I’m a pretty reflective person. It’s part of my job to ask my teachers to be reflective in their work, and recently I’ve found myself thinking back over the last year or so, and how my life has changed. There’s a trick about being reflective. In my work, we call it being “strengths based”. If you’re good at turning inward, it’s really easy to go down the rabbit hole of “what if”. If I’ve learned anything over the last year, it’s that the “what ifs” aren’t things that you can go back and change. The only thing you can do with them is to think about how they can affect the moving forward. Most days it’s really easy to look back and think about all the ways I fucked up 2016. But that’s not what I’m trying to do here.
This was a year of change, to be sure. I got divorced. I watched my children navigate this new life we created for them. I beat myself up at every opportunity for that. I cried a lot. I struggled nearly daily with the why and the how and even the what ifs. But I also grew this year. A lot. I went to a lot of therapy. I owned up to some ugly stuff. I took responsibility for my part in what led to my divorce. I thought a lot about how I could have different relationships moving forward. I worked on being assertive. I worked on saying no to things, and on saying yes to others. This year I had to accept that some people who were closest to me would no longer be in my life. Family I will likely only see at graduations and weddings from now on. I had to endure those people lashing out at me in their anger and misunderstanding by calling me names. As recently as this week, I was called trash. A sadness. A self-centered martyr. Reading those things about me from people I once turned to as the closest in my life is nearly unbearable. But this year, along with all of that hard stuff, I continue to work on the things that I can control in those situations. Namely, my reaction to them.
I recently read an article in the Atlantic about what traits make loving relationships last. It was interesting to me for a multitude of reasons, but specifically because the research these people had conducted on couples divided them into two groups – “masters” and “disasters”. The article talked about how connecting with your partner was crucial to a lasting relationship. “There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman explained in an interview, “which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”
I feel like all of those findings are true of love, of friendships, and just the way we approach life in general. It’s so easy to look for mistakes in people and in situations. It’s easy to blame someone else instead of turning inward and recognizing what you bring to the situation. It’s easy to disconnect and turn away. What’s hard work is being purposeful about finding joy. It’s hard when all the world around you seems to be falling apart. It’s hard when you are worried all of the time about how your children will turn out in light of your failings. It’s hard when the people you once held dear find it so easy to be hateful, to call names, and to place blame. It’s hard to look inward and think about all of the things that lead up to a failed marriage. And though I thank everything holy that 2016 is almost over, it’s not nearly the end. In this crazy year, maybe the biggest lesson was learning to give grace to myself and to others.
I’m beyond ready for 2016 to be over. For every reason I’ve written about here and for a hundred more. I don’t know what 2017 will bring, but I know that in it, I will be kinder. I will be looking for more ways to be thankful, and to be thoughtful. I will be looking for opportunities to connect with the people around me in meaningful ways. This year, in the midst of all of this madness, I met someone. And while it was maybe the worst time in history to meet someone new, I realized very quickly that there is a reason this person is in my life right now. He finds joy in things. He is one of the kindest, most thoughtful people I know. I think 2017 is for helping me find more of that in myself. And I’m really looking forward to a new chapter in this crazy book of life.