The photo above is us, New Year’s Eve, 2009. It was the first or second year my oldest stayed up until midnight, he toasted our flutes of champagne with his own of sparkling apple cider and felt so grown up while his little brother slept through it all. I had worked that night and had a bunch to drink before I rushed home to ring in the new year with my dears. I’m guessing that after the ball dropped we shuffled Jack quickly off to bed and we drank more, my husband was probably tired and ready to go to bed and me just getting started- “Just one more!” I would demand and he would acquiesce rather than risk setting me off and end up staying up even later to fight instead of drink.

I’m well on way to drunk when we took that picture. My eyes are always my dead giveaway, but sometimes I’m the only person that can see that I’ve disappeared, to me my eyes look blurry, crossing a very tiny bit, looking far far away even though things are quite close. And this is exactly the way I wanted to feel when I drank: far far away, signals all crissed and crossed, swallowed up. I’m not here anymore.

When I first got sober I wanted to leave that shitty woman as far from me as I could go, I wanted to shed her skin a thousand million times until I was unrecognizable to myself, until you would never ever guess she had ever ever been me. I wanted to be separate from that version of myself, so cut off that there wasn’t even a blurry memory of a single phantom limb or reminder of the amputation.

After a few years of sobriety I began to understand that I was still here, that I wasn’t leaving. I was beginning to be at peace with admitting that I was my self, my view had expanded wide enough to see past the drunk woman I hated to find the tender girl I was before the hurt of life got in the way. But I was still two separate versions of myself: the unspoiled breakable girl and the woman who didn’t drink anymore. Built with courage but scared, free but jailed, I could hold my own hand but not been ready to merge these two: I think of them both as parts of me that are who I really truly am but they remain friendly strangers- these parts of me that recognize each other but haven’t trusted that one will allow the other to exist.

A few months ago on a walk in the woods the idea arrived that I was ready to be one person again. I could be finished protecting myself from myself, after four years I am allowed to be trusted. The two hands that represent what I was and what I am have reached across the middle and kept holding on when they used to drop. Instead of passing on the street with a friendly wave they shook hands and held on, each as each, melded together as one person, one woman who is unspoiled and breakable and sober and trustworthy. I have been protecting what is sweet and tender in me from the damage I’ve been known to do. I know now that this isn’t necessary anymore.

My word this year is MERGE. Combining one into the other. Blending what has been and what will be. Becoming indistinguishable: the parts that are fragile and the ones that fight all singly recognizable as just me. Merging the hope and joy of my five year old self with the wisdom and care capably held by this woman at age forty-five. All the heartbreaking hard lessons I learned along the way? They are here too, part of my merge, here to make certain that this one woman never forgets to honor where I came from, where I’ve been, and all the places I’m yet to go.