If I had to name the moment that this year changed from a slow ascent towards a rollercoaster’s summit into a free-wheeling ride filled with highs, lows and some fairly profound personal growth – I’d pin it all on May 13th. The night of the Taylor Swift Eras Tour in Philadelphia. Her ‘hometown’ show and the day I turned 36. Maybe some magic was released from seeing her perform the soundtrack to the last nearly two decades of my life, a song to match every crushing heartbreak and soaring love, every personal stumble and hard-fought success. Perhaps it was being back in Pennsylvania with my childhood best friend, who was there the night I turned 18 (another formidably memorable birthday) and now, having exactly doubled our age, was still there laughing and screaming by my side. Or the fact that Adam drove two hours each way just to chauffeur us safely to the stadium (if you find someone that exhibits this type of endless generosity, I suggest you marry them).
Was it something in the confrontation of these past selves that allowed me to let go of some of the weight they’d been carrying? I could be giving Taylor too much credit here.. but I doubt it. You try standing beside 70,000 (mostly) girls and screaming a 10 minute break-up song written 10 years ago and see if you’re not changed for the better.
When I go to recap the specifics there was the highlight reel that you all saw – the early spring getaway to Palm Springs, the walking marathon of NYC, Springsteen at Madison Square Garden with my Dad and Taylor (twice!) and lots of other smaller shows in between, the fun nights out in New York, the weekends at the lake, our wedding (!!!) and subsequent honeymoon in Paris and the South of France. Core memories created.
On the flip side, there are the parts that are harder to capture on Instagram. Work nearly ate me alive at several points this year. Within a 2 month span leading up to our wedding Adam and I both had a beloved grandparent die. My Mom was diagnosed with Breast Cancer last month (I’m not sure that I’ll talk about this much more here – but send good thoughts, will you?). At one point I was so stressed I developed a stomach ulcer and then a small hernia. And that’s just the stuff that feels black and white, nameable.
Internally, the year has felt even more monumental. Without giving it too much thought, I quietly started to let go of a lot of the beliefs I’d been holding about myself. Negative notions that I’d been grasping far too tightly for far too long without really realizing. Some are seismic: that I wasn’t ready to lead a department at work, that maybe I wasn’t really marriage material, that my body had changed in a permanent way, that certain people’s thoughts/opinions were always going to cause me to spiral. Some more nuanced: that I needed the particular food/drink I was giving to myself, that certain places in New York weren’t open to me, that I wasn’t good at baking (an echo from when some old forgotten boyfriend told me I wasn’t), that I couldn’t actually write a book. For a person who feels fairly confident in who I am, it was pretty astounding once I started to confront some of these. As it turns out, I could change.. just by deciding to! Just by releasing the white knuckle grip I’d had on it all.
And so we decided to get married. Our relationship feels largely unchanged but we had such a joy-filled marker of the past 13 years and look ahead to the next decades with a fresh optimism. I’m wholly happy with our decision to do it. I like being one half of ‘The Steeles’.
I radically changed my relationship with food and drink. Part of it started under doctor’s orders due to the stomach ulcer – and then it all sort of snowballed. If you had asked me a year ago if I could go a week without alcohol or Diet Coke (probably most clingingly, the latter) I would have hated to answer. But now – no big deal. Maybe I have a couple diet cokes a week. Maybe I have 1 cocktail. Maybe other people at the table are drinking them and I’m not. Sugary sweets feel like a treat, but no longer a real craving. I found an equilibrium to what my body actually needed. I also found new solace and resolve in my workouts and look forward to them (instead of feeling burdened by them) most days of the week – pushing myself further and regaining the runner’s form I felt sure I’d lost forever. I end this year having shed just shy of 20 pounds, meaning I’m back to weighing nearly the same as I did at 18. But radically stronger. And it’s not about that number – it’s about the fact that I feel free from having to eat/drink certain things to feel like I can make it through the day. That a dinner without carbs doesn’t feel like a punishment but an investment in my longterm health. It’s about the fact that I feel strong when I workout and no longer feel bloated half the time and that I sleep better. It’s about having back an energy that I haven’t had in a long time.
I stepped up at work and was challenged and rewarded by it. I started booking reservations at the restaurants I’d always wanted to try here in New York but always felt intimidated by. I resolved to stop letting a person in my life get a rise out of me with their outlook on life – it’s probably their problem, but it’s certainly no longer mine. I baked every dessert for my family’s Thanksgiving meal and they all turned out great. I’m excited to try new recipes. I have a few thousand words towards my novel with a plan for how I’ll continue writing this year.
I feel free and grounded in a way that I’m not sure I ever have. I feel no sense of longing for the single woman I once was, no shame for the specific body that carried me these past 5+ years, no contempt for the girl that would prefer to have a second, and then a third, drink, no burden by the negativity that someone else exudes. I just don’t need to hold it all anymore. In letting go, I gained so much this year. I’ll truly never forget 2023 – it’s unique highs and lows – and can’t wait to see what 2024 brings. I suspect there will be more joy, more challenges, more loss – and I feel better positioned to take it all.
Lastly, a sincere thank you to you all for being here – I felt bolstered by so many of you this year and I feel continually grateful for this small sliver of the internet. I hope that there were plenty of lessons and love in the past 365 days for you all. See you in the new year.