My Year of Liberation

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by Brianna Albers |

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When it comes to rituals, I am religious.

Weekly rituals are the shortest, and consist largely of short-term planning. Monthly and quarterly rituals, on the other hand, are more reflective. Instead of updating my calendar and to-do list, I journal about my values. I revisit the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year, and I acknowledge the ways in which I’m falling short. It is, in many ways, a reality check — one I’ve come to rely on.

Yearly rituals are my favorite because they’re so in-depth. Every December, around the winter solstice, I light a candle and take account of my life. I review my finances. I update social media. I spend hours on Pinterest, curating an aesthetic board that will guide the next 12 months.

It is a quiet time, but vitalizing, too. The shortest day of the year becomes a beacon, lighting my way as I pass from old to new.

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Dancer and writer Marlee Grace calls these rituals a kind of self-retreat. It’s not just important, it’s sacred. It keeps me in alignment, and forces me to reckon with the consequences of my actions. It’s stressful in the way of life-altering things, but it is easily one of my favorite traditions.

This year, I took a two-week self-retreat. I finished the first draft of my novel, “Monstering,” on Dec. 17. I took the next day off, because I needed the rest, but by the 19th, I was in full ritual mode. I had my candle. I had my ambience playlist. I had my electric blanket, and I had my cat. I was ready.

Part of my yearly ritual is choosing a theme for the coming year. Sometimes it’s a word, sometimes it’s a phrase, an image, or an abstract feeling. For example, while my theme for 2021 was “brave,” my theme for 2019 was “philosopher king.” My theme for 2020, “vitality,” became irrelevant when COVID-19 hit. But the irrelevance became a challenge. How could I embody aliveness with the majority of the world on lockdown?

This year, my theme looks a little different. I still have a word for 2022. But the true heart of this year is found in the lyrics of a song.

In a 2020 interview, Fiona Apple told Vulture that her latest album, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” was about “breaking out of whatever prison you’ve allowed yourself to live in.” In other words, to fetch the bolt cutters is to choose freedom.

A few weeks ago, I told my best friends that our theme for 2022 should be “fetch the bolt cutters.” I was joking, but the more I thought about it, the more it resonated with me. I have lived in so many prisons over the years. SMA has me boxed in. I don’t feel enough, and that wound, that lack of worth, has me focusing on things that don’t matter.

My prison is insecurity. My prison is fear of failure, of humiliation, of wanting a life I cannot have.

My theme for 2022, “liberation,” builds on the last two years. To pursue vitality, I have to brave the impossible. I have to believe with everything in me that I deserve a better life, and that I can take tangible steps toward freedom. I have to liberate myself, bolt cutters and all.

Apple doesn’t blame the world for imprisoning her. Instead, she acknowledges the multifacetedness of oppression. Sometimes we’re the victims, and sometimes we’re the builders. Sometimes we recognize the prison for what it is, and sometimes all we know is that something isn’t right. Like the protagonist of “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue,” all we can say is, “This cannot be all there is.”

I’m still figuring out how to embody liberation in my everyday life, but I’m excited to find out. Here’s to breaking out of prison, one situation at a time.

“Sometimes I really believe it, that I am going to/ save my life/ a little.” — Mary Oliver, “The Return”


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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