Two Aprils ago, I sat in my apartment with a college friend who over the years has become like a brother to me, though he lives on the West Coast and we see each other only a few times each year.
“You know,” he said, “I know it’s last minute and you’ll probably say no, but you should come to Passover at my Mom’s tonight.”
The invitation made good sense; I’d become close to his family when we were undergraduates, and, since his folks live only a few blocks away from me, we’d remained in touch. But my friend rightly suspected that my instinct would be to stay in. This was a few months after my breakup, and I’d been in hiding since. I wanted the consolation of friends, but I felt too numb and flat to reach out. Had Jordy not made a point of coming over, I might not have seen him on his visit to NYC at all.
Predictably, I told him that I needed to be myself, that I wasn’t in any shape to celebrate a holiday. I count myself lucky that he texted me a few minutes after leaving my place, reiterating how welcome I’d be and how good it might be for all of us to spend Passover together. And I’m so grateful that something made me reconsider and tell him yes, I’d be at his mom’s place in an hour.
In the moment, I told myself that I had to get out, couldn’t spend another night at home with my anxiety and sleeplessness. That was all true, but looking back, I realize that this was the moment at which I chose to start coming back to life. It would be a long time before I really felt healed, or ready to move on—as a good friend told me, “heart wounds aren’t the same as other wounds”—but this is when I accepted that things could, and would, change.
For all of my capacity to love and care, it’s often difficult for me to connect. When I’m in pain, and especially when I’m depressed, I develop a horror of showing myself to other people. This was true when I was in recovery, too—I could easily hide from friends for months at a time in those days. I haven’t figured out if it’s shame, or pride, or fear, or what, but there’s a part of me that starts to believe that I can’t be, or shouldn’t be, among people. And I feel especially resistant to peoples’ love and sweetness, which is as baffling and counterintuitive as it is powerful.
If I’ve consciously grown in any way in the last two years, it’s in challenging this pattern. Many of the old impulses to isolate and hide remain, but I push back against them at every chance I get. This isn’t the same as forcing myself to socialize when it’s not the right moment: I respect my introvert’s nature and need for independence. But whenever I feel that creeping sensation of being too monstrous to be seen, or trick myself into thinking that whatever I’m dealing with is too dark or complex to be communicated, I invite myself to do the opposite of what I want to do: I share. I ask someone to bear witness. I don’t always say or share everything, and I don’t always share widely. But I fight back against the impulse to cling secretly to my pain, anxiety, regret, or whatever’s chasing me.
It has been a huge shift, and it’s affirmed what I always knew, which was that I wasn’t unlovable or loveless. I was, for whatever reason, terrified of letting people in.
Doing this very thing—letting people in, saying what I feel without apology or editing—has been so good for me. It’s helped me to soften my own judgments and harsh assessments of human foibles, which I realize now sprung from a place of judging myself—a cliche, maybe, but so true. It’s made me softer and more gentle, more able to empathize.
Allowing myself to just be in front of others, with all of my “stuff,” hasn’t always been easy. The more I work to stay connected, the more I find myself blurting out things that subsequently feel like overshares, saying things that later feel like the “wrong” things to have said, revealing hidden parts of myself and then feeling vulnerable and disoriented later on. But all of the messiness hasn’t made me want to go further into hiding. It’s only affirmed how much more tolerant and loving people are than I give them credit for.
Tonight, I’m celebrating Rosh Hashanah with Jordan’s family, whom I now lovingly call my “chosen family,” and my mom. I expected it to be sweet and fun and full of laughter and good food, which it always is, and I expect that I’ll do or say at least one thing this evening that will feel unedited or silly or embarrassing. I’ll be OK with it; I’ll remind myself that I love my friends in all of their realness and fullness, not when or because they’ve curated something presentable for me.
I’ll look around the room and consider how different things were just 18 months ago, and I’ll give thanks for the passage of time, the resilience of the heart, the fact that I was fortunate enough at that difficult moment to have a friend like Jordan, who reminded me of how much love and goodness I had access to even when things felt inescapably broken. I’ll be grateful to his parents and siblings for helping me to realize that true family can be shaped and created in all sorts of ways. I’ll thank myself for having had the intuition to be just a little more open and trusting that night, and in the months since. There’s no other way I’d like to welcome a new year.
Many of us aren’t celebrating a new year this evening, but all the same, it’s September, and I always associate this time of the year with a fresh start. I’m hoping to remain as loving and open as I can be this year, all the while exercising self-compassion in the moments when I shut down (and I know they’ll happen from time to time).
Sending all of you my loving wishes for health and happiness. Shana tova, and here are my recipe and reading picks for the week.
Kristen’s Mexican pasta salad looks delicious, and like a perfect contender for my weekend batch cooking this fall.
Quinoa, golden potatoes, and tahini herb dressing?! My kinda bowl, courtesy of Sprouting Zen Eats.
Another bowl, this one with BBQ cauliflower bites as the star. What a great comfort food meal, courtesy of Sophia of Veggies Don’t Bite.
I love savory cobbler, and I’m totally smitten with Tessa’s end-of-summer, early fall cherry tomato version! What a beautiful dish.
Finally, wish I could pack one of Tomas’ no-bake chocolate pistachio bars in my lunchbox for tomorrow. Maybe next week 🙂
1. A cool profile of how 15 players on the Tennessee Titans—with the help of a great chef—have started to eat plant based diets.
2. An interesting review of Alastair Bonnett’s new book, Beyond the Map, which makes the argument that geographic boundaries as they were once delineated are becoming increasingly limited and inadequate.
3. Knowable‘s list of ten secrets about stress and its impact on health. Some of it may not surprise you, but the research is aggregated in an interesting way.
4. Today’s Dietitian takes a close look at all of the plant milks on the market these days. The article isn’t written from a vegan perspective, but I appreciate the careful nutritional comparison of different milks and what they have to offer.
I agree with KC Wright’s take on soy milk being the most nutrient dense option, and the one that’s most nutritionally comparable to cow’s milk for those who are looking for a direct substitution. That said, while I use soy most often in my breakfasts, I love having a ton of options these days, and I enjoy nut, seed, and oat milks for different culinary uses (sauces, ice cream, espresso drinks, etc.).
5. An entertaining look at the world of hyperpolyglots, via Judith Thurman and The New Yorker.
In other news, my first DI week is behind me. There’s a lot to adjust to and a lot to process, and I’m sure there will be more to say soon. For now, I can say that I’m learning more than I imagined was possible in only four days, which has been a meaningful counterpoint to the challenging bits. A new week starts tomorrow; goodnight, friends.