This week, I turned thirty-four. THIRTY-FOUR. Holy hell, I am older than I ever thought I’d be.
(To all of my readers out there who are a little – or a lot – older than thirty-four, please accept my apologies. Life, it seems, is all about perspective. Isn’t it?)
I’ve always been big on birthdays. Always. But this year, I approached it quietly. Not avoiding or ignoring, but not fully embracing it, either. Figuring that this year, it simply is what it is.
Though I’m not necessarily delighted to be another year older, I was not sad to say goodbye to thirty-three. It was without a doubt, the hardest year of my life. That may seem like an odd statement, considering that thirty-one and thirty-two were particularly brutal years, during which a lot of really bad, painful things happened. Nobody I love died during my thirty-third year, but in a way, it was sort of like I did. And (metaphorical) death while living can be just about the toughest thing one can experience. Or at least, it was for me.
I started thirty-three pretending I was OK (I wasn’t). I was desperate to feel better, and I convinced myself that I needed to shake up my life because I wasn’t really living. I was right about the not living part, but I went about the shaking up my life part in the wrong way. In truth, I got a little bit crazy. Not only did my new ‘fierce urgency of now’ maxim not work out, but I learned a hard lesson: I couldn’t just fake it to make it, and the more I tried, the less it worked. I had been sad for a long time, but I wasn’t grieving, just shoving my feelings under the rug and trying to act like some superhuman strong woman, which ultimately just made everything worse.
And so I stopped the quick fix, impulsive behavior, and I started making the changes that were harder, and that would take more time. I moved to a new neighborhood away from almost everyone I knew. I stopped doing things I ‘loved,’ things that I’d always done, because honestly, my heart wasn’t in them any more. I tried on lots of new, different things, trying to figure out which ‘Sarah’ was a fit, and it turned out that none of them were. When all else failed, I borrowed a friend’s beach house and spent one of the most beautiful weeks of the summer crying into the sand. I spent a lot of time alone. And I wrote. A lot.
None of the realizations I came to during my thirty-third year – the year of dying while living – came easy or cheap. I learned that I wasn’t so much grieving the loved ones that I’d lost as I was grieving the person that I now was, without them. I learned that the path toward healing ultimately involved grieving myself, grieving the old me that I no longer was, and then learning how to lovingly let her go. I learned that the biggest source of my suffering came from trying to hold on to what was no longer true, that the sooner I could release the image in my mind of how things were ‘supposed’ to be, and accept them for what they actually were, the better off I’d be. And I learned that letting go is a real bitch.
So when thirty-four arrived this past Tuesday, it was fittingly, a different type of birthday. No splashy party, no big fanfare, no weekend trip away. I worked a twelve-hour day styling a photo shoot for the company I’ve worked at for the last ten years. We ordered in lunch, and in the afternoon, my coworkers got me a cake, sang me Happy Birthday, and I made a wish (a good one) and blew out the candles. That night, I went home, put on a dress and got in a cab to meet a handful of friends for a small, low-key dinner, ending the evening over cocktails and conversation with some really good people. And when I finally collapsed into bed, nearly twenty hours after my day had begun, I felt something that, while definitely not the unbridled joy I’ve been chasing, was a little bit like contentment, and a lot like peace.
I’ve always liked the fact that my birthday falls in December, so close to the end of the year. It’s sort of like my own personal new year is closely aligned with the calendar New Year, and it gives me an opportunity to look back and take stock as both myself and the planet turn another year older. And while I still believe in making resolutions, I no longer boldly predict that ‘this is going to be my best year yet,’ because life, in all its unpredictability, has taught me differently. But what I do know is this: that the hard lessons I took the time to learn during thirty-three have prepared me to have a better thirty-four. That, while I’m not yet on the other side of the grief or the healing, I’m a wiser, stronger, and (strangely), more hopeful person than I was a year ago. That I can’t rush this process or fake it till I make it, and that where I’m at, today, tomorrow, next week, is just fine. And while I’d never boldly predict that this New Year will be my ‘best year yet,’ I’m pretty certain I’m going to end thirty-four in a better place than where I began it.
So – Happy New Year.
Until next time, friends.