A year ago, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to write something like this and share it with anyone other than my closest confidants, but I’ve grown a lot in a year. Some of you know I stopped celebrating my “Birthday” at the age of twenty-one, I preferred the term “anniversary” after that. But this year, I’m celebrating twenty-seven, partly because I have a dark and twisted fascination with the age and number (that’s just the way my brain works), but more so because I’m ready to take on age twenty-seven with a full throttle force. Birthdays are a time for celebration, but they’re also a time for reflection, kind of like New Years. You find yourself reflecting on the past year, and you either choose to deem it a good year, or not one of your best. As twenty-seven approaches, I find myself doing a lot of reflecting: on the person I once was, the person I am today, and the person I strive to be in the future.
For me, twenty-five was my darkest year. I was completely lost both personally and professionally. I realized the person I’d wanted to be, in no way resembled the person I’d become. I’d gone to college in attempt of pursuing a specific career, and after working in that field, I realized it wasn’t for me. But I’d spent years telling my family and friends that it was what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to disappoint them or myself (because walking away felt like giving up.) So I stuck it out, hoping things would change, without taking any real action toward change. And what made this time period more difficult, if I’m being completely honest, is I didn’t like myself, in fact I hated myself. For anyone who’s ever battled self-hatred, you know it’s not an easy thing. If you don’t like yourself, how can you expect anyone else to like you? And if you don’t love yourself, you don’t have the ability to love anyone else fully.
Nearing the end of twenty-five, I realized that the intensity of my self-hate was so severe that if I didn’t tackle it, I would quickly become irreparable. I decided it was time to make some changes. So I took a leap of faith, and stepped away from the life I was leading, offering myself a fresh start. But with a “fresh start” I also didn’t want to run away from my problems, because by not addressing your mistakes and accepting the consequences for your actions, it places limitations on your growing abilities as a person, at least if you really want to change. And I really wanted to change. But also when you’re taking off on the long and challenging journey of self-discovery while battling an intense case of self-hatred, you sometimes have to exit “the world around you” for a while because self-discovery isn’t easy. And sometimes when the outside world is influencing you, you try to be the person people want or expect you to be, instead of the person you really are meant to be.
So with twenty-six, I got back to basics. I took time getting to know the person I was, regardless if I liked her or not. I considered the things I loved most about life. For me, one of those things was movies. I realize not everyone has the luxury of taking off from their life to go spend a year in art school, but at the time I had nothing holding me back, so I seized the opportunity, and ran with it. As a child, I always wanted to be an actress. In fact, I wrote my first Oscar acceptance speech at the age of nine. But as I got older, and began hitting those awkward teenage years, I developed into an incredibly shy person. Perhaps, this was when my self-hatred began because I realized the one thing I wanted to be or accomplish in life, was something I couldn’t physically do. If you put me in front of a camera or crowd, my entire body shakes like an oncoming earthquake. But still at twenty-five, my love for movies was one of the things that defined me. I didn’t want to give up on that field completely, I just wasn’t meant to be an actress.
However, other than acting, there was one thing I’d always loved equally as much, which I seemed to have at least a hint of talent at – writing. I wrote my first book at the age of eight, (Babe’s Trip to the Moon, Babe, being my favorite baby doll) it’s possible you haven’t heard of the book, but my parent’s offered rave reviews and assured me it was “well written.” During middle and high school, while I was supposed to be learning algebra and history, I spent my time writing poetry and short stories. Then I would force my friends to read them. I’m still grateful to them for being such good sports about it. In college, I attempted my first novel, and I attempted it many times. But novel writing, as I’ve read over-and-over, takes “10% talent, 90% dedication.” At that age I didn’t have the dedication needed to write a novel. But the novels, I kept attempting, had a very recognizable similarity. The character names, eras, and setting, kept changing, but the story was always the same. Several years later, that story became my first novel. The story is about an incredibly self-destructive character, who’s blessed with an amazing group of friends. No matter how often the character dives headfirst into “rock bottom,” her friends stay by her side, and help pick her back up. The novel I wrote is fiction, but you also write what you know. I was lucky enough to know these types of friendships really existed. And I also knew this self-destructive character all too well. I spent a good majority of my teenage and adult life truly believing that there was no rejection, mistake, or pain that a bottle of Jack Daniels couldn’t fix. My point is (to get back to my experience with twenty-six), that writing has always been an important part of my life. So when I went to art school for Cinema Studies, I knew that it could lead me toward a career combining two of my greatest passions: film and writing. Now was Cinema Studies the most lucrative degree I could’ve chosen? Of course not, but I didn’t care about that stuff anymore. I was getting back to basics, and movies are something I love.
Another important side adventure on my journey to self-discovery, were some of the new people I met, travelling down a similar road of their own. These people will undoubtedly remain some of the most important figures in my life. When you’re wandering down a dark and lonely path, the light from another’s eyes tends to make you little braver. Through these people I was offered life support when I needed it most, and I also tried to return the favor. We studied the same field, but our bonds were never ones of competition, it was based on support. We all had various goals we were striving to meet, and we pushed and challenged each other to go the distance in order to reach our dreams. “You can say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,” this quote never felt truer than during this time period. The only difference between us and that quote is: we’re not just dreamers, we’re believers, and there is a difference.
