8.5 Editor's Pick
December 7, 2020

Why 2020 was the Best Worst Year Ever—for Some of Us.

Warning: colorful language ahead. 

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I brought 2020 in with a bang.

And by that, I mean I woke up early January 1st face down (and thankfully fully clothed) on my boss’ hardwood floor, after having unceremoniously drunk all of the bourbon in the home the night before, and done all manner of blackout drunk antics to completely bury myself in embarrassment.

This was coming on the tail end of several weeks spent doing nothing but trying to ingest enough hard drugs to finally just flat-out die, and two days before I was scheduled to be shipped back off to inpatient rehab for the next 45 days. So, not what I would call “the best of times.”

While those first few days of the new year might have been a sign of things to come on a global scale, 2020 actually ended up being one of the best years of my life. And certainly, the best year out of the past 15.

My year really started on January 3rd, when I found myself back at inpatient. As fate would have it, I was put into a detox room with the man who would soon become (and still is) one of the best friends I’ve ever had. Having started on the right foot, I did really well during this time in treatment. Starting over completely fresh has a lot of upsides. I made quite a few great friends, worked hard on myself, and left after 45 days, feeling like I was just starting to get some semblance of real life back.

I got back to Rochester in mid-February and immediately set to work on completely rebuilding my shattered life from basically nothing. Things were going well for the first few weeks, having found a great job, saving money, and constantly working on my recovery. Everything was just starting to look up for me.

Then COVID-19 spread across the globe, and everyone on Earth learned what it felt like to be afraid to see tomorrow.

Quarantine was a weird time for all of us. You could basically float upon the thick atmosphere of fear permeating from the pores of everyone you spoke to. This was a completely new and terrifying proposition for us as a whole, and I don’t think anyone really knew what to do. I like to think that there was a good percentage of people who spent quarantine in comfort, perched upon the thrones they constructed out of the copious amounts of toilet paper they had bought, but I can’t say that for certain.

What I can say for certain, is that it seemed to be an extremely tough time for people in recovery in particular. Unfortunately, there are a few of my friends from inpatient who succumbed to their addictions, and will never have the opportunity to make it back home again. This was an important reminder to me on why I needed to stay on my path to recovery, and why people who struggle with addictions are some of the hardest ones to love. These days, I just do my best to remember them well.

As for me? During those first few months of COVID-19 life, I just kept my head firmly focused on what I needed to do to not just survive, but thrive. All of those years of pure chaos that came before had come full circle. They had trained me to deal with all of the chaos of what 2020 would become, and all of the turmoil that (unbeknownst to me) was on the horizon. I just kept doing what I needed to do and hoped that things would get better sooner rather than later.

Then George Floyd was killed, and everyone learned what it meant to feel fury.

At the time, I was in Boston, busy laying tile for a millionaire’s in-ground pool in the most secluded and affluent neighborhood I have ever been in. It was a few minutes before we started working, and I was watching videos of my hometown on fire from the night before—videos of all the violence and hate, and the masses screaming at the top of their lungs to be heard.

I turned it off to collect my breath, and I really stopped and looked around. It was the most beautiful, quiet, and picturesque day that you could ever ask for. There was not even the slightest hint of anything terrible happening out in the world. No wonder the “haves” really find it hard to give a shit about the struggles of the “have nots.” It was in that moment, standing in tranquility, surrounded by mansions and building a pool that had more square footage than most places I had lived, that lesson really sank in. They are so far removed, it doesn’t even seem real. So we had to go to extremes to make it all real. For better or worse, I think we succeeded.

In July, I was handed an incredible opportunity to move to Pittsburgh, create an entirely new and wonderful life for myself, and finally be able to chase my dreams. So I loaded up my truck, said my goodbyes, and moved into what I thought was going to be a great living arrangement: staying with one of the friends I had made in rehab. Then I learned how the best-laid plans can easily go to complete shit.

