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Tammy Swift, Published January 04 2014

Swift: After a painful year, 2014, you have a lot to make up

At long last, the Year of Living Painfully is over.

In fact, I kind of feel sorry for 2014. I have heaped so many expectations on it that it may not be able to live up to the hype. It’s kind of like the nice guy who follows on the heels of the bad boyfriend: “You not only need to prove yourself, 2014, you have to make up for that jerk, 2013!”

But as nice as it is to have this year behind me, I gotta admit it: In a year dominated by divorce, financial worry, some health problems and career change, I learned a lot. Arguably more than I’d learned in the three relatively calm years that preceded it. Here, I count off a few of the things that 2013 taught me. (And maybe, as so many have reported struggling this year, some of you can relate.)

• What serenity really means. I always thought a serene life was one that worked perfectly. My relationship was happy, my job was a perfect match, and my financial future was secure. This year, I realized that wasn’t it at all. Life would never be remotely close to perfect. If that’s how I defined serenity, I would never find it.

Serenity was an attitude shift, a state of mind that I had to choose and nurture. I’d always bristled at the saying: “It isn’t what happens to you, it’s how you react to it.” But I hate to admit this: It’s true, dammit. If I really try to be healthy during the tough times – reaching out to friends, recognizing what I can’t control, getting out of “Tammyland” and helping others – I can have some modicum of serenity. I can be an island of calm amid a sea of crazy.

• I couldn’t hide from my own life. The Great and Powerful Oprah once said that life keeps sending us messages until we choose to hear them. If we ignore these messages, they get louder, closer and more frequent. I think the universe was trying to tell me that I was stuck.

I needed to participate in my own life. It was no longer OK to hang on to a living arrangement because I didn’t want to deal with money on my own or because I was afraid of change. That may have been a solution at one time, but it didn’t work anymore. My body was sending me all kinds of signals to let me know I needed to move.

I was overeating. I was depressed. I was barely living and completely numb. It was time. And if you couldn’t move Tammy to The Divorce, you had to bring The Divorce to Tammy. I hated that, but it was exactly what I needed to hear.

• I am tough. For some reason, I’d always underestimated my strength. I thought of myself as fragile – as if I couldn’t handle things that most other people handled easily. Maybe it is because I was a last-born girl. My older sisters always looked out for me and were responsible for my milk money.

I grew up to think I couldn’t take care of myself even though – for many years before my marriage – I totally lived, worked and thrived (well, except for balancing the checkbook) on my own.

Then, a couple of months ago, I bumped into an older woman who was eating breakfast with a mutual friend. She was the kind of smart, strong woman that I’ve always admired. We were talking about my columns when she took my hand in hers, looked me in the eye and said, “You’re tough.”

I had never thought of myself as that. But here I was, trudging forward, doing the best I could. I had broken places, but I wasn’t shattered. I was tough. And that was good.

• People want to help. Yes, sometimes when I sit home and watch my 12,000th hour of TCM, I feel alone. There’s no avoiding that. But I also have to acknowledge that “lonely” is a choice.

My friends don’t need to read my mind and call me because they think I might be lonely; I can reach out to them. I can acknowledge that my family is incredibly supportive and will always, always be there. (Not everyone has that luxury.)

If I really think about it, I have a huge network of support – people who are just waiting to catch me if I stumble. I just need to use it. And if I choose to sometimes stay home and feel lonely, that’s OK, too. It is all part of the process.

• It’s all a “hill of beans.” Every day, I drive by a homeless shelter on my way to work. I see all sorts of people. Mothers pushing second-hand strollers or holding babies. People wearing old coats that don’t zip properly. People who have to walk or wait for buses in subzero temperatures.

And then that line from “Casablanca” comes to mind. To paraphrase: “The problems of one little person doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” I could be homeless. I could live in a war zone. I could be battling Stage 4 cancer. But instead, someone has spared me. So far, I am healthy. I am warm. I am even, according to one wise woman, “tough.” My problems are a hill of beans, and I need to be grateful for that.

So goodbye, bad boyfriend, you rascal.

Welcome 2014. Here’s hoping you are kinder than you-know-who.

Tammy Swift writes a lifestyle column every Sunday in Variety. Readers can reach her at tswiftsletten@gmail.com