It was a Sunday night, December 15, 2019.
I was curled up in bed, covered in lavender oil, with my dog at my feet and a guided journal in my hands, writing like I did most nights. The dog snored, text messages dinged, business as usual. But that night, I wrote something down in this journal that I didn’t know would create a total shift in my life. Something that would allow me to begin releasing a period of my past that had been haunting me for years.
I had wondered for a long time if I would ever be able to move on from this period in my life, or if I would live with the ghosts forever; a precious wound I kept inadvertently tearing open. This sentence I wrote down, it became the thread I pulled that started the unraveling process, releasing years of pain.
Exactly five years prior, in December of 2014, I had walked out on my life’s dream. To be more specific, I moved away from Los Angeles after working in Hollywood as an actor for five years, something I’d dreamed of since I was a little girl. I moved home to my family in the depths of depression and struggling with bulimia, in a space I desperately needed help, physically, emotionally, and mentally. And while over the last five years of being home countless people—family, friends, therapists—have pointed out many things I accomplished in LA that I should be proud of and the long life I still have ahead of me to build, all I’ve been able to see in myself is pure, unrelenting failure, the hot sting of it living just under the surface of my skin.
My psychiatrist was the first person to explain to me that, based on brain scans, my brain operates in a way that holds onto the past, that my brain is naturally focused backward. This explains why every panel of network execs I ever auditioned for, every pair of heels I owned that ever walked a TV set or red carpet, every photo and memory from that period of my life, has stayed painfully fresh and centered in my mind, reminding me of my failure, never fading the way other people’s pasts do.
It explains why I’ve never been able to watch anything but cooking shows on television since I left LA; because scripted TV shows and the sets in the background and the lighting illuminating the onscreen worlds and the actors acting flood my mind with memories of the moments I spent in their shoes like a tidal wave.
It explains why I wake up every day not seeing palm trees outside my window and hearing traffic on the busy LA streets, but those things still remind me just how much self-loathing I carry with me throughout the day for giving up on myself and on the life I wanted.
Over the last five years, the days and nights have passed slowly and at lightning speed all at once; and I wake up now, suddenly older, from a blur of self-hatred and excruciating humiliation over this perceived monumental failure, combined with a whirlwind of suicidality and hopelessness for the future.
But, on December 15, 2019, something changed. Something shifted as I wrote in that guided journal I had purchased four months before at a hole-in-the-wall old bookstore that smelled like Ruffles and mothballs. The top of the left page said, “Important Things,” and the top of the right page said, “Unimportant Things.” And as I wrote underneath Important Things, suddenly these words poured onto the page: My life is a puzzle and LA is one piece. My life is a puzzle and LA is one piece. Only. One. Piece. The LA years don’t make up the whole image.
The analogy reached a place in my mind no one had been able to touch. For some reason, this puzzle-talk spoke to me. It made sense to me. It reframed years of seeing my whole self as an utter failure because of how one chapter was written into seeing myself as a human with a multidimensional life that spans the pages of many chapters.
If my life is a puzzle and LA is only one piece, that would mean that maybe, possibly, there’s this small but distinct chance that there are more pieces to still place. There’s still more life to come. More to do, more to see, more to experience, beyond the LA years—something I couldn’t fathom when I was so focused on what I’d left behind. I saw no future, only the past.
It also occurred to me that a puzzle that’s missing a piece still creates an image. The pieces that remain still come together to form their picture, every line, gradient, shadow, and corner. A missing piece doesn’t destroy the entire image. If the LA piece didn’t exist in my puzzle, if it fell down the heater vent in an unfortunate accident, the rest of the image would still be perceivable when the puzzle was completed.
I had been putting too much emphasis on this one piece—this one piece that in the end, the puzzle would still exist without.
I had been focusing on the pain of the LA years with such intensity, with such tunnel vision, that I’d been neglecting the rest of the puzzle. For five years now. For God’s sake, I could’ve had 59,273 puzzles done in the time I’ve been focusing on this one damn piece.
But in the spirit of honoring this version of myself, the version who recently learned my life is a puzzle and LA is only one piece, I’m now working on forgiving myself. For the lost time. For the unnecessary pain. For the self-destruction. Because forgiving myself is the real work now. If I can’t forgive myself, I can’t move on to complete the rest of my puzzle—and it’s waiting for me.
It’s been waiting for years.