The winter solstice falls again today, landing hard against my birthday as it does every year. The irony is never lost on me, that the one day of the year I wish would last forever actually carries the shortest amount of daylight hours and seems to end oh-so-much faster than any other day. I’ve stopped believing I was born on this day because God hates me, rather, I now relish in the justification of more hours to spend by the fire with a bottle of red. Maybe God doesn’t hate me so much after all.
I hold no sentimentality about birthdays. I don’t sit and ponder on years gone by or years still to come or anything of the sort. Usually it’s more of an obsessive search for unbidden grey hairs and an excuse to eat two pieces of cake rather than one.
But as I walked outside this morning, bare feet on damp earth, winter sun against my back, my heart bursting open with gratitude, I realised how significant this year has been for me.
How much I have lost. How much I have found.
How much I have let go of. How much I have taken anew.
How much I have changed. How much I have learned.
But mostly, how much I have grown up.
The growing up is the hardest. The moment you face your own truth. Your house of cards, so precariously built on cracked foundations, falls down around you, and you are faced with a choice. Rebuild the same house, the same way, knowing you will suffer another inevitable collapse? Or build a new house, one that will finally be on foundations strong enough to hold you together this time?
See, the thing is, some of us had help building our houses.
And some of us did not.
For those of us who floundered without help, we played pretend. We didn’t know how to lay strong foundations, build unshakeable structures, lay bricks in straight lines that wouldn’t fall. So we watched others build their houses, and we copied. It didn’t matter if their ways were right or wrong, truth or lies, healthy or destructive. We just knew we needed some kind of shelter from the storms that raged around us, so we built with flawed tools and foolish hands. We did the best we could with how little we knew.
But we knew our houses weren’t built well. They were thrown together with crooked lines and uneven edges, unbalanced, unstable. We looked at the houses around us, built by those who were taught well, and we were ashamed of what we’d built. So to hide our shame we put up a wall of perfectionism, a shield that kept everyone away. That way they would never see what a mess our house really was. They would never know our foundation was built on lies, our bricks laid upon cover-ups, our walls painted with the picture of the life we wanted others to believe we had. The life we wished we had.
We were driven by one thing. To keep up the appearance of perfection, no matter the cost. No matter how many lies we had to tell, no matter how many secrets we had to cover up, no matter how many people we had to hurt in order to keep them from seeing beyond the façade. We couldn’t let anyone see inside our house, into the broken mess we had built with our own two hands. We never meant to harm or hurt. We never meant to deceive or betray. These things grieved our hearts. We were simply so desperate for others to believe we were whole, we were the same. Our greatest fear was exposure. That others would see into our houses of shame, and would hate us more than we already hated ourselves.
Those of us who have dwelled in these houses of pretence know what it takes to hold them together on the outside when we feel them begin to collapse on the inside. We clutch at our survival skills, our defense mechanisms, our skills of adaptation, unwilling to let them slip from our grasp. They have become so much a part of us, we have no idea how to live without them.
Until there comes a day when we no longer can. Our ways of survival are all we have known, the only way we have known how to live, and they served their purpose when there was no other way to make it through the chaos. But we no longer need them. They no longer serve us. And we know we can no longer continue to live in such destruction.
It’s often not the storms that blow our makeshift houses down, not the wind, the fire, the rain or the floods. Our houses are surprisingly strong. We are survivors, after all. We can withstand any force of hell thrown upon us.
Instead, we are often dismantled by our own breath. By one moment of stillness when we dare to look inside our house. It hurts as we survey the damage, the destruction. It hurts to think of how many years we have lived like this, and what that has done to us, and the ones that love us. And in that moment we know. We just know.
We no longer want to live this way.
Slowly, we begin to tear down the walls, dismantle the structures, wipe out the foundations. It takes courage. It takes persistence. We feel exposed and vulnerable, we get tired of the renovations and long to crawl back into our familiar hovel. But we continue the work. We stop blaming others for their lack of help in building our houses, and take it upon ourselves to learn new ways, better ways. We find it within ourselves to lay a foundation of truth, build walls of integrity, floors of authenticity, ceilings of strength and courage. But most of all we build large windows, where the light will always pour into the core of our very being.
We no longer need to hide in the darkness of our shame.
The year gone by has been significant in many ways. It’s the year I stepped into my destiny and called myself a writer. The year I became a yogini. The year I put away my scales, drank red wine with no guilt, embarked on my first novel, began to work through my PTSD, fell in love with Grey’s Anatomy, learned to honour my creative process, learned to forgive myself, love myself, embrace this journey that is uniquely mine.
It’s the year my house of cards fell down. The year I had to choose whether to continue to hide in the shadows of my paper house, or stare my truth in the eye and begin the work of change, of rebuilding myself on a solid foundation.
It’s the year I found freedom.
It’s the year I finally grew up and stepped into the woman I was always meant to be.