I think perhaps it is apropos tonight’s post be one that is striking a marked transition between past and future, old and new. After the writing frenzy I had in 2017 and the steady pace I mostly kept up in 2018 that, for most of 2019 I pretty much dropped off the face of the planet with regard to having a presence not just in writing but in most things. I found myself in a place of hermiting in all areas of my life for the sake of my health and sanity. At some point in the future, perhaps I will write about all that in depth…
About medical setbacks and a year spent in relative limbo, about the definitive abandonment by a once beloved spouse but the still denial of any wrongdoing, support, or closure, about the discovery of a set of blueprints that for the first 38 years of my existence were the foundation of every relationship to date.
But with the stroke of midnight will come a new year and I think it altogether appropriate to perhaps spend some time of intention reflecting on what the past year has been and to perhaps with intentionality set some short term goals for what the next year will bring in the new future I am forging for myself to add to my list of longer term ones. I cannot take credit for the questions; they were found in an article (linked below) I ran across earlier in the day, but I did find them compelling.
What made this year unforgettable?
Two years ago, it was the amputation of my leg.
One year ago, it was learning to walk again. This year?
This year I faced fears. Sure we all have fears we face from time to time but I’m not talking about facing your fear of heights by skydiving or getting on a roller coaster. I’m talking about the deep, soul shaking, you didn’t know you were afraid until you were asked to face that thing kind of fears.
Knowing that as a disabled woman I’m at even more of a disadvantage than all able bodied women and therefore statistically at an increased risk of physical or sexual assault from what I was pre-flamingoing, I faced reality by understanding that if I am attacked, I will ultimately (likely) end up on the ground. It’s simple math really:
When I’m up and about I have one solid point of contact that can feel the ground and I have a Barbie foot connected to a pipe which is bolted to a carbon fiber socket that cups my leg but is only really attached at a little metal rod that goes into a little hole. I can’t feel if the ground is uneven with that foot unless the flat platform of the foot rocks some way other than the “right way” underneath me and I feel like my knee will break from bending the wrong way. A stiff wind can knock me over. It’s challenging to stand up from a low car. If someone were to attack me when I’m up and about, it wouldn’t take much to knock me down. If my leg is already off, it falls off, or is taken off, I would be a one legged woman in an ass kicking contest there’s no winning in that scenario.
So I began my journey in Brazilian Jujitsu because BJJ is all about the ground game, survival, and being defensible despite a bigger, stronger opponent. What I didn’t know when I started this journey was how many of the moves that in a gym and when wearing a gi are designed to earn points and gain a submission were used on me by an abuser to hurt, intimidate, and terrorize me. Yet each time I run across something I recognize or some situation that has me feeling some sort of discomfort, I’ve been able to, with the help of my professors, ground myself again and continue training: drills, PTSD laden flashback, fight/flight/freeze moment, deep breathing and centering mantras, and back to drills. The strength and resilience I feel when I have a moment and am able to work past it is… priceless.
Feeling powerful and safe again in an unforgiving world is absolutely unforgettable.
What did you enjoy doing this year?
I learned how to watercolor paint this year. I mean, I had done very basic wet on wet watercolor painting when I was a Waldorf teacher, but the intentionality was not really present for me. I doubted my ability to create a thing of beauty and I could not find confidence in my strokes. Christmas a year ago found me receiving several packages of watercolor paper, brushes, and paint which I eventually began to use.
At first I hated everything I painted but I realized that great painters do not become great painters by accident, it is with intention. They started by watching someone else paint and mimicking their technique. Great copies of great masterpieces exist because someone sat down to learn from the master by copying his or her work… So that is what I did. Sort of. I found watercolor paintings or scenes I liked online and set about figuring out how to create a likeness. Invariably, if I tried too hard to make it “perfect,” I would overdo it, but if I gave myself grace to accept imperfection, I could still find beauty without frustration.
A year ago I could sort of, kind of, maybe paint a sunset or something but not well. I’ve found that I cannot yet do the human face or hands or feet (I opt for very Waldorf faceless heads and crescent shaped hands), but I am working on the form, and I have also learned that there must be a foundation for the painting, a sketch. Having always doubted and been critical of my drawing skills, I’ve learned to find the basic shape to build my concept upon.
To sit with patience and intention doing something small and delicate over and over without frustration has taught me to enjoy the process. Learning to enjoy the process and to mindfully accept mistakes as points of learning has been a pleasure beyond expression.
What is one thing or who is one person you’re grateful for?
There are several people who I’m exceedingly grateful for but I’m going to be extra vulnerable tonight:
I’m grateful for my psychologist.
I have struggled with depression a lot in the last few years in the wake of a very toxic and abusive marriage, the loss of a limb due to an ongoing and underlying health condition, and the absolute shattering of my entire reality. I have anxiety that was once crippling that was the result of more toxic relationships of every kind than I care to count. I have PTSD. I have seen every worldly sign of success and worth taken or destroyed and have had to learn what true strength, resilience, and worth are. I’ve had to dig deep to find the roots of every toxic personality trait of my own as well as seeking the original blueprint that explained why those roots were there in the first place and why I continued to perpetuate the same behaviors that drew toxic toward me like a moth to a flame.
