This month thirteen years ago, I had the strange, painful luxury of “starting over” for the new year. My house burnt down, so a new start was necessary. Not because I had some big New Year’s resolution. Not because I wanted to or tried to. But because I stood in front of my home with the clothes my sister bought from Walmart the night before, so I had something to change into after being amidst the smoke and ash, and I watched firemen toss the garbage that was once my life over their heads and into a dumpster. Everything was different all the sudden, and everything had to change.
It seemed so awful then, sleeping in my car sometimes, brushing my teeth using a water bottle I kept in the cup holder, wandering around from place to place, trying to find a home that I no longer had.
Some people gave me bags of clothes they would have sent to Good Will. They gave me the hair products they no longer liked to use. I had to look at them grateful and say thank you so much, but I knew I was getting their leftovers. My stomach would flip, wishing I still had the ability to purge by choice once the new year started.
A few times, I remember people saying things like, “Oh to lose your home and your pets. I don’t know how you survived” or, “I could never be that strong.”
I would think, but never say, that it isn’t like I had a choice.
People meant well. They were mostly empathetic and kind. But sometimes the hardest roads we go on are the loneliest ones. They are filled with things that only we feel, and we ourselves understand. If anyone tries to enter our lonely road, they seem to get it at least a little bit wrong.
The thing is, I don’t know that people always have the luxury of being weak. Sometimes the terrible thing happens, and people just keep putting one foot in front of the other. What else can they do? They grieve, they hurt, but the time on the clock keeps ticking. Life still needs living.
I can close my eyes and remember that new year like it’s a movie I’ve watched a thousand times. I can still smell the smoke standing in front of my home. I can feel the ice on my back when I fainted. I can still feel the empty, hopeless feeling in my stomach that I felt when the fireman tried to breathe breath into my German shepherd’s mouth to save his life. I can see that fireman’s face when there was nothing more he could do. I can hear my sister screaming for her sweet, little white westie pup. I can see my mother standing over my head telling me it was going to be okay.
The year 2009 was not a happy new year.
To be honest though, it doesn’t seem so bad now, after thirteen years of learning and growing and changing and hurting and healing, it seems so much smaller than it was then. My mother was right. It was eventually okay.
I was lucky in ways. The shock and trauma forced me to start over because it was too hard to try going on living the same life I had been. I couldn’t stay in the same relationships that felt normal because nothing was normal anymore. Some of those relationships weren’t exactly healthy anyway. It had to be different because that was what I needed to survive. There was no other way. The new year had to be new.
If you’re starting REALLY new this year, possibly not by choice, keep putting one foot in front of the other. Know that this is enough. It might be a lonely road, but it won’t last forever. While many are making choices to change their lives, maybe your life is changing you. Maybe everything is happening, and you want it to stop, but you can’t make it stop. Maybe you are on the loneliest road of your life. To you that have the painful fresh slate, hang onto the hope that is above. The light shining through the darkness. Know that there can always be beauty out of ashes, and eventually things will be okay.
I am a mental health therapist in training. I am on my way to finishing my master's degree in clinical mental health counseling. I am also a creative nonfiction writer and a poet with a bachelor's degree in English writing. I am an advocate for mental health. I am deeply passionate about making a difference in the stigma attached to mental health through knowledge, awareness, and creative writing. I want to share my own story, as well as the stories of others who have persevered through great adversity. I am also a wife to an amazing husband, a mother of two beautiful babies, and a Christian who wants to show love, kindness, and acceptance to everyone I meet.
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