May 24, 2011 was my first sober birthday in as long as I can remember and it was a more momentous occasion than I can express. Apparently. I say that because I have stopped and started this post more times than I can count. I couldn't figure out how to pull together into coherent sentences what my birthday party meant to me, what my friends meant to me and how that weekend was the genesis of a shift in my life that I didn't anticipate.
Five weeks later and I think I've managed to sort through it. I think. Let's see, shall we?
First thing's first: my party.
I wanted something intimate, so I had a dinner party at home with friends. It was a bit nerve-wracking, as I had never cooked for a group before and I wanted everything to be perfect. I also cringed at the thought that not everyone might click with one another.
Obviously, I had no reason to worry. To say it was a resounding success is an understatement. It wasn't just that the food was good or that everyone got along; it was even better than that. The energy in the room was so right, so warm. I've never felt anything like that before.
This is me opening presents.
Glowing much? This was the first time in my life I was excited opening presents. I didn't feel undeserving or self-conscious. I felt loved and I knew I was surrounded by women who wanted me to be happy.
That's Paola and Nina on the left. I am beyond blessed to have them both in my life, for many years now. And the one on the right, that's Kyle, also an old friend. She drove a couple of hours in traffic, 39 weeks pregnant, to be there for me. She rocks.
The two on the right in this picture, that's Amy and Krysta. I met them through, of all things, food blogging - Amy in 2009 and Krysta in 2007. They are now two of my best friends in the world. They live not so far from each other and had already met face-to-face a couple of times, but this was the first time I had met either of them in person. The morning of my party, they met up to carpool and then drove 6 hours to be with me for this occasion. I can't tell you how overwhelmed I am, still, that anyone would do something like that for me.
The whole night felt like one long laugh, one big hug. There was no drunkenness. There was no awkwardness. There was no judgment or conflict. I never knew this is how women could be together, but this is how women should be together.
The next morning, Amy and Krysta came for breakfast and a chat before departing for home and then I was left on my own to reflect. All I could think about the rest of the day was how grateful I was, how happy I was. Insanely happy. Like "being on vacation in Big Sur" happy, but with friends instead of with Steve. I didn't know birthdays could be like that. I didn't know friends could be like that.
I am thankful beyond measure.
However. In the midst of that most joyful weekend, the universe provided me a contrast that turned out to be a much needed lesson. On one hand, I had these amazing women show up to celebrate my special day, my sober life, my new-found happiness. On the other hand, I suffered a startling disappointment from an unexpected source, and one that set off a string of realizations that took me quite by surprise.
See, I invited someone else to my party, one of my oldest and, at one time, closest friends. She didn't show up. She didn't call or write, she simply didn't show up, and, when confronted about it, she told me lies. How do I know? As my dad always used to say, don't bullshit a bullshitter. There are a lot of little details that made me know, but they don't matter. The point is, it weighed heavily on me for weeks, even after finally seeing her and finding some closure about our now changed and diminished friendship. It wasn't that I was upset about her not coming. I was truly happy she didn't. The party would not have been the same with her there.
No, what was weighing heavily on me was the realization that the separation between us occurred because the life she is living right now is one I left behind and hadn't even realized it. It caught me utterly off guard, it did, when it dawned on me that it was gone. I don't mean a life with alcohol in it. Honestly, I won't go into the specifics of the life I am referring to in this space.
Suffice it to say that her current life represents to me the at times exhilarating life I once had that I will never have again and coming to terms with that brought up a lot of emotions. Those were times I still hold dear, more than I can explain. In watching her go through not-quite-the-same-but-similar times and how absorbed in it she is, it made me question what that life meant to me, if I had any regrets, whether or not I judge who I was and the things I did.
To be totally truthful, it also brought up a bit of envy and longing and sadness, for my youth (ack!) and for an old way of life that I can never have back. If you'll pardon the phrase, it brought about a mid-life crisis.
Now, I know I am not the first person to go through this, this mourning, nor will I be the last. As a matter of fact, Steve *just* went through this as well - very harshly - so, lucky for us, we got to work some of it out together.
Still. Common growing pain or not, it was a rough stretch getting through it. Figuring out how to leave my past behind without fully shutting the door on it. Figuring out how to incorporate the person I was with who I am now and the very different choices I have made for my future.
In the end, though, I kept coming back to one undeniable conclusion. If I am sure of anything, I am sure of this: I LOVE. MY. LIFE. NOW. I said those exact words out loud to Steve a few days ago and nearly burst into tears. I love who I am, I love my marriage, I love the friends with whom I choose to surround myself, I love the decisions I, and Steve, have made to provide ourselves with the future we truly desire.
I cherished my birthday party so, so much because it provided me with living proof of the stability and love I live in, but, in retrospect, it also served to intensely reinforce what my life is about now and why I have grown away from what it used to be.
It was a turning point, a shift in my priorities, my focus... it nudged me forward into true adulthood. In all these words and paragraphs, I still can't explain it as well as I wish I could. I really wish I could. It's just... I feel like a grown woman now. No longer crude and loud, needy or insecure, uncertain about who I am and what I want. I feel totally, deeply at peace. Happy birthday, indeed.
Every day, I bask in gratitude for this life I live now. I've said it many times before and will say it yet again: the life I thought I was waiting for is the one right in front of me. This "boring" life is anything but boring. It's fuller and more amazing than I could have imagined... I also know now, more than ever, that it's the only life I want.
I am happy.