Today is my 30th birthday. My views on birthdays are as follows: I enjoy any excuse to give me presents. I dislike events during which I am the center of attention. I enjoy events heavily centered around desserts. I dislike the idea of measuring the value and quality of my life and accomplishments on a particular day (New Year’s, birthdays) because society expects me to. It’s kind of a wash. But this year is different.
Thirty is a milestone, they say. Of what? I think it’s funny that because I’m hitting this random number, I’m supposed to reflect on the progress of my life. I just Googled “why are some birthdays milestones” and read this bullshit article about how people credit their success to the reflections they make about their lives on their birthdays. One woman talked about dyeing her hair when she hit a “milestone” birthday because it signified having “fun again” after she spent the last few years taking on responsibilities like marriage and parenthood. Let me be honest. This woman pisses me off.
Who the fuck made up these laughable, ridiculous rules? Why do we empathize with the woman who dyes her hair seemingly as some form of rebellion against her age? And why is age something we actively try to rebel against? Why is this relatable and why are we nodding in agreement, readily accepting the idea that when we acknowledge our age, that’s when it’s time to figure out what we want to change or be or do with our lives? Why are there things we should know or do or have by certain age? Why is a birthday the catalyst for reflection on the value, progress, and abundance of our lives? Why the fuck aren’t we reflecting on these things and making decisions to live our best life and aiming to do whatever it is that makes us happy every single day of our lives?
Thirty is the year people start saying “isn’t so bad.” This phrase alone implies that we already believe that turning thirty is a negative thing. Hold on, how did we get there? Why does forty mark the end of our youth? Why is being single in my thirties a negative thing? Who says that fifty is the new forty and on and on and on? Who is the asshole who made up these rules, and why do we all seem to believe them? These rules are a fucking illusion.
There’s a phrase that I kind of hate, but I realize now that it’s true: You’re only as old as you feel! Age is just a number! I guess this idea is a resolution to the above problem… This state of mind is a valuable one, but saying it means nothing if you have no idea how to actually believe it. Yeah, sure, age really is just a number we use to measure how long we’ve been roaming around on this planet. But society tells us – via articles in magazines and quizzes about guessing your age and wrinkle creams and birthday cards – that this number is a contributing factor in defining who we are and how we’re doing. How can we believe that age is just a number and how do we foster this state of mind within ourselves when we’re told to really look long and hard in the mirror just once every 365 days? It’s kind of like Earth day or Veteran’s Day – let’s pay attention to Entity X today to acknowledge its importance…but for the other 364 days, let’s look the other way. So what if the Earth is dying? So what if Veterans are homeless and committing suicide? One day is about as long as we can really look at it before it becomes uncomfortable to think about, I guess.
So what if, on day 365, after a year of ignoring yourself, you hit none of the items on society’s checklist of who/what you should be/have by now? Then what? Well first, make some new goals, because clearly you’re a failure. And second, since birthdays are for celebrating, please enjoy this free cocktail.
(Careful, it’s a trap.)
Why have we made it so easy to escape? And why is escaping something we are encouraged to do? Escaping from our lives for a while is something to look forward to…how is that OK? I recently saw a TV commercial of a broken woman – an elementary school teacher, unsurprisingly – talking about how important it is to book her vacation while a mutiny takes place in her classroom. We all nod, because being an elementary school teacher amid a room full of shitty nine year olds is definitely a reason to need a vacation. Great advertising, we think. That woman deserves a vacation. Because: our regular lives are miserable. Getting away from the day to day is the only reprieve. FROM OUR LIVES.
Doesn’t that seem a little backwards? I could be mistaken, but it’s pretty plain to see that we’re doing this whole ‘life’ thing wrong.
***SIDE NOTE: Doesn’t it seem a little weird to have a magical elixir readily available to help us “take the edge off” OF LIFE? We think it’s normal to use something that changes our basic brain chemistry, to consume something that affects our memory, causes cancer, and kills people every single day (among a host of other super fun side effects/consequences).***
I take a lot of joy and pride in knowing that this is the first birthday of my adult life that will not be spent on a barstool trying to forget, trying to ignore. This birthday will be remembered and celebrated with cake. The point is this: this birthday is just another day. This “milestone” birthday isn’t kicking my ass like people say it should because for the last 245 days I’ve been paying attention to myself, taking care of myself, trying to love myself, celebrating myself, and making decisions about my life. Every day. For the last 245 days. Because it’s my life, down to the last second. The idea of waiting until today to evaluate how good or bad my life is going is ludicrous. For me, the idea to put myself first was one of the greatest gifts I received from sobriety.
We’ve made it easy to ignore ourselves; we are notoriously proficient at finding reasons not to do things. We say that life is busy and we don’t have time, and yet when we see that TV commercial about the importance of booking a vacation, it doesn’t occur to us that it doesn’t have to be this way. We’ve created this unhappiness and we sit in it until…until what? What has to happen for that to change? This roadtrip is only so long. When we stop paying attention to who we are, we become who we are told to be by no one in particular. If whoever we happen to become is not true to who we are, we do what we can to ignore that fact for as long as possible, in part because we’re given plenty of distractions and also because we’re not talking about the other options. If we believe that we should have certain things and be a certain someone by the time we’ve completed X amount of days, we’ve closed ourselves off to all of the other possibilities. We’ve marked our successes and failures in living by the guidelines someone else created for us and in the end, quantifying our lives this way leaves us with nothing because what matters most is the thing we’ve been taught to put on the back burner.
So please: take care of yourself. Do this today. Do this however you want to do it. Do this by loving, making, and celebrating yourself every single day, in choosing and deciding for you each day. To love ourselves is to free ourselves; to care for ourselves is to rebel against everything we are told we must be by those who don’t matter.