Beautiful and True

In Blue Like Jazz, Don Miller writes the phrase "beautiful and true" a lot. I've always loved that. I think the truth is always, in some form, beautiful, and I love the idea that there are life moments that teach us what those beautiful and true things are.

My friend and I sat on my couch in my Ottawa apartment as the clock struck midnight on 1 January 2015. My friend and I toasted, as I had every year before, to "hoping this is the best year yet!"

If you read my last blog post, you know that 2015 was not the Best Year Yet. We could, if we're speaking in superlatives anyway, say it was probably one of the worst. At 12:01am on 1 January, I received a really crappy email from a boy I wanted to be dating, and everything kind of went off the rails from there (I won't rehash it all here, but you can see my last post for the nitty gritty, where I laid out my woes in great detail).

About two months ago, everything in my life almost instantaneously reversed. I have a nice new apartment and a comfy grey couch, a job that actually lets me pay bills and use some of my skills, and I've been able to go on dates with actual straight men without wanting to cry and/or vomit.

In these past few weeks of upswing, I've been able to really process the past year. Some friends have noted, and I've felt it, too, that I am a different person than I was 12 months ago. I think you probably grow the most when things are difficult ("if you're not laughing, you're learning," as they say), and there are some lessons I've learned that I'd like to say are also beautiful and true.

Grief is not linear

I was listening to an episode of Rob Bell's podcast the other day where he featured an interview with David Kessler, a grief specialist. Kessler said that a common misunderstanding about the five stages of grief - Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance - is that we experience them in that order. Instead, we actually might rally back and forth between two or three of the stages; we may spend a lot of time being angry, we may skip over bargaining entirely, and we may never reach acceptance. He also said that when we mourn, we don't just grieve the loss of what was, but the loss of what could have been.

I spent a lot of time grieving this year. I grieved the end of a long, intense, and unhealthy friendship; I grieved a love that never had the chance to flourish; I grieved for the life I was supposed to have at 28. I spent a lot of time being angry at the beginning ("I can't pay my bills, and it's [insert anyone's name here] fault"), and then long stretches of being depressed ("I am repulsive and forever unlucky and everything I touch I ultimately destroy"), peppered with moments of bargaining ("What if he misses me as much as I miss him, and he's just waiting for me to send the first email?").

I remember talking with my best friend in June, and I had felt a resurgence of anger about something I thought I had forgotten months ago. "I just hope they are as miserable as I am!" I sobbed. "Why am I still so mad about this? I've already been through the bargaining stage! Why am I back here?" I felt so guilty about backtracking my feelings, and I felt weak and lonely and helpless that I hadn't been able to reach a stage of acceptance.

But I've since gotten there, and I've realised that you cannot make yourself feel something if you're not ready. Our self-help culture tells us that we have to rebound immediately, and not once we've actually processed and healed. I've learned that in order to feel better, we have to give ourselves time. And sometimes that means feeling awful for a really, really long time. But grief ends, or at least changes shape, if we let ourselves take the time to experience it in whatever way we need to.

You are not weak for wanting love

In 2015, I said something out loud that I had never dared say before: "I want to be in love with someone."

I have never felt so exposed and vulnerable in my life.

One of the things I like a lot about myself is my independence. I've always felt very determined to achieve goals on my own and be able to take care of myself. It makes me feel confident and brave that I can make big life decisions on my own.

When I was younger, I had a lot of friends who were constantly in and out of relationships. No sooner would one relationship end than another would be blossoming. And it often seemed like their happiness (and their sanity) rested on having a boyfriend. 

I rejected this behaviour. In fact, I feared becoming That Girl so much that I slowly started viewing relationships as an impediment to life, rather than an enhancement.

For so long, I thought if I admitted that I wanted a real, meaningful relationship, I was admitting defeat. I was not the strong, independent, confident woman I had tried to hard to appear to be. I was so afraid of sounding like a girl. I would open myself up to ridicule and judgement: I'm too fat, too outspoken, too weird, too [whatever] to find love. I would just be another boring, weak-willed woman, swept up in the falseness of love that movies tell us is real.

In February, I read Don Miller's newest book, Scary Close. It's about intimacy in relationships, and about connecting to other people in profoundly meaningful ways. It's truly a fantastic book, and it made me think about how much bravery and independence it takes to be committed to someone else. I've realised that simply having a significant other doesn't bring you joy, but building a community with someone else is intensely fulfilling. It is good hard work.

This year, I realised that wanting to be in love does make me sound like a little girl playing dressup. But it also makes me sound like a 30 year old football player, and a 70 year old woman in a nursing home. Because wanting love and wanting connection with others is the most universal desire, and wanting to build community is the noblest of all goals. And wanting love does not make me weak; it makes me spectacularly human.

We are not alone

I was scared to write my last blog post. I don't know what I was more worried about - that no one would read it, or that everyone would. I felt vulnerable and I was afraid that people would think I was whiny and weak, or worse - they'd pity me. But I posted it anyway, because sometimes we have to do things that scare us. 

I have been blogging for 5 years, and I've never had such a strong response to anything I've written. I received emails and Facebook comments and private messages from people I hadn't spoken to in a long while; I had texts and phone calls from friends and family; friends of friends tweeted links and shared my blog around the internet. And the overwhelming refrain from every single person was: Me too.

It occurred to me in November, after two dear friends gave up 10 hours of their day to help me move and in the following days as other friends stopped in to help me put together furniture and organize my new apartment, that I have never really felt alone. Throughout this entire year, I have been sad and sick and frustrated; I've been angry and downright miserable. But I never once felt like I was alone. For all the suffering I went through, my friends suffered right along with me - maybe not by choice, but always graciously. I made countless phone calls to moan and complain about the same things over and over, and people kept listening. I cancelled plans because I was sick for the 10th week in a row, and they still invited me the next time. Friends sat in coffee shops with me in total silence as they sipped their coffee and I brooded. I quit my job with no money and no plan, and my family just packed me up and brought me home, no questions asked.

I have struggled often this year to be able to adequately express my gratitude to the people who, sometimes inexplicably it seems, love me. It is humbling in the extreme and comforting in the deepest way to know that even at my worst, people still care. "Thank you" doesn't seem to cut it.

But I also felt so connected to and surrounded by support when I laid my dishevelled self out on the internet for all to see, and people just said "Yeah, I get it." People told me that they'd been there, too, and that it would get better. That sometimes they felt like they had their lives together, and other times it was a disaster. Some people thanked me for just being honest, because it made them feel like they could be honest too. Because we all think that we are the only ones who feel unsure of ourselves, and it's good to know that everyone else is right there alongside of us, just making it through the day, too.

And I think this is the most beautiful and the most true: we are not alone.

Here's to 2016. May it be the best year yet.


Suszanne said…
You write so beautifully, with such self reflection, thought, and vision. I really appreciated your sentiments and honesty. Here's to 'the best year yet - 2016.' May it see all your dreams come true! Cheers!
Beth Hynes said…
The legit brought a tear to my eye. So lovely. I'm so happy that the year has taken an upswing lately for you and I really do hope that the coming year is the best yet, dear Jillian :)
Everyone loves it when folks get together and share thoughts.

Great blog, continue the good work!
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