It's been a brutal year for so many people and that's on the back of 2020 which most of us remember as one of the more challenging. And we don't live in a war zone, have electricity and running water (most of the time), and get to go to sleep at night in a bed, in a house, with some level of safety and certainty. Of course COVID has played a massive part in our lives over the past two years, with unprecedented levels of illness, death, fear, uncertainty, and anxiety. And that's on top of the day-to-day stress that so many of us are under in any given year as a result of economics, politics, families, health, work, and recovery.
Then there's all the stuff that the social scientists are talking about like a lack of collective joy, the collective trauma of an international pandemic, and mental health taking a huge hit over these last few years.
But this isn't another blog post about everything that's gone wrong this year. And there's been plenty of that; including losing my father and then being disinherited. I want to take the time that it takes me to write this post to reflect on on the incredible things I have seen and experienced this year, and what I am grateful for. Because even when 2021 hasn't been the best ever, there are always moments of magic and amazingness to reflect on.
One of the highlights of my year has definitely been becoming a fan of the podcast. I have previously dabbled, but not really gotten into it. And this year it just became such an incredible learning space for me. I've listened to some sensational conversations, and deepened my respect for the connections that keep us present. My top ten podcasts for the year (in no particular order) are:
Finding Beauty in Brokenness | Rich Roll and David Choe
Dealing with Burnout and Finding Your Spark | Lewis Howes and Johnathan Fields
The Secret to Avoiding Burnout and Reshaping Your Identity | Lewis Howes and Dr. Benjamin Hardy
The Most Effective Ways to Manage Stress and Anxiety | Lewis Howes and Dr. Wendy Suzuki
The Joy of Being Wrong, The Power of Rethinking, and the Future of Work | Rich Roll and Adam Grant
Partnerships, Patterns, and Paradoxical Relationships | Brené Brown and Esther Perel
What Makes Love Last | Brené Brown and Drs. John and Julie Gottman
The Neuroscience of Addiction, Dopamine Fasting and the Opioid Crisis | Rich Roll and Dr. Anna Lembke
How to Sleep Smarter and the Bad Habits that Are Ruining Your Sleep | Lewis Howes and Dr. Matthew Walker
Trauma and Stress | Professor David Nutt and Gabor Maté
Of course as I am going through my episodes I am aware that there are so many more than 10, but I'll leave it there and give you the opportunity to go down your own podcast rabbit hole!
2021 has also seen me delve back into reading. I've always been a reader, and one of my guilty little pleasures at the moment, is reading crime- and historical fiction. I used to be more of a literary snob, sticking to the Booker Man list, etc., but now I save my serious reading for the big pile of non-fiction I am always attempting to make time for. I was listening to a podcast during the week with Sam Harris (more about him in a moment) and neuroscientist Stephen Fleming where they discuss all sorts of things, but also touch on finding the acceptance of never being able to read all the books we want to. Of course I jumped onto the web and ordered some of the books on my lengthy wish list. I've not read as much as I would like this year, but I am reading more than I have for some time, and a few of my highlights for the year are:
The Gifts of Imperfection | Brené Brown (it honestly felt like 10 years ago she sat down to write this book just for me).
The Craving Mind | Dr. Judson Brewer
Emotional Agility | Dr. Susan David
Burnout - The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle | Amelia and Emily Nagoski
Why We Sleep | Dr Matthew Walker
Grit | Angela Duckworth
Think Again | Adam Grant
The Infinite Game | Simon Sinek
How to Change | Katy Milkman
And of course there is a big stack waiting to be read! I am so grateful for the wisdom that the writers share in the pages of their books. It makes some of the subjects I am interested in so much more accessible, without having to sift through all the research that they do.
Back to Sam Harris! Learning to be more mindful and spend time in mindfulness practice has been a game changer for me, and from being a can't meditate person, I finally understand the power of the practice. A couple of my clients recommended I try "The Waking Up" app, and I have shared it with countless people since. I haven't been as consistent with my formal practice over the last month or so, and I am giving myself some wiggle room here. But I have learned that any moment in any day can be a mindfulness practice. It's like sitting on the platform at the station, sipping my cappuccino and watching the (thought) trains go past, and not getting onto any one; other than the one that's going to the destination I have bought a ticket for. I often find myself just sitting quietly on that bench and watching the trains go by.
There goes the "I'm not good enough" train, the "does my butt look fat in these jeans" train, or the "is everyone I love going to get, and die of, Covid" train. I know for sure that if I board one of those I'm going to end up at some remote outpost with no ticket to get back to where I want to be. So I watch them go by, and patiently let the chaos of the moment pass and then get onto the train that I chose because it's going where I want to go. Of course I can fuck it up royally at times and end up on the "I'm going to die all alone because I didn't have children" train only to have to find some way back to my bench at Prefrontal Cortex Central.
But my whole year hasn't been all about mindfulness, books and podcasts. There have been other wonderful experiences too. One of the big moments for me was having the most successful year with my coaching business since "going all in" in 2014. I've been so incredibly humbled by all the clients that I get the opportunity to work with this year. It's never all good, and some really amazing people don't make it, but I am so grateful to be able to have a career that is filled with authentic meaning and purpose, even when I am feeling pretty burned out.
It has taught me to listen and support from a place of non-judgement, compassion, and courage. Watching the grit and determination of people to be well and show up in their lives when challenged with substance use and addictive behaviour disorders, and the cooccurring mental health issues is nothing short of inspiring. I am grateful to every client for what they have shared with me, taught me, and trusted me with this year.
It's not linear, but watching people become well, start businesses, succeed professionally, reconnect with family and friends, create meaning and purpose, enrich the relationships with the children and partners, and find their authentic truth is one of the main reasons I get up in the morning.
I've also eaten the best chocolate cake in existence this year. I've managed to keep my orchid alive. My relationship with my wonderful partner is deeper and stronger than ever. We have two gorgeous little Chis who are our fur babies and bring daily joy and laughter. We are even thinking about buying a house in the new year as a result of being disinherited. We're both mostly healthy, and our bodies have kept us well through the pandemic, even if mine is a bit on the heavy side at the moment, but that's what New Years are for.
I am also extremely grateful that on 1st January I will be 14 years sober and clean of recreational substances. I got to spend an unexpected day or so with my brother in the midst of trying to get him home to the UK during the recent, and very sudden, lockdown. I've been able to spend some time with my mom too and I'm spending Christmas Day with four of my most favourite people in the entire world as well. I also got to reconnect with some old friends, and hear their stories about marriage, a long-awaited child, elves, and just how their lives are at the moment.
So all things considered, I reckon there's a whole lot for me to feel grateful for and that's what I am choosing to focus on as the year closes out. It's easy to hook into the negative, and there are always going to be challenges and difficult periods. I am thankful for the lessons learned; especially the hard ones, because I have built the resilience and resources to overcome them. There is going to be departure, death, illness, and loss, and that's part of life. So in closing I want to honour all of the people that didn't make it to the end of this year. That includes my dad, my brother's father-in-law, clients, family members of my clients, friends, and people whose lives I was only briefly part of through the work I do. Thank you for sharing a little piece of yourself with the world, I am grateful for what you brought.