2006 has been one of the most profoundly challenging and exciting years of my life.
A friend wrote this in an email to me recently: I got the feeling that you live incredibly deeply and with an incredibly keen understanding of how precious each moment is. I was awestruck and more than a little envious. You said to me that you felt like you were living each day a little beyond what you thought you could handle, that you were being stretched and challenged and really growing because of it, and that you liked that about your life.
And it's true. And it was lovely to read this about myself and to know it was true. For the last six months every single day has brought a new learning experience, a stretching of myself, my knowlege, my humanity, my consciousness and self understanding. I don't think I could want for a more interesting year.
I woke up on January 1, 2006 blindingly hungover in a guest room in Minneapolis, MN, J. Ryan next to me. We'd been to a party the night before, attended by most of his high school friends, people that I'd gotten to know and like over the last few years. I'd smoked my last cigarette around 2am the night before...can't believe it's been almost a year since I quit. We spent the night of the second sleeping on the floor of the Denver airport, stranded by a snowstorm.
On January 3rd, I went to my first class of graduate school: Law & Ethics, where I met Lydia & Timbre, two women who would become some of my closest friends in the world, and who I suspect I will always know. My weeks were suddenly filled with classes, with psychology, with a reflection of myself that I'd never seen before, Intro to Psychology on Monday nights, Law & Ethics on Wednesday night, Society & the Individual on Thursdays, Process I & Community Psych on Saturdays.
And on January 13 I quit my job as Volunteers & Communications Director at 826LA, where I'd worked for almost a year. I'd never had a job I loved as much as that one, or a job I suspect I was as good at as that one. I'd also never had a boss as complicated and damaging to work for as the one I had during that year. It was devastating to leave that position but nonetheless, the right decision.
February brought a deeper level to my studies, a sinking in of my decision to enter this field, to enter this understanding of myself and of my world. I also began working at Chrysalis, an organization that helps to get homeless people back in the workplace. It was an absolutely mind-blowing and eye-opening experience to work in that realm, to get to know those clients, to stand with my co-workers day after day as we congratulated another person on getting a job, on making a positive change in their life.
Between my Society & the Individual class and Chrysalis, I think I spent every single day of February confronting my privelege, thinking about where I was born, what I was born into, the color of my skin, my ethnic heritage, my wealthy childhood and my education. I attempted to tackle pre-conceived notions and stereotypes I'd developed about other races and ethnicities and cultures. I had fascinating conversations and I felt guilty and alternately empowered and it all brought tears to my eyes over and over again.
The middle of March brought a close to my first quarter of grad school and a decision to leave Chrysalis for my current job in vocational rehabilitation at one of LA's largest community mental health clinics. Before I started this new job I took a week-long trip to Cape Cod & New York to see family and catch up with friends. Something about going back to the East coast after these past couple of months really opened something up in me, some kind of drastic urge for change. It was an intense trip filled with intense interactions, people I hadn't seen in a long time, places I hadn't gone, and an unexpected sense of absolution.
April was the month in which all of the above culminated into a screaming need for transformation. I felt like I'd been asleep for the last couple of years, like I'd just been coasting through my life, letting things happen to me, breathing...or not breathing through my days. And to come to this realization was shockingly painful. In that first week home from New York I couldn't get a grip. I wrote this in an email to a friend:
The other night, on my way home from class, I couldn't drive fast
enough. I couldn't turn up the music loud enough. So, I rolled up all
the windows and I screamed. The kind of scream that is so electrifying
that it takes the breath out of you just as you're using it.
The next night, after coming home from work, I ran ten miles on the
beach without stopping. I ran and I ran as hard as I could for as long
as I could. I ran until the sun had set into the ocean and the
stinging light from it was just a memory, cool and pink above the palm
You know that feeling just before you sneeze. That feeling just before
you come. That feeling just before you cry. I can't shake that
feeling. It swells up and through me with a terrifying persistence.
Screaming doesn't help. Crying doesn't help. Coming and running
haven't softened it.
April also brought on a new set of classes: Family Systems Theory which gave me nightmares every Thursday night, Assessment & Treatment Planning in which I began to learn how to diagnose people with mental disorders and discovered that I can't stand to do so, Child/Adolescent Development, and Field Study which led me to incredible experiences like attending the immigration rallies in downtown LA and a Friday night ride-along with the Inglewood Police Department (I'll post about that at some point). Also in April I began seeing my shrink.
By the time May rolled around I'd completed my training in vocational rehab and fully took on my role as an employment specialist. For a few weeks I was constantly fascinated by the sight of myself walking down the hallway to the waiting room in my high heels and pencil skirts, the angle of my body as I leaned through the door to call a client's name. Who was this woman with her clipboard and assessment questions, business cards and mental health qualifications? She was never a woman I had anticipated becoming but nonetheless, she was a woman I was getting to know and beginning to like.
May also brought my 28th birthday, a source of much anguish and resistance. But there was also an incredibly fun weekend, perhaps the most fun of my whole year, spent with Liz, Lucy, J. Ryan, and my wonderful cousin Ron, going to the beach, up to wine country, and laughing, laughing, laughing.
And it was in May that I found yoga. I have nothing more to say about that other than there is no way I could have gotten through the last six months without it.
