I did my taxes this week. I usually don’t wait this long. I’m usually impatient to get the whole process done and out of the way. But this year I found myself putting it off, week-after-week.
Partly it was because I knew this year’s taxes were going to be tricky. I did a lot of freelance work, which meant collecting lots of numbers myself, without the convenience of a W-2, and I also moved, which meant I had to file taxes in two different states. In the end, I knew I was going to owe something, and not knowing what or how much filled me with a little dread.
But that wasn’t the only reason. It might sound silly, but I avoided doing my taxes for 2016 because I knew it meant I had to look back on 2016.
I’ve written before about what last year meant for me. A lot happened. Not all of it good. And, though I am in a very different place than I was even at the end of 2016, there are parts of 2016 that I feel like I’m still carrying. Pain and debt and things I wish I didn’t have to think about. So the last thing I wanted to do was go back through and put numbers to everything. It felt like adding up my mistakes.
But I did it. Because, when there’s a literal blizzard outside, that feels like God telling you this is a good time to get some adulting out of the way.
The process turned out to be less painful that I thought. Unsurprisingly, since that’s usually how anxiety turns out. I did owe something, but not nearly as much as I feared. (Enjoy my $3, Georgia. Don’t spend it all in one place.) And, in the end, I felt better for having done it, for being able to put the task behind me, but also, in some small way, to be able to put 2016 behind me.
One of the biggest questions I’ve wrestled with as an adult is how to walk away from the past. I don’t know if other people struggle with it or not, but I do. You see, I remember everything I’ve ever done wrong. Everything. And, no, I’m not exaggerating.
I remember getting in a pushing match with a friend in the second grade. He fell down and cried and I got In-School Suspension. I remember accidentally hitting my sister with a rock when we were kids. I was so sorry that I grounded myself. Last week, I was pulling out of the driveway and accidentally clipped the neighbor’s car. The damage was superficial, but the very thought sent me spiraling.
That’s the thing about anxiety. It doesn’t need present difficulties. In fact, if things are going well, if nothing’s bothering me, it has a library of things it will call upon. And I’ve realized recently how much I actually carry with me. The weight of all my years, everything I did or failed to do.
But I’ve also realized something shocking: I don’t have to.
It’s a wild concept. It’s something that I’m still not sure I believe because it simply sounds too good to be anywhere near true.
I’ve known what forgiveness was for a long time, but, somehow, I never got the second half down. Forgive and forget. Not for myself, at least. I know it’s anxiety. I know it is. Because it doesn’t make any sense. The idea that somehow I was doing the right thing by making myself carry this stuff. That it was somehow my duty, my punishment for having done it.
But it’s not. I’m seeing that now. I’m seeing that it might just be possible that I don’t have to carry any of this, that I was never meant to. There are days when it doesn’t seem true, but for the short, oh so short, moments when it does, it is the most freeing feeling in the world.
But it’s work, too. I know that. It’s the battle of Should and Must, which is a choice you have to make every single day. That’s the other thing I started doing this week.
For someone who, once a year, commits to an intense month of daily action, it’s embarrassing to admit I have a hard time building habits. But I started a few this week.
The first involved setting goals for myself. Nothing huge. Mostly “send that email” or “do my taxes.” Just something I could check off the to-do app on my phone. Each night I gave myself a few goals for the next day, and, amazingly, I did them. Everyday, I got to check off a task or two and feel like I accomplished something.
The other thing I did was start a journaling exercise. I’ve journaled for years, in many different forms, but I wanted to take it to the next level. So in the morning, I started a gratitude practice, and in the evening I did more traditional journaling. It was another task I could check off my list, but it represents much more than that.
Because I still struggle with the question of how to leave the past in the past. How much am I supposed to let it affect me? How do I let go of the things I’ve done wrong? And the answer is simple.
How do you walk away from the past? Step-by-step. You take a step, and then another, and then another.
Just like writing a novel 1600 words at a time. You do what you can each day, and each day you have to make the choice to do it, over and over again. But if you do that, you’ll make progress. You can’t help but make it.
There are things I still haven’t left behind. 2016 was a big year. It set up a lot that I am very thankful for right now, and even though I can’t look back and say I’m thankful for all of it, right now, I know one day I will. Some part of me is always going to be in the places I’ve been, for all the good and bad they gave me.
But the bigger part of me has to be where I am right now. Because things are happening here and now that I want to be present for. There are things ahead that I am eager to get to.
And I know I’m going to reach them; the same way I know I’m putting distance between who I was and who I’m becoming.