It's my birthday this week. The week I tend to think of more as Achilles heel week. Please-pass-the-Kryptonite week. Do-not-pass-go-do-not-collect-£200-week.
You get the idea.
Birthdays have changed for me. I celebrated my last one at 26. After that most of them were spent indoors until around 30. Even when I was out in the world again I just couldn't face them. I have never really looked backwards and wondered what the years I spent housebound would have been like had I not lived them that way. Or the years I was out in the world but too frightened to interact with people properly. I shut those thought away in a box marked do not touch. Stuck a load of fragile stickers on them and stayed facing firmly forwards.
I think I got worried that because I just had not begun to tackle them at all then the wall of grief would hit me. Since I'm intolerant to unhappiness the way everyone seems to be intolerant to wheat these days I thought no. Best leave it alone.
Did you know about the wall of grief? The wall of grief is weird. It's a part of recovery no one talks about because it really is so odd. In recovery grief is an absolute f*cker. Basically for every bit of big, significant progress made, grief sits just around the corner, waiting.
Say you've learned how to walk again. Or stand. Or dress yourself. The grief kicks in for the years you did not. That's okay because these things are really big to learn so the pay-off is massive. But the smaller, more imperceptible pieces of progress. Learning to talk to people, socialising. Being okay with being in a room of people and staying there. The grief that comes with this progress is quite frightening.
When you've stopped surviving life by purely doing the basics. Stopped making excuses about why you won't stall progress anymore. When you just get on with it, regardless of the fear and just sort your sh*t out and become the person you know you are supposed to be? Then the grief is a total motherf*cker. Because you know the years you didn't do it will never be retrieved. And you know you cannot change that fact. And it brings with it a feeling of helplessness like no other. Just for a little while.
Some people are so scared of the wall of grief that they refuse to make any progress in recovery at all. I don't blame them. At the time it's so big and scary and strong it feels like it will never go away.
It does. I mean, it comes back again when another milestone is reached. But it dissipates and the progress it leaves behind is worth it.
I've avoided celebrating my birthday for years. I've felt like I was so happy everyday that it wasn't worth sacrificing the general happiness for the specific grief. Then last year something very, very bad happened on my birthday. And I knew it wasn't a coincidence that it happened on the one day I felt vulnerable out of the entire year. And I realised what a waste it was, to avoid the birthday wall of grief. That if I just tackled it once and sat with it. Sat with the years that I didn't get to have. Sat with the life that I didn't experience. The years that did give me the tools to live the years to come in a way I could never have dreamed possible before this.
I wouldn't change a minute of them. I wouldn't change the perspective they enabled me to carve out for anything. Truly. But it doesn't mean I wouldn't have liked to have had my twenties properly. And my early 30s to be honest. it doesn't mean I don't have this grief sat around the corner waiting to come and find me when I finally open up to the possibility of these years and where they could have taken me.
And it is an embarrassing thing to admit. and grief does seem too strong a word when I think about people in actual grief and what they go through. But when people do email me and talk about the fear and the emotional breaking-down that comes with progress in any type of recovery, wall of grief is the most effective description I have found. It's important people know it is not just them that it hits. So important that we know unequivocally that none of us are experiencing anything weird and exclusive only to us. That it is normal. That it is just a part of getting better and that it will be okay.
So. Monday. Birthday. The day I finally deal with the years that did not go quite to plan, but made me who I am now. And maybe it won't be quite as bad and scary as I think it going to be actually. And even if it is I know it will go away and leave more than it's taken, because I've learned that's what the wall of grief does.
And maybe if I do it you will too?