baby without drugs.
But I'd never had any major surgery. Or even stitches. I was scared of stitches. Not to mention pain, discomfort, drains, soreness, infection. I was scared they were going to take me off hormone replacement and I'd be flattened by the old menopause symptoms (and with good reason, it turns out). Just the thought of it all overwhelmed me. And honestly, it didn't disappoint. The weeks of recovery after surgery were pretty awful. I literally slept on 7 pillows. SEVEN. The worst was when I had to leave the house for doctor appointments. Remind me why doctors quit making house calls?
In MARCH, my husband of 29 years left. And my dog died.
I hardly had time to grieve the loss of my body parts because I moved so quickly into grief over the loss of my marriage. Those weeks when we knew he was leaving and he actually left were heart wrenching. We listened to a lot of Jason Isbell and John Prine and alt-folk music which I now can not listen to without plunging into a deep sense of despair.
I'd be pretty easy to make the joke "I lost my husband and my dog and I miss the dog more." I missed Shelby so much I couldn't even write a farewell post to her as I once did for Smokey. She was our miracle puppy. Our girl. The first dog to sleep in the bed with us. We literally bought a king-sized bed to make room for her. She was fiercely loyal to me and never left my side in recovery, but never got too close or jostled me either. Losing her was just impossibly hard for us both.
Divorce brought a suffocating grief for the loss of a future we'd never know. Regret and shame for years of past mistakes. The unexpected anger from our adult son, whose life really wasn't going to be affected. Fear of managing my own finances for the first time since I was a waitress in my 20s.
Once he pulled away, I began to work on my house and yard. I started creating my own space in the world. A space I was comfortable in. And it felt really good. I truly embraced my new independence.
In JULY, my world fell apart.
The call came in the middle of the night - very early on a Saturday morning, actually. It was my son's girlfriend in panic mode.
He was severely depressed, toxically drunk and tragically suicidal. He had his guns out. He called 911 and self-reported that he thought he might be a risk to himself or others.
They arrested him.
It was clearly a mental health call, but our police departments are not equipped or trained to properly handle that. (Ironically, it was literally the day that the national 988 suicide and crisis number went live.) But Memphis has a gun-crime issue that rivals New Orleans', the DA was two weeks out from a very heated re-election campaign, and the MPD took this opportunity to portray themselves as heroes.
They posted a police report on facebook that made it sound like they'd literally busted down a door and stopped a mass shooting in progress when in fact it took four hours for them to even show up. And naturally the local news picks that up and runs with it.
So here's something I've learned: police reports can say whatever the fuck they want. Read them with a grain of salt. Two days later, the legal affidavit the MPD was required to submit at the arraignment was considerably less fantastical, but the damage was done. They charged him with a mind-blowing number of very serious charges. Then the "tough on crime" DA lost her election and the new reform guy dropped most of them.
But among the legal guns in my son's apartment, there was one piece that belonged to his dad and is non-transferable. He was charged with one federal weapons possession charge and because the piece in question was found in his apartment by the ATF with a search warrant, there wasn't really any defense. So he has pled guilty to this charge. In January a sentencing hearing will determine this fate for the next 18-24 months.
Here's two more things I've learned this year: 1) That the stages of grief do not come in linear order. You bounce around all over the place from one to another and back again. Several times. and 2) The human body is not meant to be in grief mode for this long at a time.
When it comes to suffering, I am right up there with Elizabeth Taylor, as Truvy said. Or ...with Dave Grohl, as I like to say (and btw, can Dave's friends stop dying now please and thank you). I struggled mightily.
My company was so good to me, especially given how much time I'd missed this year already with my health issues. I had some time off to try to just get my shit together. Everything, just everything, was in shambles.
So I sought out a therapist and some kind of coping skills other than drinking. I calmed my mind with meditation and I did yoga. I started reading about Buddhist meditations, and thought of how Tina Turner turned her entire life around through the help of Buddhist meditations. nam-mayoho-renge-kyo. I read about enlightenment, and suffering and detachment. Then I quit drinking and eating meat.
It was actually my estranged husband who suggested I needed to take a vacation. He'd mentioned it earlier in the year, actually, but I hadn't even considered it given how much work I've missed this year. He kept trying to talk me into a "girls trip" to NYC with some of my friends, see some shows. But that wasn't at all what I needed. I mean, the vacation, yes, but not one where I laughed with friends. I'm not even close to that yet.
What I needed was meditative time alone in nature, moving my body and clearing my mind. The natural remedies to anxiety and sadness. So that's exactly what I did. My first time traveling alone as well as my first time hiking alone, thanks to my junior high friend Kim.
Kim's marriage to her high school boyfriend had ended just a couple years before mine, so she had been the perfect person for me to reach out to. I had been following her travel and food adventures, so I wasn't even surprised when her response to my divorce was, "I hope you travel." Now I contacted her to ask if she hiked alone when she traveled. She told me that she did, in National Parks. She said that she sticks to well-populated trails and that you can find them by the amount of cars parked at the trailhead.
I googled "Hiking Sedona November" and it turned out that November is the most popular month for hiking in Sedona. The weather is beautiful and the only downside is that some of the trails might be kind of crowded. Perfect! Just exactly what I was looking for.
I did not listen to music or podcasts, I submerged myself into the sights and sounds around me. I concentrated on being totally present and aware and in the moment.
And it was a life-changing trip. Doing this on my own was so empowering. I felt re-connected to the earth again, finally, instead of being tossed around in an eternal chaotic wind that wouldn't put me down. I felt peace, calm. And love. So much love for so many people who have walked with me this year.
Ten years ago, I moved to South Louisiana and discovered how hard it can be to make friends as an adult if you don't attend a church or have kids in school. I felt really alone. I wallowed in it. This year, I realized that was not true, not even close. We're never really alone. None of us. We all have people who love us.
I worried about the seasonal depression that his hit me every year of my adult life. My therapist told me to stay involved and stay around people. Go to events. So I made it a point to say YES. I participated in every holiday event I could squeeze onto my schedule. I attended six Christmas parties and five community events and volunteer opps. I was HOPE.
What will 2023 bring?
I could make dad jokes about how I'm afraid to ask. Or how I'm tired of being tested and I'm strong enough now thank you very much. "NOBODY CLAIM 2023 IS 'MY YEAR'!!" the memes have warned. But not me. Not today. I am moving forward. Every day. I am not afraid - I was born to do this.
My son will receive his sentence. We will deal with it. I will finish converting my husband's old office (old husband's office?) into a guest room, so that my son has a place to land. I want to be ready. Like how St. Jude helps their little cancer patients keep up with schoolwork, so that they have HOPE and know that there will be another chapter, and they need to be ready for it.
Because why do we love the Foo Fighters? What does Dave Grohl teach us? That no matter what life throws at you, you can always pick up the pieces and write a new chapter.
So we will climb the hills that arise before us. We will build in today, but for tomorrow. When I get up each morning, I will continue to stretch, meditate and pledge to greet all living beings with kindness and compassion. I will forgive, both myself and others. I will let go of anything that doesn't aid me in achieving my higher purpose. We will write the next chapter.