2017. I feel like I lived a whole lifetime in this year. From many dark days yearning for the return of the days in the sun, to the eventual dawning of new days, join me in taking a look back at the year that was.

Days In The Sun

I can’t believe it’s been only a year since this time last year I was writing my review of 2016. In truth, it feels like it has been much longer since then.  I’m not sure what your year has looked like, but something I like to do here is write a review of every year. I’m sure some of the posts from previous years will pop up in the related links section at the bottom of the page. But for now, take a walk with me as I try to somehow navigate and spell out everything that happened across 2017 in my life, and hopefully find something in here to help you as you reflect on your own year.

To be honest, this one has been rather difficult to write, but I’ve never been one to really hide anything about anything that’s gone on. If you’ve been reading my writing for a while, you’ll know I tend to be fairly open and honest about things. But I’m warning you now – a lot happened this year. The content is about to get rather dark rather quickly, so if you’re looking for one of those happier jovial reflections on the year, skip to maybe the halfway point here, or look at someone else’s review.

Alright… here we go.

Just a man. A very broken man

If you were with me this time last year, or talked to me in person as I shared with many people who asked, you would know at the end of last year, I discovered my true breaking point. In fact, I discovered I had gone beyond a natural breaking point emotionally, physically, and mentally, and I really had a dark and frightening breakdown. I remember at the end of last year experiencing days that should have been good, but the joy from them was not sticking. Any time I had faced set backs in the past I would eventually bounce back from them, but no such bounce back was occurring. I was completely drained, my sleep was distraught and dark, and I was crying in the car most places I was going without really knowing why. As I wrote about last year, I had come to the true recognition that I am just a man, and a desire that others would treat me not as a persona or someone who could keep stretching and be constantly accommodating, but as a person.

Bleh. I hate writing about this even now. It’s very hard for me to remember how dark it really was. Even quite painful still. But it was something that happened.

And so I had seen a doctor and thrown myself back into some counselling to work out what was going wrong and facing it directly. I felt like I was about to watch everything I had built in my life go up in smoke, and that I would never be capable again of living out the life I knew I was meant to live.

And so, the start of 2017 arrived not with a bright sunrise, but a dark cloud of depression and despair. Sorry it sounds so tragic, but it really was. My usually fuller weeks were a bit less bare as I needed to take more time for myself. Even a few hours into the work day I was finding myself exhausted, which was very foreign for me. I was bringing eye drops around with me everywhere because of all the crying I was doing, I couldn’t even see properly most days.

This isn’t to say there weren’t good things happening – there were. But my emotional state whilst I was living those things out was complete pain. What happened you might be wondering? Over time as I was seeing my counsellor, things had been becoming more and more clear, that in a number of arenas in my life, I had been going without things that I had “wanted”, and in some cases, for several, several years. I had a real strong moment of realisation with my counsellor one night as he challenged me that I kept saying those things were wants, when in truth a lot of those things were true needs in my heart, and in order to cope with going without a number of them, or experiencing repeated injuries in those areas, I was saying “want” instead of rightly addressing them as “need”.

On top of that, I seemed to have multiple things go wrong around that. I had a number of sudden (and even traumatic) maintenance issues at home, I had a number of friends taken out, I thought I might have to sell the house because I just couldn’t do it, I wasn’t able to clean things properly, I had some people get sick around me… when it rains, it pours. It was more than I could bear. Well, clearly not, as I’m still here, but at the time, I really felt so crushed.

The process of counselling was incredibly difficult. I have had it before, but this time in order to deal with such a profound depression, I had to really go there and revisit every dark trauma and difficult moment across my life. This of course made things worse. Not only was I carrying the weight of the things I didn’t fully understand at the time – I was also reliving every painful memory in order to properly address and identify what had happened. I remember during this time I had some very public episodes where I went out red eyed, red faced, wailing and humiliated from a number of public places. One was when some people had tried joking about some of the contents of some of the past support I had been to some people, one when I was being pushed to be more accommodating and understanding to others who didn’t fully understand me, and a number of other occasions where I simply had to slip out and remove myself before it became more of a big deal.

In short, it was an absolute nightmare.

Days in the sun

The newest adaption of Beauty and the Beast came out this year. My first watch of the movie I remember being quite struck by a few of the new songs in the soundtrack, as I described in my review. I remember I decided to go watch it a second time, during which I was deeply affected by one song in particular. I downloaded the soundtrack on my walk back home from the cinema and replayed the song. As I entered the house, I fell on the floor unable to move, in tears for several hours. The words of a certain verse resonated so heavily with my spirit that I remember thinking and praying in that moment, God, please bring me back to the days in the sun.

Hence the title of this post.

To say I was left alone in the dark wouldn’t be an accurate statement. Friends especially from my church were around me and regularly checking in. It was the counselling service at my church which (spoilers) led to my eventual recovery. I had many friends praying and was regularly relying on God to get me through another day.

I learnt many things during my recovery period. One of course is how much effort it really takes to recover, and it highlighted to me why many people probably never want to do it. It’s because recovery from severe build ups of trauma, or even things that seem more trivial such as break ups or setbacks, can hurt worse than the actual event itself. Like pouring alcohol on a wound that is bubbling away in order to disinfect and kill the bacteria that would make the injury infinitely worse, so too the process of recovery hurts, hurts deep, and brings about wholeness you actually need. Unfortunately, it eventually hurts much worse to neglect those things, and the best time to fully process them is now.

