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.
I love this! Everything you say is exactly where I am, too. I’m so grateful to read your words, Sarah. I’m turning 35 tomorrow and am wishing a better year- a year of living and being ALIVE- for us both. 🙂
Thank you, Hannah! I wish this for both of us too. Have a wonderful birthday. xo
I too found a lot of similarities. You have tremendous clarity of thought and expression even through the crisis.
HBD. Where are you visiting in Europe?
Thank you! London and Prague, but there’s always the possibility of hopping on a train for more adventures in other cities!
This caught my eye because i too just turned 34, and 33 was a turning point year for me. It was the year that life as i knew it changed in an instant… Huge betrayal of certain family members involving violence, and ultimately switching careers bc i was previously involved in our family business. The fucked upness goes on, but my point is this: we say that 33 is the year of the lord. It was the year that i was shattered to my core, but i’m grateful for those hard times and the changes i made because of them. Now at 34 i’m rebuilding and STRONGER than ever. You will be too. Best wishes!
Oh my goodness! May 34 be the opposite for you – for both of us! Best to you. 🙂
Yours Is the first blog I’ve chosen to follow. I have been exactly where you appear to be. The dark side of that is my darkness persisted for 10 years. It has only seemed to change very recently….in these last two weeks. And the change is dramatic. All along I believed it was possible, it’d happened to me once before when I was a few years younger than you are now.
I will let this work for awhile and write more. YOU will help me write more, and some of it will be for you. I’m adjusting to a new WordPress interface and I’m only learning how this works.
There’s an introductory saying in AlAnon thar goes something like this….”You’re welcome here and know that we all love you, and will until you come to love yourself.” There is such a thing in the world as unconditional love and I know with an infinite certainty that such a place is within you and however long the journey takes you will get there. “Hello darkness my old friend…”. (I trust you know the reference). Hi! My name’s Bob and I’m a recovering human being!
Lovely writing in the few posts I’ve been reading. I became a widow and my husband’s funeral was the day before my 30th birthday so my birthdays have been hard. His birthdays too, which I just wrote about. I recently turned 34 so it was funny to stumble across this post! Came here by way of freshly pressed, but can relate so much to your writings on grief. Sometimes I feel like I’m supposed to be ‘over it’, but I never really will be, because while I took time to grieve, he is still gone. It took me about 3 years to experience true joy, deep happiness. I’d had many happy moments, but it was a kind that didn’t crack through the pain underneath. We are new people after such deep experiences of loss. I’m still figuring out who I am, because I lost this life plan I had with him too. I’m a bit adrift, but happier and happier each year.
Thank you so much for your kind words and thank you for reading. I am so sorry you experienced such a profound loss. I have found that time (and writing) are the only things that truly heal, and the process is often much slower than I’d like, particularly in a society (Western, that is) that by and large is uncomfortable talking openly about death. Those who are grieving often feel pressure to “get over it,” or to get “back to normal,” far sooner than they are ready to. But I believe that the amount of grief corresponds to the depth of your love and the pain of losing someone you loved deeply never really goes away. Over time you do get used to life without them in it, and to smile at the memories rather than cry. I’ve learned not to be angry with people who’ve never lost anyone close to them for not understanding – how could they? – and to seek support from those who do. I also try to spend the birthdays and the holidays that are particularly hard doing something kind to myself, something that celebrates life, and something my lost loved ones would have enjoyed.
I wish you well on your journey and your adventures in Dubai (wow!). I was born in Seattle, and though raised in Anchorage, AK, my entire family has roots in Washington and Oregon and I understand the pull of the Pacific Northwest. When you’re ready, I have a feeling you’ll find yourself back in Oregon. . . 🙂