June, a quiet month for the most part, also brought into play one of the most significant developments of my year. I began my training as a psychotherapist at a clinic in El Segundo. I wouldn't begin to see clients until the following month but officially signed on as a therapist at the clinic and began to attend my weekly supervision meetings. The rest of June was spent finishing up my second quarter and swimming in the ocean as often as possible.
I flew to Boston on the 6th of July for a ten-day trip that would take me through Cape Cod, Manhattan, and to upstate New York for my beautiful friend Abby's wedding, in which I was a bridesmaid. Upon returning I launched straight into my third quarter with Child Adolescent Treatment, Research & Writing, and Spousal Abuse & Domestic Violence. I also got my first five clients at the clinic. I couldn't believe that only six months into my program I was already seeing clients for individual psychotherapy. I felt wildly under-qualified but it quickly became the most thrilling part of my week. I'm still seeing three of those first clients...and six months in, it's amazing to look back.
August was one of the harder months of the year. Moving through July I quickly realized that how draining it was to see clients and I struggled under the staggering weight of responsibility my life now encompassed. I was suddenly working a full-time 40 hour a week job, going to school full-time, and spending 10 hours a week at the clinic seeing clients and attending supervision. I could hardly breathe for the emotional drain of it all. And all of it, my day job, my classes, my internship, were psychologically-based, forcing me to continue to take a blindingly honest look at my life.
Toward the end of August J. Ryan took a ten-day trip to Minnesota and I relished in the quietude of our house, was surprised by the immeasurable difference it made in my level of calm to be able to wake up and say nothing, to put on whatever kind of music I wanted to listen to, to come home to a house that was exactly as I had left it. During the two weekends that he was gone I lounged around in the barest of essentials, drinking Viognier and listening to Iron & Wine. It was heavenly and I suddenly knew what it was that had to change.
And even though I think we both had known it was coming, it was devastating to come to this realization. I had fought against it tooth and nail all year, at terrible costs to mine and J. Ryan's emotional well-being. But I could no longer ignore the fact that I had never truly lived alone, that I had never truly been alone, that I'd been running away from this truth for years, and that I would never rest until I had faced it.
And it was on the last day of August that I began writing here.
It was in early September that we decided to split up, both of us crying in the late afternoon sunlight, our legs wound around each other. It would be another month before he would move out and so September was spent coming to terms with this thing that was coming, this termination, this separation. I can hardly remember anything from that month. During the day I went to work. At night I saw clients and went to class. When I came home it was straight to the cupboard to pour a glass of wine, to the couch to avoid J. Ryan's eyes.
Mid-month was pierced through by a three-day yoga retreat to Casa Barranca with Paul. I think it was these three days which saved me from certain oblivian. Paul is another person I met this year of whom I am certain I will always know. We hardly knew each other before this retreat. We'd spoken several times in the hall before yoga class on Wednesday afternoons, one of those times about how neither of us had ever been on a yoga retreat but how we were both curious. We decided that day that we would go on this one together and then and there exchanged numbers and last names. I showed up on his doorstep some days later, yoga bag slung over my shoulder, a little hung-over and ready to embark on a three-day retreat that become some of the most healing days of my year.
And if I wasn't particularly conscious through most of September, my dreams told a different story.
The first week of October was spent in New York and Cape Cod for the third time this year, each trip like another chapter in its own book, the same characters and themes resurfacing and reappearing, plots thickening and resolutions pending. This was J. Ryan and I's last trip together as a couple. We attended two weddings and we cried and we laughed and we argued and we sighed. He moved out a week after we came home, on the 20th, nine weeks ago today.
And that's when my year got a lot harder and a lot easier and a lot more surreal and a lot more peaceful. During the last couple of weeks of October I had some really lovely moments and some unexpected experiences and some incredibly low lows. All of these things being what I signed up for, what I wanted and feared and dreaded and fell in love with. All of them serving to reinforce over and over again that I'd made the right decision and that I was stronger than I give myself credit for.
November was a month of exploration and experimentation, with myself, with people, with living alone, being alone, with how to let myself really be myself, with how to hold together and alternately fall apart.
I was well into my fourth quarter at this point and my weeks were full. Monday nights at the clinic seeing clients until 8, then curving through the darkened marina on my way home, whatever song I had chosen to sustain myself that week blasting on the tinny speakers in my car. Tuesday nights were a solid six hours of Personality Theory I class followed by an intense and completely experiential Group Therapy class. Wednesdays found me cramming my favorite yoga class in between a full work day and a 7 o'clock Psychological Testing class. By Thursday I was usually completely exhausted but somehow managed to walk the boardwalk at sunset with Timbre every week. Friday nights became my weekly date with the Grandparents, an ubelievably challenging and rewarding two hours that I'm looking forward to resuming in January.
Also in November I went on my first few dates with several different men and I began to learn the hard way what I could and couldn't handle emotionally. All I'm going to say is that dating is completely weird and totally fun and ridiculously awful. And that it's never going to be something I'll write about here so don't even ask.
And December. I think this has been the month in which I've finally begun to settle in a little bit, to feel more comfortable living alone, being alone. I've come up against some incredibly hard truths this year, this fall, this month, and the thing is that I just keep facing them and the more I do, and the less I turn away and the more I just breathe through them, the easier it gets. There have been days this year, and this month in particular, that have absolutely taken my breath away for the pain they have revealed. I have never felt more alone in my life. I have also never felt more truthful in my life.
I can't wait to see what 2007 brings.
Thank you to all the amazing people in my life, and you know who you are, for supporting me through this madness.