Another was that every person, even the strongest ones among us, have limits. Many people would label me as a strong person, and in fact, that had been part of the problem. “It’s just Matt, he can handle it” had been the aloof expectation of quite a few people for me to be continually accommodating of others to my own deficit, or to take advantage of my strength and assume I would just be okay with some negligent actions. And I was able to cope with it for a number of months, in some cases years, with that. But even I had my breaking point, and I broke badly. I observed throughout the years many people who have had the same unfair and inhuman expectations put on them. I saw it in people in leadership, I saw it in people who had been unjustly continually mistreated in relationships, I saw it in friends who had some of their other friends take them for the same ride of presumption, I really saw it everywhere. That sense of awareness I hope will make me a better man, a better leader and a better friend across the years of my life.

Another would probably be the importance of a small reactionary piece of advice I gave someone this year. They were saying they were just rolling with the punches, and I had said “and not passing them on”. They stopped dead still and said that they really needed to get their spirit to a place where they would recover not just for themselves, but for the others who were to come in their lives. Recovery isn’t just about us. There are thousands of people on the other side of your decision to stay where you are… or to fully work it through and find wholeness again. I have seen, like you have, how truly devastating it can be when things are still left unresolved.

I would also give major credit and weight to some teaching I was able to listen to during those dark times as probably the “messages of the year” if I were to call them that. One was a phenomenal message by Pastor Steven Furtick entitled Complete The Cross, in which he talked about the role of people in our lives and recognising the people who are with you. More than that, to continue to keep showing strength to others even when your own strength is tested. You need to watch it. The other was a book/teaching by Doctor Henry Cloud called Necessary Endings. Sometimes, some things need to end. Very insightful and balanced.

The good in the dark

Even though my emotional and physical state was severely diminished, I was very grateful that though I was outwardly crushed, inwardly I was renewed and able to be a part of some truly amazing things this year. One of my greatest joys was to see a significant number of leaders, both younger and older than me, developed, built up, and released into the area of their calling. If you know me, you know that that is one of my greatest joys in life. To know that all of that was still able to happen while I was in such a dark time was a beacon of light for me and a truly wonderful thought.

I got to see a group of young adults grow together and become close friends. Possibly even lifelong friends in some cases. I love relationship, and I love any form, and that’s one I hold near and dear to my heart.

I saw significant developments and opportunities in the area of my career.

Walking The Shoreline continues to go ridiculously well, which I am truly humbled about. At the point of writing, the site has had almost 350000 visits since its inception. Nowadays this is entirely natural traffic. That is, people finding this on Google, recommending it to their friends, even people who disagree with stuff I say producing discussion around some of the posts. It’s fantastic. Thank you for your continued readership.

Even in the dark, there was still a lot to be grateful for.

The sun came out

About halfway through the year, I had found my strength again. I was able to do more again. Hesitantly at first, but little by little, I readded some of the stuff I used to love enjoy doing that I was now finding energy for. I had some new boundaries and tools for dealing with and handling some of the issues of the past, as well as my own expectations and the expectations of others about the future. Knowing and setting fairer limits for myself was a significant turning point and led me into a place of greater strength.

I also developed a wonderful love that has been a true source of joy, light and strength in my heart. Someone so wonderful and a true hero in my eyes. What a blessing it has been and continues to be. It has been a real gift to both of us in a year like this one.

There have been so many new opportunities present themselves also. I have watched the leaders I got to develop spread their wings and go off and start their own thing. As they should. At the start of the year, they may have thought themselves smaller than they were, but now at the end of the year, they are now bolder and more confident in who they are, and I have every confident they will continue to change their world. I have also made so many new connections and friends this year, and am looking forward to how they take shape in 2018.

I am truly grateful to God for getting me through everything that happened this year, and for turning winter into spring. For taking what really could and should have written me off, and turning it into a stronger foundation for a brighter future – for myself, and for many others.

Looking forward

Towards the end of this year I have been coming to a stage of transition. I remember talking with a bunch of the guys in my life about it maybe about 3 or 4 months ago, and in December, I now see that transition taking shape and opening some really bright and exciting doors.

I am now well and truly living my days in the sun.

Sure, I still have memories of what happened. Tonight writing this I did find myself tearing up again remembering some of those dark moments. I still need to manage my boundaries and limits.

But I made it. I’m here. I didn’t die. I didn’t lose my way. I’m not still in the dark. I’m living in the restored days in the sun. In fact, it’s better than restored – I think these days may be even better than anything before.

And so, dear friend, how was your 2017? Maybe this year you faced some big losses or setbacks. I hope my story would encourage you to put in the hard work and effort and to truly recover and process what’s happened. Not half heartedly, I mean really give it all you’ve got to get through it. Don’t stay the same.

Maybe you’ve had a lot of changes and faced a lot of your own limits. It’s a sobering thing to face your own humanity. But if you’ll remove the pride, and not go to the opposite extreme of being so hard on yourself, you might remember who you really are again, and keep focused on moving forward in that.

Or maybe this has been a brilliant year for you. Don’t feel bad for that! That’s fantastic. Life is seasonal, and yes we need to process when it’s hard, but man, we should celebrate and be grateful for every gift we have in this life. We do have so much to be thankful for.

If you’re still reading, thanks for sticking with it to the end. I look forward to continually sharing life with you and yours across all the many facets of this great life.

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