Without you I'd be a stranger
I follow an Instagram account called We're Not Really Strangers
(which TIL is based on a card game of the same name)
and the other day they shared an IG Carousel with a series of reflective questions about 2022 that got me thinking about the year that's passed.
A lot happened. It was the most difficult year I've ever had.
There was a lot of bad, but also a lot of good.
Some years just really do be like that, I guess.
My first thought was to use these prompts in my art journal
(which I will)
but as I get older I'm more and more appreciative of this blog
and the memories
ups and downs
and little snippets into my life that I've shared here over the years.
So in the spirit of that feeling, here's to 2022:
Who are you glad you met this year?
Unlike most years, 2022 wasn't a big year for meeting new people.
Coming out of the pandemic I barely went to any networking events
and I didn't really develop relationships with brand new friends
but I deepened my relationships with people I admire and respect
like Florence, Christopher, and David
who are all people who push me to think outside my comfort zone
who ask smart, thoughtful questions
and help me expand the boundaries of my life
(and social circle)
in unique and interesting ways.
Who helped you a lot?
John, Jasmin, Luke, Tineke, Christopher, and Alex-lee were my rocks this year.
I lost a lot of people in 2022.
There's a photo in my dining room from our wedding
our arms around each other, smiling
and some days I can barely look at it
because several of those people aren't in my life anymore
and I lost them all within the same month.
The period between the end of January and start March 2022 was the lowest I've been in a long, long time.
losing people I loved
and feeling trapped and isolated
left me in a dark emotional place
that I was only able to pull myself out of because I had people in my life who cared.
Each of these people went out of their way to check in on me
send me kind words
gave me space to talk about what I was going through.
2022 was more bearable, better, and healing because of them.
Who did you crush on?
(while wearing a trashy onesie
a crimson robe with feather trim
with two of my favourite humans)
was one of the highlights of my year.
Who did you fall more in love with?
2022 taught me to fall more in love with myself
and the people in it.
Loss cleaves you from everything you knew
about your life, about yourself
makes you stare into the mirror, bleary-eyed
"Was I enough for them?"
"Did they know I thought they were enough for me?"
send the message
write the email
pick up the phone and cry into the receiver
"I love you and you are precious to me"
often enough that there was never a shadow of a doubt?
I'll never know and it gnaws at me, hurts me from the inside.
Because grief is like a weapon.
We can wound others with it
or we can turn it on ourselves
slash at our lives and leave ourselves alone.
And for a while
(longer than I'd like)
the losses that defined the start of this year caused me to
cut at my life
but the people who love me rallied around me.
"did you work in your art journal today?"
call me, send me voice memos
wrap me in their arms
allowing me to sink into the safety of their heartbeats
the softness of their chests
"how are you doing?
How's your heart?"
for weeks on end.
These people helped me stitch myself up
and over time, with care
I started to mend my heart.
Picking up pieces of myself
building a new version of me
based on the
cracks and fragments of what I went through
who I thought I was
who I was working to be.
The people who love me
helped me fall back in love with my life
to feel grateful for all I had
remind me that just because you break
doesn't mean you're broken.
So I built something new
not trying to hide from my pain
but embracing them
creating something new out of the gathered-up pieces
like kintsugi for my soul.
Who did you let go of?
More people than I'd have liked.
I lost Adrian, one of my best friends for a decade
and by extension Carlene, his partner and my friend
because he wouldn't accept that what someone had done had hurt me.
This person drove a wedge
caused a rift
in our social circle by accusing me of things that weren't true
wouldn't acknowledge my side, apologize for the hurt
or even be in the same room as me
and when I explained how hard this was
how I just wanted an apology
an acknowledgment of my feelings
so we could just move on
(not as friends, but for the sake of preserving our social circle)
someone I loved like family
wouldn't give my feelings the time of day
and ripped a hole in me.
I also lost Colin, another good and longtime friend
to the same social rift
though, in a weird
(or maybe not-so-weird) way
his loss stings even more.
As things were falling apart
just after Connor died
I reached out.
I told him that Connor's death had made me realize that
time is short, and we need to cling to the people we love
I regretted that we hadn't seen each other in a long time due to the pandemic
and we would love to have him over.
He told me that sounded great and he would bring some cellar beers.
a few days after my falling-out with Adrian
he texted me
and said he didn't want to be friends anymore.
He told me I "hadn't come over enough"
"hadn't accepted his offers to hang out"
(ignoring that we were in a pandemic
and that the hangs I'd declined were with that problematic person).
He said he wasn't interested in continuing our friendship.
Fuck my loss
fuck my grief
fuck my efforts to reconnect
fuck me, I guess.
I should have seen it coming. He was friends with the girl who started all of this.
But his decision to dump me and John, knowing we were grieving the loss of another close friend
was callous and mean and something I'll never forgive, even as I work to let go of a friendship that helped define a decade of my life.
The hardest person to let go of was Connor.
I met Connor when I was 20 and he and Amber
(one of my best friends and "chosen family")
were a safe space for me as I navigated through years of emotional baggage
partying to mask and attempt to avoid dealing with it.
