I wasn't in town this time last year. I was in Tucson almost continually from September through the end of December. I spent my three favorite holidays in pretty much the most miserable company I could have, because sometime around the end of last summer, I dropped my self-esteem and self-love in a dumpster.

People, do not drop your self-esteem or your self-love in a dumpster. It's a nightmare to get them back. Takes months.

I haven't blogged much about the relationship I was in last year, for three reasons. 1. I was rather shell-shocked by the whole experience, and wanted to bury it as fast and deep as possible. 2. Thinking about or talking about it brings up painful memories not just of who he was (is), but - much more importantly - of who I was at that time in my life. It's sickening to me, to think about the abusive behaviors I tolerated for nearly half a year. I don't want to admit to myself that I was a woman who allowed them. I don't want to look in that mirror. 3. I've always had the mindset that it's best to just move forward, and not look back, especially at an ugly past.

And generally, that's a good attitude, I think. But over the last week or so, that past has come tapping at my door in a curious way: by my realization of how lovely it is to be downtown over the holidays. I can't help but compare my physical surroundings right now to those I had last year. Everything within several square blocks of me these days is festive: lights, Christmas trees, wreaths, even an iceskating rink two blocks from my building. Last year at this time I was living in a house in the desert, way out in the boonies, with a very unhappy, very angry person. I was isolated and miserable. I was discouraged from seeing my friends. I was heavily guilted for ever paying attention to anyone else.

I was forbidden from working. That's one of the most ridiculous and embarrassing things I've ever had to admit, but it's the fact of it. That's what I mean when I say I don't want to look back at that Ellie. That's the one I'd rather not own relation to.

I was cut off, lonely, bewildered and brainwashed. The holidays trudged by heavily, one by one, and I was too scared to leave. Eventually, I did. And I never looked back.

But now I see the past, anyway, because it's reflected in the shiny baubles hanging everywhere: look at this, Ellie. Soak this up. This is what the holidays are supposed to feel like. As opposed to...The city is decked out in its brightest and finest, and the beauty of my here-and-now is so brilliant that the light of it spills over into the darker corners of my memory: you missed this last year - all of this - because you were... yes. You remember now, don't you? How awful it was...? But it's like one of those antiseptic, UV lights. Powerful enough to kill any vestiges of fear and shame, because I feel absolutely lit up and elated by what I see around me.

I can't remember feeling so happy, for such large stretches of time. I'm taking long walks with Chaucer every night, just to look at all the lights, and to find more. Every major building has a Christmas tree in the lobby, and some have them on the roofs, too. The US Bank building and the Westin are lit up with red and green and multicolored lights, and Pershing Square is absolutely ablaze with stringed lights. I've taken a million iPhone pics, but they don't do it justice. They're just terribly blurry. I need to figure out what settings to use on my Nikon for night photography, and in particular for shots of all the lights.

We walk and walk and walk, our breath visible in the night air. I listen to music, popping my headphones out when strangers want to meet Chaucer. I'm finding myself grinning at the most random things. This afternoon, a dog tied up outside a shop - waiting excitedly for its owner - gave me a case of the happies I haven't been able to shake all day. Everything is peace and potential, and even though sometimes I have absolutely no idea where I am in the grand scheme of my life, today was a day where I knew: I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be.