I spent the evening of my 28th birthday in an airport. And then, after a multitude of delays, on a plane bound back to NYC after visting my family in South Florida for Thanksgiving. Way back in September when the flight arrangements were made, I will concede that I chuckled to myself about how I would be literally “up in the air” as I gained an official year in age; as I officially hit my late twenties; as I realized that I was now a scant two years away from the big 3-0 (yikes). The sentiment felt particularly relevant because, really, how many times in the past year – or years for that matter – has my life felt up in the air? I’d have to say that the answer would be too many to count.
It’s not uncommon for me to ponder every year as my birthday draws near this question: what have I accomplished? (Perhaps everyone does this? Or maybe they just wait until New Year’s. Ha). Anyway, for the past few years, I’ve felt somewhat stumped. It didn’t matter whether I was working or not (or how much), or how much money I made, or whether or not I was in a relationship or in love, etc. No matter what those answers were, I still somehow felt something was missing. I knew it and felt it in my bones. And because I’ve always tended to be an analytical, over-achieving, perfectionist person who really, really loves to understand and fix things, I’ve found myself digging away for years trying to figure out what that was and remedy it. It’s been a long, long process and I’m sure it’s not over yet (because you can never be done growing), but I am grateful and quietly proud and ecstatic that this year, my 27th year old life, I accomplished something.
So. I figure you can look at the evening of my birthday two ways: 1.) I (and my life) was up in the air or 2.) I was flying. Perhaps I was both at the same time. And just maybe that’s okay, because the thing I got back was Peace. Which sounds hokey and cheesy I know, but while I had always realized that I had a few “issues” to work through – hell, we all do – I hadn’t realized quite how deeply the things that happened to be in my past ran through me and how much they had affected me and the way I lived.
My little epiphany was rather unexpected: It was on a date last December. My date and I had gone to see the movie Black Swan; I was mostly interested in the dancing. I was not expecting to relate to Natalie Portman’s character so much. After all, most everyone agrees that that character, Nina, goes from a little unhinged to full on nuts. But, I’m telling you, I got it: When, at the very end, after she realized that she had stabbed herself by mistake and not her “nemesis” (she was her own worst enemy, of course) and went back on stage determined to dance the ending flawlessly, passionately, as the red stain on the front of her pure white costume grew and grew. As she, the white swan, cascades to her death she utters one thing. She murmured, “It was perfect” (or something to that effect) with such conviction, with such relief, that she was okay with dying. It’s not clear whether Nina actually dies, but it’s pretty clear that she was happy with dying, because she had done something perfectly. That was all she wanted. Perfection. It was a weight off her chest.
And so, as the lights went up and the crowds started to dissipate, I sat in that theater gob-smacked because my heart was thumping in my chest as my head ran over and over the fact that I was all… I totally know how she feels. And then: Wait, am I’m crazy, too? Did the other theater-goers see it in me? Did my date? (he did not). I was so perplexed by this whole reaction that I went to see the movie again by myself.
This reaction, little revelation or whatever you want to call it didn’t fix everything and certainly not all at once, but it was a pretty integral piece of the complex puzzle.
I realized that I’d been holding so much of my life’s hurts and disappointments and confusions and bad experiences inside of me and that I’d channeled a lot of that into this faux-warrior perfection seeking creature. I wanted to, had to, do everything Best. I wanted to be the Best Person to everyone – to be, perhaps, more of the person they wanted me to be in their eyes. Everything I thought of making or doing, I wavered over the thought of if it would be perfect enough. Would it be good enough. And in the end, would I be deemed good enough, worthy. I had set myself up for something entirely impossible and became so overwrought with all the things I could do wrong that I found it hard to do much of anything. I wanted everyone to be happy and pleased so much so that I not uncommonly sacrificed my own, or at least thought that I probably should. Worst of all, I had been letting myself feel defined by anyone other than myself, by things I did or didn’t have, by what I thought others might think about me… while simultaneously being frustrated that I didn’t feel it was okay or enough to be just myself, because really, this whole shenaniganry was so not my thing.
I realized that the word my head would silently seek over and over was “perfect”. How could that not eat you alive? I came to realize that I had turned all of the bad stuff that had ever happened to me, the things and people and situations that let me down and broke my heart, into the very things that were holding me back instead of propelling me forward. While of course, most of these things that happened were not my fault and not under my control, I internally made them my fault and my weight to bear alone. I wanted to fix them, even if it wasn’t my responsibility and even if I didn’t always know how. All these things became like little concrete blocks dangling from my feet by strings, keeping me down. As I tried to unravel it all, it only turned into an increasingly convoluted thought process, as I desperately sought to make sense of everything that it only became a cloud looming over my head. I felt like a giant tangle, a scribble, a mess. Stuck.
Eventually, the culminating pain of realizing what I had done to myself, all by myself, in addition to feeling the full weight of all the many things that had led me down this path was too much to bear. What had I done with my life? What had I allowed to be done to me? And what, dear heavens, had I done to myself?
And then I knew something had to change.
One night in July (or so) while I was laying in bed unable to sleep because I was so overwhelmed with all of these realizations and their implications that I thought they might literally crush me, I came to the decision that I had to let it go. All of it. It was a choice between the pain or myself. Please, I thought to myself, begged to the universe: I just want Peace. All I want is Peace. I let myself think about all the things painful things I’d been through, things I didn’t necessarily want to think about. I let myself be angry and I let myself cry, but I also thought about the things I learned from them and the ways they forced me grow. I acknowledged and relinquished the things that I couldn’t control and could do nothing about. As I thought of each thing, I imagined that I was pulling all of that bad energy out of me and into a ball. All of those heavy, unhelpful, non-productive thoughts into a growing ball of energy. When I had thought of everything, I imagined holding this ball of energy in my hands and said/thought something along the lines of:
“Dear Universe, I am grateful for all of these things that happened to me and how they made me grow, but I don’t want or need this pain anymore, so I’m letting it go. I won’t forget what happened and I will keep and cherish all of the things I learned, but I will no longer give them the power them to hurt me and hold me back.” And then I gave it away, let it go…. like a balloon.
And you, know, I immediately felt lighter. Better.
In October, I was walking along on one of the paths I’ve taken on my little wandering sojourns for years. Headphones on, iPod set to play random, and suddenly I found myself in a lovely little déjà vu moment… but better. Animal Collective’s song My Girls came on and I flashed back to 3 years ago walking the same path in late January. I was in a not so great place then and something about the band’s newest album at the time Merriweather Post Pavilion cheered me, especially My Girls. Something about the beat and the energy and the mood resonated in me and made my insides sigh a little yes. It felt like something to aspire to, perhaps? It’s hard to explain, but something felt like a reaching point, a place I wanted to be. So, a little over a month ago, I’m walking this same path and this same song comes on and I feel different. That seeking feeling wasn’t there. I felt light, unweighted, free. And then it hit me: I’m happy. I had peace. What a beautiful feeling.
Thanks for reading, all. I hope this makes sense as I tried to not go on and on forever. It’s late and I’m just going to go ahead and post this otherwise I’ll keep nitpicking it for all of eternity. I’ll make any changes tomorrow if needed. :)
(Above photo by my friend Manya, 2005.)