twenty seventeen.

To say this year has been ridiculous would be an understatement—I have been tripping all year. Nothing makes sense, and I have more stories from this year than I know how to write. It’s been hilarious, appalling, unbelievable, and absolutely beautiful all the same.

There have been a lot of significant moments. I’ve cut ties with those closest to me for my own health. I’ve somehow become a minor celebrity in Milwaukee—uncannily running into someone every day. I’ve traveled near and far. I met a lot of white supremacists. I’ve hired incredible people, and have faced some of the hardest employer-related decisions. I’ve committed acts of stupidity, vandalism, impulsiveness, and came out with a lot of ridiculous stories. I ate a lot of incredible food. I drank a lot of PBR. I took a lot of risks. I quit a job that was killing my soul, and I became a full-time freelance writer. I’m living the fucking dream.

Logistically, a lot has happened, but this year has signified so much more for me.

I don’t have the words to wrap it up in a nice little bow because so much has been unraveled.

I’d spent much of last year healing physically and battling all of the mental repercussions that came with it. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to dig deeper, and I haven’t for years. This year I’ve been able to dig into pain that has been sitting while still dealing with the absolutely insane day-to-day, too.

At the end of it all, I regret nothing.

That being said, I’ve learned some hard lessons.

It has often felt like the worst year of my life.
I’ve grieved, and I’ve loved, and I’ve lost. I have learned a lot from pain. I’ve learned a lot from poetry. I have learned so much from oppression, from injustice, from abuse. I’m learning to say those words and know that they’re true. I’m learning to recognize the gaslights and turn them off. I’ve learned what narcissism looks like, what pure evil looks like, and how to set strict boundaries. I’m learning that my worth does not lie within others actions, that the respect I deserve is not a negotiation. I’ve ripped off, and I am still ripping off all of the bandaids that covered gaping, oozing wounds, and I’m healing. I’m finally learning to heal from the inside out.

I know now that I am in control of my life, despite it being out of control most of the time, and it is damn beautiful.

I’ve still got a lot to learn. I have car alarm heart, but I’m learning to sing along to the tune. I have laughed more earnestly than I have in a lifetime. I have gasped for air harder than I did when I thought my lungs were giving out; I didn’t think it could be harder. In the same breath, I didn’t think it could be better.

I have met some of the most incredible people of my entire existence this year alone, and honestly, they’ve gotten me through some of the hardest parts. They’ve taught me that people can show up, will understand, and can be safe. I now know that despite the awful people I’ve endured, there are good people out there, and I know this because they’re tried and true.

For the first time in my life, I’m breathing easy and I know I’m safe, and that is a groundbreaking statement.

I don’t have the words to express how thankful I am.

Maybe it was the worst year of my life—it’s been a fucking whirlwind. Maybe that pain can’t be undone, but I can’t explain how excited I am for what’s ahead, knowing I have a lot more learning to do, knowing that solid people are right beside me.

[de]humanize.

People have often thought it’s cheeky and shocking that I wear “Black Lives Matter” shirts on holidays (or any day, for that matter.) ‘Oh no, the tiny red head is speaking big words about social justice again… sometimes we wish she would just calm down, and eat some turkey.’  I’m sorry, I’m a vegetarian now.

I am not black, and I will never be black, but I’ve never related to a group of oppressed people more than I have with the individuals shouting these same battle cries. Being disabled, I’m part of a minority, but no one really seems to talk about ableism because disabled people aren’t being shot in the streets, (or even know what that word means.) It doesn’t mean we aren’t dying.

It’s a more subtle, casual, ‘understandable’ form of violence—but it is violence.

According to the American Psychological Association, women with disabilities have a 40 percent greater chance of intimate partner violence than women without disabilities. You can do the research yourself, but there are plenty more statistics about neglect, sexual abuse, and straight up murder against people with disabilities (or should I call it “assisted suicide” to make you feel better?)

In my own life, I’ve experienced everything from micro-aggressions, to blatant neglect, to sexual abuse, to complex abuse. It’s taken me over two decades, but I’m finally starting to understand what this all fully means, process it, and call it what it is. Throughout my childhood, with strangers, and with people closest to me there has been something so different about the things that have happened, and I couldn’t find a word. I’m finally learning what ableism is.

