The Difference A Year Makes

A year ago today I woke up hungover, exhausted, and hating myself in an Atlantic City motel room.

Alongside a number of friends, I ventured to Atlantic City to celebrate my 30th birthday and I proceeded to drink too much, black out, and almost get into a fight with a bouncer.

My behavior was shameful and embarrassing and ridiculous.

About an hour after I woke up that morning, I hit a low point sitting in an Atlantic City McDonald’s after vomiting on the street in front of the Reebok outlet. I spent the majority of my 30th birthday in solitude nursing a hangover and feeling horrible about myself, while my friends enjoyed the day without me.

Perhaps this wasn’t rock bottom, but it wasn’t far from it, either.

I am a year removed from that experience today and I can’t articulate how much I’ve changed since I woke up in that Atlantic City motel room barely able to tolerate my own existence.

But I’m not going to tell you I’m a completely different person today. Or that there’s an easy trick to making drastic changes in our lives.

In my experience, there are no tricks to change.

Change only occurs once we’ve made the same mistakes far too many times. Once the pain finally becomes too intense to ignore. Once we’ve grown so sick of our familiar cycles of destruction that change is the only option.

And even with all the changes I’ve made, my life isn’t incredible now.

I’m still a struggling writer (is there any other kind?). I’m still trying to figure out exactly where I fit in this world. I’m still prone to bouts of depression and the occasional panic attack. I still have moments where I act out and my emotions get the best of me.

But a year removed from my 30th birthday and that motel room in Atlantic City, I’m able to see so many things that I was unwilling to acknowledge a year ago. I am far healthier than I ever imagined I could be. I have started thinking with more depth and clarity about my actions and why I engage in certain behaviors. I have a greater understanding of who I am and what my needs are.

And, for the first time in my life, I’m starting to care about myself. I’m allowing myself to take up the tiniest bit of space. I’m not completely horrified by my existence.

I’m far from perfect, but I’m functional. I’m so much better than I was.

This is boring stuff, mostly. Stuff that well-adjusted people have been doing their entire lives without thinking twice. Stuff that seemed impossible and out of reach for so long. Stuff that therapists and psychiatrists implore their patients to think about in a voice that used to sound like the absolute voice of death to me.

But I’ve gotten used to that voice. And I’m okay with boring.

I’ve been out of control. I’ve been on the verge of destroying myself from the inside out because recklessness feels like the only option when we’re convinced that we don’t possess a single redeeming quality. I’ve stayed out until the sun comes up with people I don’t know in places I shouldn’t be. Those things are overrated.

This year, for my 31st birthday, we didn’t go to Atlantic City. We went to a bowling alley in Sunset Park that I’ve been going to since I was five years old. I didn’t have a sip of alcohol. I didn’t stay out until all hours of the morning. I didn’t wake up in some budget motel room with a crippling hangover.

I kept it simple. I remembered to laugh. I enjoyed the company of friends and I let myself feel loved. I woke up in my own bed at 7:30 am the next morning and met up with my brother to help him work on a video shoot; a side gig to keep my writing going.

A year later, my actions are different. But the real difference is on the inside.

I’m more introspective. More compassionate toward myself. More aware of what’s important. Less reactive. Less self-flagellating. Less impulsive. I’m able to catch myself before I start falling too far.

I know I’m going to fall again. I’ve still got a long way to go and more work to do. But there’s always a long way to go and more work to do.

Right now, I’m not going to worry about the work that’s ahead. Instead, I’m going to appreciate how far I’ve come and enjoy the view for a little while. It’s a view I never thought I’d see.