It’s been a long hard year for a lot of us and there are many that will be glad to see 2011 done and over with. I buried my brother in June and was too close to losing my mom just eight weeks later. It seems people tell you how strong you are when you feel anything but. People tell you to have faith when the concept of God or a higher power has never felt further away.

Trials and troubles are supposed to make us stronger or teach us lessons, at least that’s what we tell ourselves to justify the hard times. So, lessons….

I’ve learned that within a matter of months you can experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. You can have moments when you literally cannot stop smiling and moments when you’re completely overwhelmed with grief and they can share a month on the calendar.

I’ve learned that the people you counted on as a support system won’t be there when you need them the most. It won’t necessarily be deliberate, maybe they don’t know how to show support. After all, it’s easy to be there through the good times. I’ve learned that people that have no reason, that owe you nothing, will be the ones that are there the most when you feel lost and alone and scared and sad and completely overwhelmed. I’ve learned that sometimes the biggest comfort can come from simply sitting across a table from a fairly new(ish) friend in a bar with a couple of drinks not saying a thing because “you shouldn’t be sitting home alone being sad.” Sometimes people know you better than you think they do.

I’ve learned that old friendships never truly cease, they just sort of pause there in time until you’re both ready and able to pick it back up. You can both change and grow during that hiatus and still being laughing at the oldest inside jokes ten minutes after you meet up again.

Sometimes we all need a kind word from a friend or a pep talk to sort of steer us back to the road we’re suppose to be traveling. Sometimes we need someone else to make us feel validated in our feelings. Sometimes we simply need perspective from someone not so entrenched in our problems as we seem to be. Sometimes we need those tokens of wisdom. Sometimes we need to be reminded that everyone falls from time to time and people make it through.

I’ve learned the hard way that you can be unraveling at the seams and not know it. I’ve learned that you can need help – a lot of help – and not see it even though everyone else can.

I’ve learned that it’s ok to let it all out. Sometimes you need to let go of the little bit of control you’re fighting to hang on to you and let it all go. Whether that be losing it in full-on sobs outside a hospital a thousand miles from home or drinking too much one night or five nights because FEELING it all at once is just too much.

I’ve learned that a quick kind word from someone you barely know but knows your story can have the biggest impact on your mood, your day, your week, your mindset.

I’ve learned that sometimes people manufacture their own problems. Try as you might, you can’t help those people. That doesn’t mean you’ve failed.

We’re only as broken as we want to be.

I’ve learned that olds friends can still surprise you. A quick conversation at a gas station can leave you feeling like you somehow managed to erase five years and remind you of how comfortable it used to be. I’ve learned that a decision made by others can you leave you scratching your head wondering how they can still call themselves your friend. It’s ok to be hurt by their actions and it’s ok to move on from people that have hurt you. Not everyone is meant to be in our lives forever.

I’ve learned that family doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone and that sometimes water is thicker than blood, despite what the old saying says.

I’ve learned that everyone has demons. Some choose to move beyond their past and some choose to let it rule their present. There’s little you can say or do to help them change that. I’ve learned that my rules don’t necessarily apply to their situation, and their rules don’t apply to mine.

I’ve learned that there are no new problems, only problems that are new to you. Someone has been where you’re at, felt what you’re feeling, and they’ve come out of the other side. You can’t always change conditions but you can meet them without backing down.

I’ve learned that those old songs will always be my sought-after escape. Music is the only thing that has ever made complete sense to me. The closest I’ve come to a moving religious experience has taken place in the middle of a crowd of 20,000+ people. I’ve learned that I wouldn’t change that for the world.

I’ve learned that you can laugh and cry over the same memories, sometimes at the same time, and neither of those reactions is wrong.

I’ve learned that no one gives hugs like my big brother did and I will always always always miss those hugs.

I’ve learned enough about grief, fear and overwhelming sadness in these last months to last a lifetime. If only that mattered.

I’ve learned that someone telling you it will all be ok can be the biggest comfort or piss you off. How you react to that is on you.

I’ve learned that, even when you’re quickly closing in on thirty, you don’t necessarily feel like an adult – just a 19 year kid with a little more experience, a job and access to alcohol. I’ve learned that we all have to learn for ourselves, that we can’t learn from mistakes of others unless we’re ready to do so.

I’ve learned there are some roads you have to walk alone.

I’ve learned that, most of the time, standing back up is the biggest part of the battle. It’s the easiest part. It’s the hardest part.

At the end of it all though? I know all of this is nothing in the grand scheme of life and the lessons we’re supposed to learn. The lessons we need to learn. Despite the tears and confusion and heartbreak of this year, I’m looking forward to what is to come. Those moments that left a smile on my face, – the ones that make me smile now when I think about them – they’re the ones I hold on to. They’re the ones I look forward to making more of. I look forward to learning what lies ahead and laughing as much as possible. I’ve learned life is too short to do anything else.

‘I might lose my way but hear me when I say I will stand back up….’

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