Just yesterday, I sat in a coffee shop with an old friend, and broke down in wide-eyed realization and shock that someone very close to me had committed blatant violence against me, and even I couldn’t see it for what it was until months later. I didn’t even know that I was so close to someone disturbingly comparable to Hitler.

I’ve been reading a lot about dehumanization, and I’m learning that it’s the only word that fits here. I can’t define ableism for you in one article, but by definition, dehumanization is the process of depriving a person or group of positive human qualities. Professor of Philosophy, Michelle Maiese, defines it as “the psychological process of demonizing the enemy, making them seem less than human and hence not worthy of moral consideration or humane treatment.”

That’s a big pill to swallow, but it’s a pill that’s forced down my throat far too often.

It’s heavy, but my eyes are opening, and I’m starting to see how much the violence, neglect, and the pity that has been wrongly put upon me were all a result of who I was born as. I’m coming to terms with the dehumanization that’s happened in my own life—the blatant ableism—and how I can cope. It’s still a hard pill to swallow, but it’s an important one. I still don’t have all of the answers, but I do know I’m not going to stop talking about it just so we can all have a nice dinner.

Quite frankly, I won’t be at those dinners.

Many people ask me why I don’t go to family holidays, hang around certain people that I used to, or talk to so-and-so anymore. It’s easy to jump to conclusions, to assume I’m being sensitive, or to write it off as Irish stubbornness. The truth is, I don’t have it in me to spend time with people who don’t see me as an equal, and no one else needs to be around people who make them feel dehumanized or triggered either—regardless if they’re family or not.

There’s a lot more I could say about this, but I am tired. I’m tired of trying to prove my self worth. I’m tired of protecting myself. I’m tired of explaining why I’m a human. And honestly, I don’t have to.

So, I’m going to take care of myself. I’m going to keep spending holidays with people I can trust. I’m going to talk about what matters when it makes sense, and I’m going to have a good time. It’s likely that I’ll still wear a “Black Lives Matter” shirt.

grief.

I have been grieving all year.

I’ve experienced many kinds of grief throughout my life. I’ve experienced tragedies, unexpected loss, deaths, and multiple other kinds of grief that are less cut and dry.

This grief has been a little different.

I’ve been cutting toxic people out like it’s nobody’s business. I’m learning the depths of my past in relation to who I’m trying to become. I’m learning what I deserve, and I’m learning how much the people around me have influenced me, held me back, and spread a lot of bullshit (and quite honestly, abuse,) throughout my life. This might sound harsh; I’m not saying it isn’t.

Here’s the thing: losing someone sucks, even if they suck.

Even if they’re toxic. Even if they’re hurtful, detrimental, or have no place in your life anymore. Even when it’s a good thing, it’s still the hard thing.

It’s still a loss, and I’ve experienced many:

I’ve lost family—literally and figuratively. By choice, by chance, and by tragedy.

I’ve lost friends—by the dozens.

I’ve lost security. I’ve lost dreams. I’ve lost the entire foundation my life was built upon.

But, we rebuild. Sometimes these losses are out of our control, and sometimes we get to choose who stays, and it’s often the hardest choice.

I’ve been grieving all year, and I don’t know how to explain that. I don’t know how to explain that although I am building a life I’m proud of, there’s still a loss. I’m letting ideals die and the views I had of my life vs. the reality it’s become. I’m letting loved ones stay at arms distance. I’m letting things go simply because they are too heavy.

With acceptance comes a lot of grief, and it’s often a solitary one. I still don’t know how to explain that although no grandiose event has happened lately, my world is being knocked down and growing new. It’s amazing, and beautiful, and wonderful, and sorrowful all at the same time.

Sometimes the grieving doesn’t get easier, but it does get different. Sometimes there’s no way to talk about old wounds without opening them back up, but I think that might be okay. I think grief is a process that never ends—loss changes you, no matter how big. There will still be a hole, or a scab, or a scar. It’s okay to acknowledge it. It’s okay to talk about.

I will never be the same, but most days I’m thankful for that. This change is liberating, and freeing, and reassuring that my future is bright. I’m a lot of things, but I am not stagnant and I will not stop growing, despite the growing pains. Despite the losses. Despite any of this.