Learning To Start Over When You Have Had A Hard Year
March 18, 2016
As the Christmas lights slowly fade to black and the excesses of the season are digested, we are left with one last hurrah for the year. New Year’s Eve. Whether you love it or loathe it there’s no mistaking its significance. It draws a clean line in the sand and marks out a new beginning in the form of a brand new calendar year.
A fresh start. A time to begin again. Whilst some of us may feel a sense of sadness at the prospect of bidding adieu to a year which gifted good fortune or brought unexpected happiness, others wait eagerly at midnight to wave goodbye to a difficult year or simply choose to forgo it all together.
When you’ve been through a hard time over the course of a year, it can be challenging to put your Eternal Optimist hat on and assume that the next year will be any better. After all, the problems of the year don’t simply disappear at the stroke of midnight leaving us free to move on with a clean slate.
We can make resolutions to face these ongoing problems head on, or take better care of ourselves physically or mentally, so that things don’t get so overwhelming. Yet knowing how to approach the New Year when life has spent the last twelve months putting you through the wringer can be tricky territory to navigate.
Having come out of the other side of my own personal rough patch that I like to refer to as the Year of Endings; a long-term relationship bit the dust followed in quick succession by my long-term job which was followed by a string of financial difficulties. The rough patch ended up spanning the course of a couple of years so I can attest firsthand to the hardships that trying to start over again at the end of the year can bring.
After I struggled my way through the first year of adversity, my inner Eternal Optimist would pipe up like clockwork as the calendar neared the end of December. “This year will be different” it told me in its sweet syrupy tones. “Its going to be a good one, just you wait and see”. And so I waited. But I didn’t see.
The problems of the prior year didn’t seem to flinch as they launched themselves into the New Year right alongside me. No matter how hard I tried to shake them, they remained on my tail, magnifying in their intensity as the following year progressed. As the end of another year drew near, I found myself going through the same motions. My expectations exceeded reality once again. I found myself bitterly disappointed that instead of starting afresh, I was running around in circles repeating the same patterns yet expecting different results. The definition of insanity, according to Einstein.
As it turned out this rough patch, which felt unending at times, was actually serving a purpose though I was unable to see it at the time. It taught me that when life gets tough, it’s of vital importance to procure an inner toolbox of sorts to help navigate these difficulties. Whilst these tools wouldn’t fix my problems outright, they provided a metaphorical torchlight guiding me through these difficult times with grace and a tiny sprinkle of optimism.
When faced with the prospect of starting over I found that the following three mindfulness tools helped me considerably in turning the page and moving on from those years littered with difficulties:
1. Acceptance is Everything
When things don’t go as planned in life, one of the first reactions we typically have is to resist what’s happening. Whether in the form of denial or diversion, the mind can distort reality to such a degree that we stick our heads in the sand; or eat, drink, or drug ourselves into oblivion. This might feel pleasurable at the time, but there’s no escaping the reality hangover. Rather than waste time and effort resisting what is, look the situation square in the eye. No easy feat but much like the boogie monster, once you get a good look at him his scariness can fade away. Once we accept what is, we can figure out a plan to get through it for it is acceptance that puts us in control of the situation rather than at the mercy of it.
Whilst it may be incredibly tempting to self-soothe at the end of a hard year by overindulging, this type of behavior can just make matters worse. Though it may seem counterintuitive, stepping away from the ice-cream and practicing self-care is really an act of self-love. Whilst I was muddling my way through those difficult years, learning to treat myself as my own best friend got me through many dark days. A hot bath at the end of the day. A massage. Reading a treasured book. Taking a walk through nature. The options for self-care are endless, what’s important is finding something that works for you. Treating ourselves with kid gloves can feel like giving ourselves a giant hug and whilst it may not change the situation, it can help soothe our way through it, no additional calories required.
3. Talk It Out
We all know the expression, a problem shared is a problem halved. Talking out a problem with loved ones can be incredibly beneficial. In sharing whatever is going on in our lives, it can lessen the feeling that we have to figure it all out on our own. We don’t. Whilst ultimately only we can decide whats best for us, having a support system in place simply to listen to us figure it out is priceless. Close friends or family can act as a veritable leaning post, a safe place where we can remove the mask, stop pretending everything is fine and show our vulnerable side.
Ultimately the one thing that gets us through a hard year is time. The time for things to run their course, the time it takes for us to lean the lesson that life was trying to teach us. Life is cyclical and it is considered a universal law that nothing lasts forever, no matter how painful it may seem at the time. But whilst we are in the process of waiting for the difficulties to pass, the knowledge that we have the tools inside ourselves to get through whatever life throws at us provides a sense of much needed comfort. To quote Alan Watts, “There will always be suffering. But we must not suffer over the suffering”