On Birthdays, Being 26, and Starting Over.

October 30th marked my 26th year on this planet. For the first time in my entire life I can say with certainty that it feels good to be alive.

I love birthdays. I love my own birthday, love other people’s birthdays; there’s something very exciting about celebrating life. I used to love my birthday because it meant I got to get fucked up on drugs and alcohol, and maybe cap off the evening with some anonymous sex. This year was the first sober birthday I’ve had since I turned 17. That’s almost a decade of being completely devoted and dependent on addictive substances to feel at home in my body. Alcohol made me feel all the things I was told I never could be: beautiful, charming, sexy, alluring. People paid attention to me when I had a glass of wine in my hand. Sometimes that attention was not good but nonetheless, I felt seen.

This birthday, I woke up early and had a friend over. They brought me a beautiful portrait they had done for me and we talked over coffee in my kitchen. Later, I went shopping for paint and canvas. I bought myself new bras and a few household things I needed. I got home and painted whatever came out of me as I listened to Sade, Anita Baker, Toni Braxton. In the evening, a few sober friends and I went out for dinner at a local vegan spot. We ate, talked, laughed, sat quietly, and even danced a little. In that space I felt I could be myself, I didn’t have to “turn on” another side of me brought out by drugs and alcohol. I didn’t have to be that woman who wanted to take up space but couldn’t do so in her own skin. I learned that in the presence of genuine care and love I was radiant. I felt alive and wanting. My friends brought me gifts and cards that they knew I would appreciate because they know me. They weren’t trying to buy my affection, they just knew what I needed to hear.

Getting through my birthday without a drink feels momentous. I woke up this morning alone in my bed without a hangover or rushing to the toilet to empty my stomach’s contents. I ate cake on my couch in my bra last night and went to bed with no regrets, no heaviness in my heart, not chasing the vision of who I thought I would be at this time in my life. Some people might think that sounds boring or sad, but when you’ve had a life like I’ve had, going to bed at peace is the best thing imaginable. I’ve had many a wild birthday. Birthday’s were just an excuse for me to get wild. Any happy or sad occasion would find me at a bar or in line at Wine and Spirits. In many ways, I feel like my body has outlived the way I’ve treated it for most of my life.

I made it to 26 this year. At 15, I would have told you I wouldn’t make it to see 20. I didn’t want to see 16 at 15. I have tried many times to get out of life. Whether the long game or the short. Having to wake up to another day of uncertainty, of terror and abuse, weighed so heavy on me from a very young age. I wanted to kill myself last year, the year before that, and the year before that but somehow I’ve made it this far. I joke, “despite my best efforts, I’m still alive” often. I can laugh at it now even though I had spent many nights crying over that exact sentence years ago.

As a kid, I couldn’t wait to be thirty. I would dream about waking up and putting on a suit to go to work. I’d stop at my kitchen island and eat toast as I looked over my bills. I was obsessed with the thought of paying a mortgage (now a truly decadent dream because who can afford to buy a goddamn house anymore). A dream that I think was purposely mundane because my childhood was so fraught and scary. I’m still four years out, and trying not to fast forward through the later years of my twenties, but I honestly can’t wait to reach that day where I wake up at home with myself. Making the art I love, surrounded by the people that I love and that love me.