Preparing to toast my friends, I raised my glass to the ceiling as we counted down in unison the final seconds of 2016.
It had been a year of painfully-sudden endings coupled with uncomfortable personal transformation. I rolled my eyes and downed my champagne as the couples around me kissed—wholeheartedly convinced 2017 was most definitely going to be my year.
Until it wasn’t.
And I know I’m not alone. Many of us struggled in 2016 and anxiously anticipated the transition into the new year. Obviously, we weren’t prepared for 2017 to look at us with a malicious smirk and say, “You think 2016 was rough? Here, hold my beer.”
We felt blindsided, and many of the events that transpired felt beyond our control. Most of us discovered the highs matched the lows and we were simultaneously living our best and worst lives, side-by-side.
It was a year of contrast.
My stepbrother died of a drug overdose in May. I also had to end a relationship and completely sever ties, for my own well-being, with a man I loved dearly. While already deep in the trenches of heartache and struggling to understand the reasons behind such heavy losses, I found myself grieving the loss of a parent who was still living and stuck in a debilitating legal battle that I had little control over.
I also found myself at the beginning stages of an apprenticeship with Elephant Journal—immersed in a like-minded community and poised for an opportunity that had once been only a hopeful symbol on my vision board.
So, I did what any anxiety-ridden, fearful human would do. With mascara dripping down my face, I began writing an email to the Elephant Academy team explaining why I had to quit the apprenticeship. I explained that my life was falling apart and there was no possible way I could conquer my dreams of being a writer, considering a basic chore like laundry proved daunting.
Halfway through drafting my resignation letter, my fingers froze on the keyboard. I caught myself, drowning in excuses, and poised to call myself out on my own bullsh*t. I shut my laptop, (but I saved the draft—just in case, you know?) threw myself on my bed, and started deep breathing with the simple intention of preventing a full-on Britney Spears circa 2007 meltdown.
As my mind raced, I realized I’d had writing opportunities before and single-handedly sabotaged each one because of external forces. And while I could have never anticipated so much loss in such a short period of time, I knew I had to make a choice about where I directed my energy.
What I didn’t understand was why.
I felt incapable of making such a life-altering choice and my track record with tragedy proved me unworthy of tackling the challenges at hand. My last major run-in with unpredictable loss was in 2006 when one of my best friends was killed in a motorcycle accident. I was supposed to be with him that night. Seething with guilt, I became a shell of myself and ended up in an eating disorder treatment center nine months later.
With each breath, my mind slowed. A final tear slid down my cheek, and I felt what can only be described as an overwhelming sense of peace. In that moment, I knew the polarity and contrast of my current life experiences were co-existing for me to reach my highest potential as a writer.
This was the only way things could play out, and the only way a naturally messy human like myself would pay attention to the signs around me.
I realized my life wasn’t the sh*tshow parade I had originally diagnosed it to be, but rather a perfectly-orchestrated, divinely-timed, co-created act of genius designed for me to consciously choose authenticity, vulnerability, and presence—three character traits I had always struggled to fully embody.
If you’re wondering what I chose, well, you’re reading this aren’t you?
I chose to write my way through the pain and remain true to my higher calling and desire to be of benefit to the world we live in. I chose to connect as deeply as I could with the people in the Elephant Journal community. I chose to be scared, and sad, and brokenhearted—and show up anyway. I chose to do all the things that filled my cup over the extrinsic situations begging to deplete me.
Not hitting send on my resignation letter was the best decision I’ve ever made. Writing, journalism ethics, and editing aside, I found my tribe and discovered myself.
We all hold the power to remain aligned when sh*t hits the fan. My track record may have claimed differently, but I made a choice in that moment—a choice we can all make, knowing that sometimes the difficult thing and the right thing are usually the same.
I’m aware extreme contrast shows up differently for each of us, and usually at seemingly inopportune times. My hope is that we all recognize the polar aspects of our lives and view their presence as potent teachers and trusted allies. If we pay attention when the world around us feels like it’s on opposite sides of a pendulum, we can create lasting transformation within ourselves.
Because we know what we want. We just have to choose it.
Here are five takeaways we can all come back to when we’re struggling to commit to honoring ourselves and our soul’s calling while knee-deep in heartache:
1. When things seem to be falling apart, it’s because something better is on the horizon. We’re simply creating space for these things to fill our lives. The transition between the uncomfortable, off-centered, unknown, and the life we desire is where the magic happens. It’s where we can see what we’re made of and discern between what we want and don’t want from life.
2. Transformation is painful. Choosing to remain committed to growth and the mindful life doesn’t mean the events transpiring around us aren’t difficult and painful, or that existential forces don’t affect us. Struggles are eminent; giving up and succumbing to them is not. We are bigger than our battles.
3. When we’re faced with decisions that will no doubt alter our lives for better or worse, it’s up to us to dictate where our energy goes. By taking care of our mental health and being in charge of our inner peace, everything around us will eventually align itself. We can choose to stay on our chosen path—even when we’re left blindsided, numb, and holding last year’s beer.
4. If our path is more difficult, it could be that our calling is higher. Every hardship or failure we experience is an opportunity for us to be more compassionate, loving humans. By turning our pain into acts of service, like writing, we can help others who are going through similar experiences—and, in turn, heal ourselves.
5. When we’re stepping into what we know we’re on this earth to do, it’s not unusual for distractions to come in spades. This is a gift if we choose to see it that way. A fellow apprentice—and now good friend—said it best:
“Everything that is happening has been co-created by the universe for your growth and highest expansion of soul in this present experience…of course, it doesn’t mean it’s not hard or painful but I think we meet friction when we are brushing fingers with self…sometimes to see how bad we want authenticity and what we will do to stay aligned.”
Whatever the upcoming year holds for us, my hope is that we can embrace both the joy and challenges with an open heart, knowing we’re fully capable of transcending any obstacle and creating the lives we desire.
And no, 2018, we will not hold your beer.
I, for one, will be busy writing.
Author: Rachel Dehler
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Callie Rushton