I just celebrated my forty-fifth birthday. The day was spent with my fiancé, our dogs, and my sister and her best friend, who were visiting from out of town. It was a quiet day of celebration. The weather was stunning: sunny, warm, and just a slight breeze.
I ate French toast and bacon for breakfast, tacos and street corn for lunch, and a decadent dinner of prime rib, blue cheese smashed potatoes, and the Peninsula Grill’s renowned coconut cake for dessert.
I was touched by the number of people on Facebook that wished me a happy birthday. While some believe it is impersonal, I appreciate how Facebook reminds me of other’s birthdays; without it, I wouldn’t remember anyone’s birthday. Ever. And, as I was going through each post, thanking each friend for their well-wishes, I thought to myself that the mailbox at my curb would never be filled with this many birthday cards. Ever. There’s a great sense of connectedness that comes from Facebook, and is very apparent to me at times like this.
This birthday, forty-five, has also given me cause to reflect deeply on a statement I made in my early twenties. One of pure naïveté and lack of self-worth. The statement was congruent with the way I was behaving and treating myself. I was afraid of so much in life; who I was, what I was doing, what I didn’t know, what I did, the uncertainty of my future, the belief that I wasn’t worthy of meaningful friendships, loving relationships, and self-esteem.
I was unaware at the time just how fear-filled I lived. I thought I was having fun. I wasn’t aware of how manipulative I was. I thought I was trying to fit in. I wasn’t aware of how immature I was behaving. I thought I knew how to navigate this thing called life. I wasn’t fully aware of how poorly I thought of myself, but I did know that I didn’t feel worthy of what I could aspire to or what I could attain. Instead, I thought I was only worthy of what I was being given.
In my early twenties, I lived in San Francisco. I had a great job, a fun group of friends, a good relationship with my family, and nice places to live. I also had a deep rooted need to fit in, to be popular and part of the “in crowd,” and to be an “A Gay.” That meant I did a lot of experimenting, more so than in high school. I started a relationship with crystal meth.
It was a fun club drug at first. It made me chatty, allowed me to be on the dance floor for hours, and made me a part of the “in crowd.” I felt larger than life, desirable, fun, and sophisticated. I felt completely invincible. That fun and social aspect soon turned into the dark and seedy side of drug addiction. I would pause and resume my use, depending on who I was dating or what was happening in my life. Many years later, a time would come when I could find no other way to feel connected, or cope with grief, anger, fear, betrayal, and any other emotion. My use became a daily habit and had complete control over my every action. I lived a dual life: one as a well-paid and respected career-driven executive; and another as a drug addict, who saw no problem with being awake for several days in a row and who did unmentionable things with people that one wouldn’t otherwise give the time of day.
I marvel at how I was so afraid of life, but I was not afraid of putting myself in situations that were gravely dangerous. Drug deals with incredibly sketchy individuals, “parties” in neighborhoods and apartments I wouldn’t even want to walk by, and no fear of the consequence of arrest, overdose, robbery, or murder.
And, so, in my early twenties, when the use of this drug was still new and fun, I said what I now believe shaped how I felt about my life and myself.
I was partying with a guy who I used to hook up with. He was genuinely a nice person and I enjoyed spending time with him. I believe that we would have been friends outside the party scene if it weren’t for the haze cast by drugs. We’d been up for a few days and were in a chatting phase. We were talking about life goals and dreams. We were fantasizing over winning the lottery, who we wanted to have sex with, who would play us in a movie, and other ridiculous notions. The sun had risen and set, and risen again, and at one point he asked, “How old do you think you will be when you die?”
I thought for a moment, predicting my future accomplishments in my mind, and then replied rather resolutely.
“Forty-five,” I said. “I think by then I will have achieved everything I want to.”
So, on this, my forty-fifth birthday, I can’t help but remember that moment. I look back and I barely know the person who said that, even though it was me. Those words, the conviction, the belief that I would be “done” — this year — it all seems like something that would never come out of my mouth.
I have been blessed beyond belief with the support of family, old friends and new, and the love of a partner that grows each day. I have faced my demons and accepted them as my past, but I do not allow them to define my future. I am on the path of a spiritual journey, and it’s amazing.
For this birthday, my forty-fifth, there was cake, fun, laughs, and memories. There was also a quiet, introspective, and deeply personal celebration. Forty-five years lived. I made it. And I will continue to make it.
I do not regret my past, nor do I wish to shut the door on it. That is one promise that has been granted, and I am forever grateful.