And while I was blessed with all of these amazing new people entering my life, accepting me for the person I was attempting to become, without fully understanding the person I once was (though, I let a few in on the secret), I was equally blessed with the people from my “before life” who remained by my side. Never underestimate the power of your family and true friends. When I was at rock bottom, I forcefully tried to push and shove every person I could out of my life. I didn’t want them to witness the monster I’d become, and I certainly didn’t want their love, when I couldn’t even love myself. But man, do I have some stubborn family and friends. No matter how bluntly or ungracefully, I told them to “leave me the hell alone,” they wouldn’t budge. These people never lost faith in me, and it was their faith, that helped me regain some of my own. And for these people I am eternally grateful. I may not have a million supporters, but the collection I do have are the fucking best! Those relationships are my prized possessions.
Learning to love yourself and discovering who you are isn’t easy. To accomplish it, I had to come to terms with the things I didn’t like about myself; then accept the things I couldn’t change, and make an effort to improve the things I could. The hardest part is accepting yourself because you must address your past head on. Part of that is fully recognizing the mistakes you’ve made and the people you’ve hurt while making them. This shit isn’t easy. Me, I’ve always had the “go big or go home” mentality and unfortunately that reveals itself not only in my accomplishments, but also in my mistakes. The key for me to addressing my mistakes meant really diving into them, almost reliving them, in order to have the “lesson learned” experience. It wasn’t fun. It was like watching a movie or TV show, and covering your face in embarrassment for the character, not because it’s directly happening to you, but because you know that feeling. There were many moments during this experience when I wanted to turn back time and kick my own ass. But confronting my mistakes was a bit of an ass kicking in itself.
I also had to learn to pray. In any form of the word: traditional prayer, thoughts, meditation, journaling, and long form writing. I had to pray for forgiveness. You can’t make other people forgive you. They have to do that on their own. You can apologize and that helps. But in order for anyone else to forgive you, you must learn to forgive yourself. Forgiveness is a real challenge, but once you can offer yourself a bit of forgiveness, the weight of your mistakes seem to lift away. Your mistakes and actions can never be erased, but you can move forward with the lessons you’ve learned and leave the guilt and the agony behind you. You can’t change the person you were, but you can strive to be better today and in the future.
Once I forgave myself, I began to heal and started to figure out who I really was. Who was I; a writer, an artist? There’s a certain stigma attached to the word “artist.” What does it mean? You’re dark and tortured? You’re starving? You feel things at a heightened sensitivity? For me, that all felt like criticisms. Despite how attracted I’ve always been to the arts, I didn’t want to be associated with the word artist. Because saying, “I’m an artist,” made me feel different. And growing up I wanted to be just like everyone else. I’m a human being; I wanted acceptance. So for years, I tried burying and hiding this artistic side of myself, hoping to be accepted. And it worked for a while, except by hiding and denying this part of myself, I was smothering the person I really was (which inevitably led to the self-hatred.) But here’s the thing, we’re all different. No two people are exactly alike, not even identical twins. We’re all unique. We all have our own accomplishments and our own mistakes. We all face personal and professional rejection, and we deal with it in our own ways. And in a way, aren’t we all artists? Sure, not everyone attempts to make a living off of their artistic abilities, but we all see the world through different eyes. And those unique visions inspire us all in how we choose to lead our lives. After we’re dead, isn’t the life we led our own piece of art? We all have a unique story. After realizing this, I accepted myself for who I was: an artist.
Twenty-six wasn’t any easy year. It was my most challenging yet, but it was also my best (so far.) I took a year and studied a subject I loved. I wrote my first novel. I got my first writing jobs. I made amazing new friends. I tried to be a better daughter; sister; and friend to the people in my life who’d refused to give up on me. I accepted my mistakes and learned to forgive myself. I realized while my past might’ve shaped me, it in no way has to define me. This journey of self-discovery has been a long and winding one, and I’m still learning and trying to improve each day. I’ll continue making mistakes, I’m human, but I’ll learn from them and try not to repeat them.
So this year, I am celebrating my birthday. Last year, I wrote a book about a self-destructive character because that’s where I was at in my life. It was therapy for me. Now on my twenty-seventh birthday, I’m starting my second novel, and this one is about self-redemption because again, that’s where I’m at (or at least where I’m trying to be.)Life will continue presenting new obstacles, opportunities, and challenges, but I’ll take them on as a more confident version of myself. And hopefully, on February 12, 2015, I can once again reflect and continue to be proud of the person I’m becoming (and my friends and family will take a big sigh of relief, knowing I missed the membership deadline for the club I’m so fascinated with.) But for now, I’m going to live in the moment and keep sharing my writing with the world because you know what? I’m an artist, and I kind of love that quality about myself.
And for those of you reading this: thank you. As I said, last year I wouldn’t have been brave enough to write and share this with the world. But the support you all have offered has helped me realize, I no longer have to hide in the shadows of my past. Your support has given me the bravery to share this post.
Here’s to Twenty-Seven!