On the first of January 2015, I woke up early. The air felt soft and cold as I made my way down a narrow path to the beach, wet sand sticking to my army boots and a wild wind pulling at my hair. Below me, the North Sea rolled and heaved, grey and deep green and crested with foaming white breakers. The wet sand looked pink in the pale grey dawn, the light shimmering and delicate like the pearlescent shells I collected and held pressed into my palms. I stood, alone on the deserted Scottish beach in the first hours of the new year, and I breathed deep with the rolling rhythm of the ocean. I considered the rushing waves, dark bruise blue and foaming white, and I thought how that night-frozen water would feel like blades running over skin. And then I took off my boots and walked barefoot into the sea.
It hurt, just like I knew it would. Like falling as a child and grazing your knee on a winter’s day, the smack of the playground floor intensified by the stinging cold. It took my breath away and numbed my skin, and I closed my eyes and gasped and resisted the urge to turn and run and I dipped my rigid body below the waves. And then suddenly I remembered how to breathe again, and I wiggled my frozen toes and laughed because it felt so unbelievably good to be alone in the North Sea on the first morning of the new year; reminded that things that are worth doing generally hurt to begin with, and you’ve just got to stand your ground and remember how to breathe until the pain fades and all you’re left with is clarity.