Until roughly a hundred and fifty years ago, psychology, theology, philosophy, and spirituality were all generally found in places of worship but as people sought to separate the spirit and soul from the physical body in terms of understanding and care, those things separated from one another and began to compete with one another for the care of the human being as a whole. If you seek to grow as a human being in this world, to grow in faith and kindness, to heal from old wounds that were earned in your life time and that were passed down through generations of humans acting on old grievances and wounds, passing toxic coping mechanisms and traits down the family tree, then you ought not seek such in only one area.
My faith in God does not disallow my faith in the people in this world with the gifting and inclination toward helping others to sort through the tangle of emotions that comes with living on this planet and experiencing difficulties and loss, and I am exceedingly grateful for the person with whom I have worked that has helped guide me to greater understanding of myself, peace, and insight.
What’s your biggest win this year?
This year I discovered my voice again…
Okay, so I realize that I write and that there is a voice here. And I also realize I have always had a propensity to share my thoughts and opinions on things rather willingly, if not to play the devils advocate for the sake of interesting conversation. What I had not learned until 2019 was how to express my feelings about my hopes, desires, needs, or boundaries. The blueprint for my life was one that intended me to be the perfect chameleon to fit into any roll and meet everyone else’s needs, hopes, and desires at the exclusion of my own. It worked well for everyone else but I lost something every time. Certainly at different points in my life when my OS was some earlier version of Gwen, I had varying degrees of a voice but there were areas where I was simply hobbled.
What did you read, watch, or listen to that made the most impact this year?
My heart… I listened to my heart and I spoke my truth about it to boot… Well, I started anyway. It’s a process. Telling people what you really think and feel about who they are and how they have treated you is not easy for a female raised in a society that has traditionally told girls to be nice, share, let boys chase you (because only bad girls tell boys how they feel first), et cetera. It’s a challenge at times to speak truth with tact and kindness. It’s a challenge to be honest about the dirty and ugly things. It’s even more of a challenge to be honest about the good stuff when one has seen so much of the dirty and ugly.
What did you worry about most and how did it turn out?
I definitely worried most about what will happen with me when I am done with my current situation, when my divorce is finally finished, and when I’m finally free… And there is no resolution to any of that yet because I’m still in limbo. Check back in a year; maybe we will see how it turns out by then.
What was your biggest regret and why?
I regret every moment of emotional panic and all the sleepless nights I’ve had because most of those moments were when I was facing paper tigers, not when I was facing something with flesh and blood and a real chance to hurt me. It isn’t that fear isn’t valid and should not be recognized, but I know and understand that if I continue to live in fear and constant apprehension of something terrible coming to pass, I’m keeping my body in a state of threat that is unhealthy and I am robbing myself of the moments of beauty and growth that were happening all around me.
What’s one thing that changed about yourself?
I looked in the mirror one day and realized I actually believed all the good things people have repeatedly told me about myself but there is one thing in particular that strikes me.
I no longer define myself by the surface level things in life. Yes, I’m beautiful and intelligent. Yes, I am a ballerina and practitioner of jujitsu. I am a musician and artist, a writer and philosopher. But I’m much more than that…
I am resilient.
Someone I know has used that word to describe me for some years and I remember my vehemently negative response to it the first time he did. Oooo… I was feisty about it but not in the amusing-even-if-somewhat-outrageous-love-of-the-absurd-and-outrageous way, more of the I’ll-throat-punch-you-don’t-test-me way. (He’ll never comment here that that is exactly what I was but it’s true.) I think I said that it was grossly overused and misapplied but the truth is that I was exceedingly broken at that point. I’d spent so long being told that my worth was only what I was on the outside and what I could do for others that when my health declined, my physical body was no longer a 10/10, and my ability to be and do all things for all people perfectly and at once, I felt worthless. But this friend, who is possibly more stubborn than I am, continued to lob that word over my walls repeatedly until he finally broke them down enough for me to see that he was right and I was more than the sum of my parts and resilient.
To realize that change was a powerful one for me.
What surprised you the most about this year?
The most surprising thing about this year is that it did not even remotely move me anywhere near where I thought I would or should go. I expected to have finished rehabilitating from amputation, to have moved, and to have a final verdict of freedom… And the physical manifestations of those things have yet to come to pass even though I know I am closer now than I was this night last year.
If you could go back to last January 1, what suggestions would you give your past self?
I would tell my past self to learn to breathe, to quit cheating and eating the junk, and to speak that truth many months sooner.
Although this is being published too late to accomplish these questions on your own before we begin a new decade, it is not too late to begin a new year with a new perspective and some intentionality.
Happy New Year!
Questions from End Your Year Intentionally with These 10 Questions