I am a classic enneagram two, the helper. Focusing on the comfort and needs of others has been my default for as long as I can remember. my birthday has been something that I have used to give myself some sort of permission to focus on myself. it’s the time when my brain tells me that it’s ok to think of myself first. being from a larger family made it hard to stand out. being the “good” kid made it even harder. but I know for sure that there was at least one day a year when it would be about me… my birthday.
I had several amazing and memorable birthdays as a kid. the year I turned 10, my mom surprised me with a horseback riding birthday party. I had several surprise parties (so terrifying and amazing at the same time). the one year of high school my birthday wasn’t during spring break, my best friend had surprises waiting for me in every class… I carried flowers and balloons around the school all day. I was going to say I was equal parts embarrassed and elated, but that would be a lie… I loved the attention. for my 18th birthday (2004), my parents did a whole “pimp my ride” thing with my car.
I got married about six months before my 21st birthday. When my birthday rolled around and we didn’t have any elaborate plans, I was disappointed. We ended up going to Outback Steakhouse with my husband at the time’s old roomate’s parents. whomp whomp. eventually I was able to communicate that disappointment and share how important birthdays were to me. for the next several years I had pretty great birthdays.
towards the end of my twenties things started getting sour. I had loads of built up resentment, undiagnosed anxiety, and was living in an extremely unhealthy relationship. during those last 2-3 years of my twenties, my birthday became an excuse to drink excessively. it was a really low point in my life. there were some extremely traumatic experiences that occurred in connection with my birthday celebrations.
when I turned 28, I spent the night out partying with my then husband and some of our closest friends.
what you don’t see is the enormous amount of confusion and grief that I was carrying as I convinced myself that becoming more sexually open would help keep us together. If we were exploring together, it was good for us… right? If I was the wife who was “cool with it” there would be no reason to leave, right?
the night we celebrated my 29th birthday was the night that there was no coming back from. when people who have been through divorce talk about it many of them will say things like “I don’t really know, I guess we just drifted apart” … but I can confidently say this was the night the multiple fractures that had been growing for years shattered into a million pieces that would never be put back together again.
again, it was alcohol that was the catalyst. as I drank to celebrate my last year in my twenties, nine years of resentment and self-abandonment bubbled to the surface and spewed out like a volcano of venom.
I would go on to continue to use alcohol to self-medicate my undiagnosed anxiety, insecure attachment, self-abandonment, and the toxic situation it had created. that last year of my twenties was one of the most lonely, painful, and confusing times.
as you can see, what started out as a celebration – as the one day I gave myself permission to put myself first – became an annual reminder of all the ways that I had failed to honor and care for myself.
and then came thirty.
March 23, 2017. another one of those “no turning back” moments. I still vividly remember that morning. as I opened my eyes, panic set in. I scanned the room, trying to figure out where I was. I was in the guest room on the oversized bean bag, alone. and then I remembered… today was the day we were telling our then 7-year-old daughter that her dad was moving out. we told her that morning, she deflected, and we went on with our day, trying to convince her we would still be a family. I’m not sure that I was trying to convince her as much as I was trying to convince myself.
and now, here I am six years later. the 7-year-old is now 13, i’m remarried with another kid, I have an amazing career, and i’m happier than ever. but still I find myself anxious, hypervigilent, and avoidant.
this year, i’m reclaiming my birthday. I’m celebrating my growth. the last six years have been some of the hardest, but most rewarding years of my life. I really think my life truly started six years ago. when I let go of everything I thought I should be, I was able to embrace who I truly am. and I love this version of me.
so, happy [thirty] + [six] to me.