Is it wrong to say that the most memorable birthday I’ve ever had I was wasted? I mean, like drunk enough that I don’t remember most of the conversation that happened. It was my 21st, so maybe that makes sense to you, but I was already two years into a drinking story that would take everything and leave me on my knees begging for someone, anyone to save me. I’d been drinking all day with my two close friends. That night we’d have a big birthday dinner at a trendy restaurant downtown. It would be the first birthday I would celebrate with my dad in over 9 years. Afterwards, someone told me my dad had said some really heartfelt things. People had cried. I still don’t know what he said. But, I do remember how happy I was. There are photos of me laughing. I’m skinnier than, have straight brown hair. But my eyes, my eyes are the same: crinkled in the corners already, my face flushed, my lips turned upwards in celebration.
That was truly the first birthday I enjoyed. I’ve spent birthday’s in tears – days that only serve to remind me that my relationships with my parents which was tenuous at best. I planned a big 16th birthday bash. I remember the pink and sparkles. I remember family taking the train in to Manhattan to eat overpriced Chinese food. I don’t remember having fun.
Last year I got engaged on my birthday. Well, to be honest, I bought myself a diamond ring and told my ex at the time who had accompanied me to Durham for a trip, to break up with who she was seeing a marry me. I relapsed on my birthday.
This year I right out told my partner “I hate birthdays.” We’re going to go to a trendy place for dinner in Boston. I have a gift I’ve been saving from my Dad to open. I took the day off and I’ll probably read, go to a bookstore, spend too much money. It’ll be quiet. I’ll be sober. I’ll be 24. In honor of that & because my friend Laura McKowen is a genius here is a list of twenty-four things I’ve learned in the last years:
1. You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. Real love moves freely in both directions. – Cheryl Strayed
2. There is no rule book, there are no rules. Trial & error lends to self-discovery and heartbreak. There’s no scooting around the hard bits.
3. Figuring out I was an alcoholic was one of the most painful conclusions I’ve ever come to / or will ever come to. Pretending I wasn’t, was harder.
4. If you know you are something like a writer, an artist, a mother, a friend: be that thing. Don’t wait for anyone to crown you. They won’t. Buy yourself your own damn crown. Then show up. Continuously and no matter what.
5. I’m still convinced my sister was a tiny love bundle sent from heaven to help me practice not being a sick selfish asshole. However, also to remind me that my sick selfish asshole side is loved no matter what by this small human.
6. Sex is NEVER EVER an obligation, a requirement, painful, or something you should feel coerced into. If any of those things happen or have happened find yourself a therapist and start talking. These things will damage you. Talking and therapy will help.
7. A therapist is worth the investment. Invest. Find someone you trust and sit with them weekly. Try to trust them. Try to understand that the very best relationships take time. They’ll ebb and they’ll flow. They’ll glow.
8. Be present. Work hard to cultivate a presence you like. Don’t wait for your future self to get on board. Plant your feet firmly here and now.
9. If you ever feel lost or confused or lonely or all three or other hard feelings look up. Anne Lamott says that’s all you need to do to see God.
10. Look for the teachers. I spent an adolescence trying to find the adult. I never found them then, but I’ve found them now. I count: Cheryl Strayed, Chloe Caldwell, Mary Karr, Anne Lamott, and Glennon Doyle Melton as my very closest teachers. When I think “how” or “why” I pick their books up and go “oh.”
11. Believe in something greater than yourself. It can be as small as twig or as great as Allah, God, a higher power. There is magic in the mundane too.
12. Listen. This is something that takes time to master. Listen. To me. To you. To the noise the leaves make against your window, to the homeless woman on the train, to the customer who is at the end of their rope, to your nearest and dearest. There is no hierarchy. We’re all doing our best.
13. Pain is not a competition. Don’t use it to level up. You will lose. I believe it was Amy Hempel who said just because you scrape your knee too doesn’t make mine hurt any less.
14. Love is love is love is love is love. Times a million. I know this to be true even though my track record with love is…really sucky.
15. Buy the shoes/dress/wooie tarot deck. Life is short. Life can be ugly. If these things help, don’t deny them.
16. People will leave your life. Don’t cling to them. Let them go. That’s a hard painful thing especially if you love them. That love probably most likely flows both ways. Try to hold them in their pain too. Remember: we’re all human.
17. Stephan Cope says “there are, of course, a thousand ways of being stuck.” Find what releases you. Do those things. Stuck does not mean stop. Actually, it means the very opposite.
18. Tattoos are permanent. That’s about it.
19. Don’t believe your eighth-grade art teacher when he says you’re a bad artist. Make art anyway. You’re not. He’s a bad teacher.
20. A hot shower, a cup of coffee, a few words, and sleep have the power to fix just about anything.
21. Don’t lament too much about not being the best. If you want to be the best in something you have to be the worst first. Anybody who doesn’t start on the first rung, will, eventually, burn the heck out. It takes momentum to get to the top and once there you’ll search for what’s next.
22. Pick things that soothe you and do those things daily. Make to do lists. Make notes to yourself. Make love to yourself. Make art and noise and mess. Choose you every damn time.
23. We don’t get to know how the story ends, no amount of tantrum throwing will get you an answer. Try to understand that in time and patience are virtues to embrace.
24. A birthday is not a death sentence: it’s a cause for nostalgia, wish making, & a clean slate all wrapped up in one beautifully sweetly tied gift. It is solely yours.
Happy birthday to myself. I think I’m liking who I am today.