The Mythology of Goodbye: 2020 Is A Part of Us Now, Whether We Like It or Not!
The mythologies of new beginnings and fresh starts gave birth to the United States of America. And their chimerical charm has infected our collective psyche ever since.
Those mythologies are what brought white Northern European people to these shores, believing that they could start over. The problem is, they brought their trauma with them. And instead of knowing that truth about themselves, they deposited their denial and defensiveness all over this land. Starting over is a myth. And that’s an important truth for us to carry into 2021.
If we want to heal from what ails us, reprising the mythology of goodbye is no medicine. Can we move into 2021 wiser than the white ancestors that taught us this destructive narrative of new beginnings?
The siren song of saying goodbye to the old and hello to the new is looping over and over again these last several days on the planet earth as we usher in 2021. It’s understandable, of course. 2020 has been a hell of a year, unless you’re Jeff Bezos, I guess.
For the rest of us who have not gotten rich off the misfortune of the planet this year, the collective trauma of 2020 is heavy and hard. And it’s no wonder we want to all come to a fork in the road where we can leave it behind and move forward without the grief, without the isolation, without the tension, without the helplessness. All of these feelings of wanting the hurt to stop make a lot of sense.
AND the mythologies of new beginnings and fresh starts are a dangerous default for us, America. If we really want things to change in 2021, then the last thing we should do is say goodbye to 2020. Trying to walk away from trauma is like trying to wash off the very skin you are in. It’s not possible; and the attempt itself could be catastrophic.
The impulse to start over is strong for trauma survivors, because we just want the pain to stop. I remember my teenage self, desperately seeking a fresh start in the wake of sexual violence. I told myself I could will my life into a new beginning. Today would be the day I didn’t feel the weight of the sadness, the jolt of the fear and hyper vigilance, the isolation of knowing there is no such thing as safety, the loneliness of secret shame. Today would be the day for a new beginning.
I had all sorts of strategies for jump starting the new and saying goodbye to the grotesquery of the old. Get a new haircut. Rearrange the furniture in my bedroom. Fast for several days. Clean out drawers. Burn letters. Throw away gifts he gave me. Tear up pictures. Make a list of goals for my new life. Start a new relationship. Run 10 miles. Bargain with God.
While I might get some momentary sense of empowerment and possibility from a lot of these things, their promise never stood the test of time. Because the future I inevitably moved into included me. And by feigning a goodbye to my trauma, I only delayed the inevitable demand that trauma made on my life. Goodbye only made me more stuck in the pain. It was hello that would give me the medicine I needed to actually be well.
Which brings me back to 2020. As much as we all want to feign our dramatic goodbye to this excruciating year, the more we tell that lie to ourselves, the tighter grip 2020 will have on any future that is stretching out ahead of us.
Trauma lives in your bones. It flows in your blood. It changes your brain and it afflicts your relationships. Trauma is not linear; it does not run out of steam. Trauma twists stories and dreams. Trauma changes the way food tastes and touch feels. Trauma does not have a fleeting half-life, but shape shifts and conceals itself so it can resurface when your defenses are down. Trauma obscures horizons and reflections. It changes who you see when you look at yourself in the mirror.
Trauma’s resourcefulness is what convinced me to finally get to know it better many years ago. That’s the hello I am talking about, America. The hello that says to trauma, I see the power you have and I want you to know that I have power, too. And there is Divine, mysterious, healing power that wants me to shift my relationship with you, trauma.
If we really want the pain and grief and sadness and fear and injustice and tension and fear and death and anger of 2020 to dissipate, then we need a new mythology to define our collective next step. 2021 is not a fresh start; it is a healing opportunity. And those are two very different things. Healing opportunities aren’t about goodbyes, as much as they are about welcoming the stranger within ourselves to have a cherished place in our everyday lives.
None of us gets enough gentleness. None of us gets enough love. And if we can’t muster up a way to extend tenderness to the traumatized spirit that exists within us, then how could we possibly hope for freedom from the pain?
So, 2020 will never really be in our collective rearview mirror. We carry the memories, the lessons, the loss, and the healing opportunities with us now forever. I hope we can stop trying to say goodbye to all that 2020 showed us, and use our collective energy to see 2020 for what it is—a milestone in a healing journey we sojourn on with the whole human race.
What we’ve experienced together in 2020, and in the generational trauma we carried into 2020, can support us as we aspire to see 2021 for what IT is—an unfolding of a troubled and traumatic past into a present moment poised for us to finally say hello to a truth that can actually set us free.