She should’ve turned 40 today. Most days I can live without the grief suffocating me, but this week it sits heavy on my chest. When people die, we tend to look at them in only a positive light. It’s hard to see the bad with the good because we miss them and want to honor their memory. Due to trauma and genetics, my brain developed in such a way that I used to default to black and white thinking. I’ve learned over the years to see the gray areas. Grad school helped me with that. I also tend to perseverate and ruminate. I’ve gotten better at letting things go lately, but it takes a lot of work. I want to let her go, but that’s not possible. As much as I want to, I know she will always be a part of me, of who I am, and she’ll always be with me.

I’m sitting in my house watching the snow fall, waiting for it to slow down so I can run outside. I love the crunching sound of the snow under my feet. This year I’ll be 40, a milestone she never reached. I’ll get there for both of us. I’ll live with her alive in my heart. I’ll run for the ones I lost. I’ll swim, laugh, and enjoy the little moments. I’ll remember how much she loved taking her girls to the playground with me, and I’ll smile when my daughter giggles in delight after going down a slide. I’ll fight hard to be there for my daughter, and I’ll be grateful for her light.

There will be lots of dark moments too. My soul battles hopelessness and pain, but there’s always a sense of strength and determination. We certainly don’t feel 40, not in mind or body. I swim faster than most men at my pool, and I run laps around joggers at the track. I think trauma has made me mentally tough, and therefore I can run 10k like it’s nothing. I don’t say that to brag, I say that because I am proud of myself. As a kid, I was never allowed to be proud of my accomplishments. Sometimes they don’t even feel like my accomplishments. DID makes it easier to be an endurance athlete. Parts have energy I didn’t think was there. Studies prove there’s a physiological change in the body when different parts come forward, so I guess trauma really has given me strength. If I didn’t have so much metal in my ankle, I’d be running marathons. Running makes us feel alive and free. My athleticism was just as much my saving grace as writing when I was younger. I played soccer with an intensity I didn’t see in other kids. That intensity gave me an edge. I felt free on the field, I felt that I had power in an otherwise powerless life.

It’s hard to accept that I’m getting older when those I’ve lost stay young forever. I always thought I’d die before 40. I suppose it’s not a given that I’ll live to see my 40th birthday, shit happens. The other day I was driving, and an oncoming car swerved into my lane. He narrowly missed hitting me. I don’t know if I would’ve survived a head on collision at those speeds. Life is a gift, even if there have been times I’ve wanted to return it. Evey day is painful and beautiful at the same time. I sit here with grief in my chest, but the snow is beautiful, and there’s hope in the air. We live in a dark time, with incalculable losses. Some days it brings us all to our knees, but some days we realize how much stronger we’ve become. Most days I realize how tough I am- not just to swim and run with power- but to get through the many agonizing moments.

If any survivor can build on their confidence to get through the bad days, then they can make it through. In grad school we learned a lot about self efficacy, or a sense of mastery. I grew up with none. I became an adult with no sense of mastery over life or my pain. Every day that I live through grief, flashbacks, physical pain, and isolation is another day I add to my confidence that I am strong enough. I always tell my daughter that it’s ok to be scared when she worries about the dark or is dealing with another childhood fear. I tell her being brave isn’t about not being scared or stuffing your feelings down. Being brave is feeling and accepting what you feel. Being brave means you keep trying, and you don’t let fear stop you (even when the world beats you down over and over again). Sometimes it’s brave to not do something or to say no to something. Even when I gain more confidence dealing with my struggles, I have to pay attention to my limits.

I’m going to just accept 40 with grace because with time comes wisdom. As Michele once said, you can’t mess with women over 40. They’ve seen too much and learned too much. They’ve overcome a lot, and they don’t put up with bullshit. This year began in darkness, but there will be light. Hopefully I have many more years to live and more love to find. The love I lost wasn’t perfect, and I let go of that vision of her years ago. I can find someone healthier who will give me the respect I deserve. I’ll never find someone who sees the world the same way I do or understands what I’ve been through, but that’s probably for the best anyway. There will be a person out there who doesn’t see me as broken or someone who needs to be fixed. Someone out there will value me for who I am and focus on my strengths. I will find them. It’s certainly not the Starbucks barista or the guy at the pool who keeps trying to flirt with me. Yesterday I realized he must be about 25, and I almost laughed out loud. He’s gorgeous though. A younger part pleads with me to let her to talk to him, but I say no. We avoid his eye contact and turn away. I say to her, honey he’s just a baby- we’re almost 40. She says, I’m not! I laugh and say, we all are. We’re old now. Let it go. A one night stand is nothing but regret later, and you know it. I ask her what she’d even say to him, and she said I don’t know, but we should be able to at least smile back at him. Nope! I honestly wish I could enjoy when someone’s interested in me, but I have such a hard time with eye contact and personal space. He always insists on swimming right next to me even when the rest of the pool is empty. It’s like dude, pick another lane for covid’s sake, ugh. I try to laugh about it. DID can be funny as hell. Sometimes you have to just laugh at yourself. I guess examples like that are why I’ll never really feel old. My other parts will always be young. I’m ok with that.

So this year I will carry the fallen with me even when the pain feels too heavy. This year I’ll add to my year of sobriety. Thanks to Jenn and Michele, I’ve learned that numbing your emotional pain with substances or denial just makes it worse. It doesn’t really numb anything, it just makes you more afraid of your own feelings. How can you gain mastery over something you avoid? Instead I’ll let the pain wash over me like waves. Sometimes it feels like I’m drowning, but I always get through. I always get through. There’s the self efficacy I never had before. It took almost 40 years, but it’s finally sinking in. It’s true that loss changes you forever. I think in the end, as hard as it is to say, it can change you for the better. I never really wanted to be this strong, but I am, so I’ll embrace it. Things don’t happen for a reason, they just happen. You find a way to get through. You slowly build on your successes until you’ve climbed a mountain, and then you can stop for a minute and enjoy the beautiful world. Unfortunately there will always be another mountain to climb, that’s how life is. I hope that I can find some peace, but I know I’m stronger and more able to climb a more challenging height next time. I wish there weren’t so many challenges, but it is what it is.

I will take the lessons that people taught me, even if they were unfathomably cruel, and I will be a better person because of it. I will live in pain, but I will live. There are always more chances for good days if you hold on- or at least good moments. I wish Jenn was able to experience more good moments. It hurts to think of all the lives cut short. I think of the baby, Jenn, Michele, other friends who have died, and people I’ve never met who should’ve had a chance to experience good days. Life is cruel, but it’s also amazing. All these people still live in our hearts, our minds, and our words. To anyone who is struggling today, please stay. Give yourself the gift of another day, even if you feel like it is hopeless. To say that it will get better is generalizing and patronizing, but I’ll say this: there will most likely be some joyful moments ahead. If you give up now, I guarantee you will miss out on something good. You deserve a chance. Hold on, the world needs you more than you realize. I hope Jenn knew that others loved her despite her choices. I like to think she knew that a few people, including me, still cared. If only everyone who suffered and wanted to give up knew that they were needed and loved… ❤

Happy Birthday Jenn.

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