They were people I loved dearly.
We'd been through so much together.
Then, in the fall of 2021, Amber and Connor moved across the street.
They took over our old rental and it felt like the start of a whole new era on our block.
I loved looking out the window to see Amber gardening, BBQing, and hanging out on the deck.
I looked forward to the end of a long workday when Connor would invite us over to hang out, decompress, and shoot the shit.
We were building a beautiful future together
never guessing what was coming
what lay on the horizon.
One January morning I saw Connor was shovelling after a big snowstorm
so I ran over with my parka over my PJs and said
"you know this is included in your rental fee, right?"
Connor put down the shovel, smiled at me, and said
"I know, but they won't do it the way I like"
which was such a Connor thing to say that I burst out laughing.
Just like I always seemed to when he was around.
I stayed across the street in the deadly -40C cold
balling my hands into fists to stay warm
Connor shifting from foot to foot to stay warm
as we talked about how life had been.
I told him about some challenges with my company
how much I was struggling lately
he told me about work
about feeling dejected but trying to make the best of it
and when I got too cold and needed to go back home, we hugged
we said we loved each other
and I said "I'm glad I came over, it's been so nice catching up with you"
and Connor said
"Alyson, seeing you has been the best part of my weekend."
I'll hang onto that memory forever.
Who did you miss?
Of all the shit that happened in 2022
of all the people I lost last year
I miss Connor more than anyone.
The last time I saw him was a fluke
it wasn't supposed to happen.
John and I were supposed to go to Falcon Lake for a week
just to get away from the house, the struggles, the stress
the low place I'd been in recently
but a blizzard made it too unsafe to drive on the highways so we had to cancel
and I was devastated.
I barely got out of bed for two days
I didn't shower
I didn't post on social media
I was embarrassed by how much my mental well-being was hingeing
on getting a fucking break from things.
But somehow, I forget how
Amber and Connor wound up coming over
we made popcorn and snacks and watched Connor's favourite movie
Interview With the Vampire
and after the movie ended we all stayed up too late
drinking wine and talking into the wee hours of the morning
until we got so tired and tipsy that we stopped making sense
(just like I'd done with Amber and Connor a million times before)
and it was what my soul needed
and I couldn't have loved them more.
That was on Saturday.
Thursday, he was gone.
It still doesn't feel real.
I still look across the street and expect him to be there, sitting on the deck.
I mourn the loss of my friend and the new chapter of our lives we were starting together.
I miss Connor every day and I don't know when that will stop.
Maybe it never will.
Maybe that's how grief works.
Maybe it'll get better.
But it hasn't so far.
Who did you spend the most time with?
Virtually, I spent the most time with Jasmin and Alex-lee.
I can't thank those two enough for their time
and dedication to our relationships
especially during this last year.
My two best friends may live far from me
but they're always in my heart.
In person, I spent the most time with John, Amber, and Adam and Brittany.
I saw more of Amber because she lives across the street
but also because she went through a tremendous loss and needed to be
somewhere, anywhere else
so she spent a lot of time at our house
out camping with us
and going out to events to help get her mind off of things.
I'm grateful that she lives so close so I could be there like that for her.
I also spent more time with Adam and Brittany this year than any other year.
Part of me thinks that it's just the natural ebb of friendships
some seasons bring you closer together
part of me thinks that
it's because they know how many people we lost
who we loved
and wanted to make sure we still felt loved, too.
Whatever the reason, I'm grateful for it.
I love those two with all my heart.
I also spent more time with John than I did with anyone
and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Who did you become?
I've been sitting on this one for a while because this year really threw who I thought I was for a loop.
When people you love
who you thought knew you deeply
drop you when you need them most
what does that say about you?
(What does that say about them?)
But the experience of losing so many people in such a short period of time
made me take a step back and re-assess the person I thought I was
and the person I was trying to be.
So here it goes:
At the start of 2022 I became an angry person
someone who felt betrayed
and who let those dark feelings
lead how she felt towards others
I became mistrustful
I isolated myself because
(for a long while)
I didn't think I deserved any better.
But I worked hard to pick myself back up
to throw myself back into my business
(which I love)
and the people in my life
who I love so, so much.
And I tried to let go of this
spectre of me that
this person who hurt me tried to turn me into
and who people I thought knew me
believed I'd become.
Over the course of 2022 I've worked to be
a more honest friend and partner
to express how I feel, when I feel it
to recognize my needs
and to ask others what they need from me
so I can be there for them.
I've done my best to be a better
to forgive and accept without compromising my boundaries
and my needs.
(Which isn't always easy
but isn't that family?)
2022 has been one of the hardest years of my life
I doubt it will be the hardest
and while that makes me
it gives me cause to pause in my body
to breathe, let go
and be present
to look around a room
at the people I love
the humans who I've chosen
who choose me
who make every
worth holding onto.
Clinging to, even.
Because, if anything,
that's what 2022 taught me:
someday we might be strangers
we might lose each other
but right here, right now
and I'm grateful for that.
All the best in 2023, pals.