My first week in Pittsburgh would have been enough for most people to say, “Fuck all of this—I’m out.” I wish that I could outline just how fucking ridiculous it really was, but I can hit some of the “high points”:

My new housemate was 100 percent not sober as he had promised, and was almost constantly drunk. Also, he had lied about the living arrangements I’d landed in, but most notably, his soon to be ex-wife had not, in fact, moved out. Things were feeling far from “homey.”

Pretty much all of the “friends” I thought I had in the area before moving down were also not sober. This led to several terrible situations.

At one point, I found myself in someone’s front yard holding hands in a circle—with an extremely drunk friend (we’ll call him Joe) on my left. Kurt, (the random Uber driver on my right) led us in an impromptu prayer for Joe’s sobriety. This was at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday and is roughly the time I was seriously questioning my move down to Pennsylvania.

After the first week, I had to sit down and really think:

I’m stuck in a terrible living situation, trying to maintain my sobriety when everyone I know in the house I’m staying in—and in the area in general—is not at all. I do not have a job in my new city yet. My one solid friend is an hour and a half away at his parents (recovering from a gnarly cycling accident), and everyone else I know lives over five hours away.

It would have been easy for me to fall. But I don’t take the easy way out anymore.

After three days of hard work, I had found a new apartment and moved in by myself. I also found what would turn out to be the best job I’ve ever had (and where I still work to this day). Things really came together for me at this point, and I came to love my new home. I met some amazing people who have become the very best of friends. I chased my dreams of becoming a writer and had all kinds of interesting experiences.

The point is, my life, and the world as a whole, seemed to be heading back to the calm and stability that I had been chasing after.

Then the final stretch to the presidential election happened. And everyone taught each other what it really meant to hate.

I mean, holy shit—the hate that was being thrown around for the entirety of the couple months leading to the election. There was a cacophony of voices screaming angrily at each other over every outlet, every second of every day. It’s hard not to let that kind of stuff get you down. Mix that with an upswing in COVID-19 cases and all of the stresses that come along with that, and it was akin to digital civil war.

Regardless of your opinion on how the election turned out, I think we can all just be happy to have made it through, more or less, in one piece. And again, life felt as though it may be returning to some kind of normalcy.

That did not happen.

In the past month, my house was burglarized, I was very sick (not COVID-19, just the flu—yes, I was tested) for about a week after that and ended up spending Thanksgiving alone, eating ramen noodles. (I’m not kidding about that. Not that I’m complaining because they are delicious, but the irony here is not lost on me.) Also, I had a falling out with one of my best friends (which has since been remedied, thankfully) that was just the icing on my little pity party cake. What I’m trying to say is that it was a pretty shitty November. C’mon, December—just be cool, I thought as the new month began.

After reading all of that I can already imagine you asking: “How can this possibly be the best year of your life? Look at all the shit that happened!”

Yes, a lot of fucked up stuff happened to the world, as well as to me on a personal level.

But in between all of the fucked up bullshit moments, I have been living my absolute best life.

All of the hard years I lived before this one have given me the mental toughness to shrug everything off in the name of preserving my happiness. I’m proud of my ability to basically laugh in the face of all of the adversity that has been thrown my way. And I can do that because I take all of the hard lessons I had to learn and apply them to make my life better.

No matter what state the world is in, we are capable of finding our own way.

The year 2020 allowed me to create my life. I made the best friends I’ve ever had, I have my own apartment (for the first time in my life) that I love. My job hardly ever feels like work, especially because my boss and my coworkers have become like family to me. I can finally afford to live a normal life, and I am getting dangerously close to one full year clean.

This year has held nothing but promise for me because I fucking made it that way. Silver linings always abound if you pay attention to them.

Obviously, the year is not yet over, and the state of things as a whole is really not that great. But my point is this: through COVID-19, the riots, and hate, through everything I had to overcome in my own personal life and my recovery, and through everyone claiming that 2020 was “the worst year ever,” I would say that it was the opposite. Because despite it all, I was able to rise above everything that ever held me back and carve out a wonderful little life for myself.

If there is any one lesson that the year 2020 as a whole taught me, it’s this:

No matter what odds we face, we still have the power to make our “worst” years great ones.

 

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