Getting Older

Late 20’s/early 30’s is a strange stage of life to be in. You no longer fit in with the “young” people which you still have the tendency to consider yourself a part of. You still feel young, but I remember thinking 30 year olds were super old most of my life. You also aren’t embraced by the older generations who tend to view you as an immature child and make light of your concerns about being older. I’m so used to eye rolls and scoffs from boomers if I dare to mention feeling old. It’s an awkward middle ground between youth and middle age. It feels like no one quite understands you. At times it feels like you don’t even understand yourself.

I know I should focus on being grateful that I even made it this far. I’ve had an extremely easy, wonderful life for nearly 28 years now. I’ve never had a serious illness, surgery, or even a broken bone! Throughout most of human history, it would have been a miracle that I even made it this far. Rather than feeling like a blessing, aging has just started to feel surreal to me. I’m sure as children, we all imagined growing up and living independent, adult lives one day. However, when you’re 10, “adult” means 18-20. That’s all the further out I really pictured. It was hard to even conceptualize being older than that. It started to get weirder each consecutive year after my 21st birthday.

You find yourself waiting and waiting. Wondering when you’ll finally start to feel like a real adult. It used to seem inevitable that one day you would wake up and just get it. You’d understand what you’re supposed to do, who you are, where you’re going in life. After a while, that expectation changes to questioning if you’ll ever actually experience that confidence and self mastery you had always anticipated. At a certain point you start to ask yourself where you ever got that impression of adulthood in the first place.

It’s also strange to consider if this is a natural part of getting older, or if this experience is unique to your generation. After all, things have changed quite a lot since my parents were 30. The baby boomers were all having children and buying houses around this age. Whereas my generation isn’t exactly able to enjoy the same privileges. Instead, we are burdened by crippling debt, useless degrees, being stuck living with our parents, unable to shed those aspects of our childhood that are still so prevalent in our lives. I’ve been playing Pok√©mon every evening for months now. I doubt I’ll ever outgrow that particular interest.

Apart from all the psychological aspects of aging, it’s also quite scary to realize that my body is getting older too. As a woman that is particularly frightening. Despite knowing that my worth is not tied to my age or my appearance, I am aware that society does not reflect that fact. Is my life going to become more difficult once I’m no longer a young, attractive woman? I’ve already got a few wrinkles between my eyebrows and a handful of grey hairs. Will I still think I’m pretty ten years from now? Will I still be able to do impressive yoga poses or intense cardio workouts? When will I begin to notice aches and pains that never quite go away? How much longer will this strong, healthy body last?

The concept of aging is certainly a bizarre one no matter how you want to look at it. I only hope that as time continues to pass that I will grow older with dignity and grace, with gratitude in my heart. Even though it’s scary, I am still hopeful. I am curious to find out what the rest of this miraculous life has in store for me.

What Is (and Isn't) Normal Aging

Letters to Past Selves (Part 1)

Teenage Rachel

Dear Rachel,

I know that life may seem like more trouble than it’s worth right now. But I promise you, in a few years you will be so glad that you stuck around to find out. You’ll probably roll your eyes at everything that I have to say, but I’m here to say it anyway. I know you worry a lot about the future. Primarily you worry about being alone. I know how many nights you cried yourself to sleep, imagining an elderly version of you wandering through a dark, empty house. I know the desperation you feel at times. Even though it doesn’t feel like it now, it will pass. You don’t have to be afraid. You may not believe it, but one day you won’t even care if you spend your life alone or not. Some days you’ll even wonder if maybe you’d prefer it that way.

I know you are experiencing a lot of confusion and strong emotions right now. I’m here to reassure you that that is normal. Unfortunately all of the annoying things the adults are always saying are actually true. “It’s just a phase.” “You’ll grow out of it.” “Teenagers.” I hope to not sound as patronizing. I know that only exacerbates your sense of isolation and being misunderstood. Please believe me. Even if no one else does, I understand you. And I hope that it can bring you some form of comfort to know that things won’t always feel so intense. I can’t promise you that life won’t always be as hard. Life is a cycle made up of many smaller cycles. You are going to find yourself suffering again and again. Life doesn’t get easier. You simply become stronger. And it is a beautiful process.

Remember all of the times that you cried and mentally went back to visit all of the other sad crying selves in the past? You held them in your arms and cried together. You thought that was an embarrassing form of self pity, but actually without realizing it you were developing your own lovely form of self-care. I am here to tell you that through all of this distance, through time and space, I am here to hold you now. It’s going to be okay.

Even though I can’t really be there to help, know that you already have all the support that you need. You have absolutely amazing friends. Be grateful for that. Cherish them, and try to hold on to them for as long as you can, especially Ally. She may get under your skin now, but she is the truest friend you’ve got. She’s your brother. Try to be nicer to her, even when you don’t understand her. I know you don’t want to hear it, but you should also be kinder to your family, particularly your mother. Right now it may seem like she’s to blame for all of the struggles you are facing, but I assure you, you’d be facing much more serious troubles were it not for her. She is an incredible woman. She has always been patient and kind to you. She certainly wasn’t perfect, but no one is. She does the best she can for you every day and that is what counts. She loves you. She loves you like no one else in the world will ever love you, unconditionally. So don’t close your heart to her just yet. Give it time and you will see.

I hope that at least some of these loving words of reassurance and advice will be able to reach you. I may not be able to take away your suffering, but know that someday you will even be grateful for these painful years. You will look back on them fondly, tenderly. You will learn so much in the years to come. You’ll even learn to love yourself more than you ever thought you could. You’ll learn how to be soft, but also strong. You’ll learn how to appreciate the little things so much that they become the big things. You’re going to be alright. You can do this. You already have.

Love,

Your Future Self

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Sketchy Sexual Experiences

I was talking to my friend the other day on the phone. I wanted to know some of the less discussed details about the beginning of her relationship with her now husband. When did they first kiss, how long did they wait before having sex, etc. Even though I know that these things are highly personal milestones in any relationship, I felt like it would help me to have some idea of the timelines for other people. Discussing this with her was highly therapeutic for me. I realize that I don’t need anyone else to justify my decision on waiting to have sex. In the end it’s my decision and whenever I choose to have sex with a partner is valid. Yet it did help me feel more confident and reassured after hearing someone else’s perspective and experience.

Working at a child advocacy center for over a year now, I’ve learned a lot more about sex and consent than I expected. It is absolutely heartbreaking to hear the stories of some of these teen girls who we see here. Their stories all sound so similar. They tell us they didn’t want to scream or make a scene. They second guess and doubt their own intuition and perspective. They are ashamed. They blame themselves. They don’t know what to do. They feel bad for their abuser even, at times. After a while, something finally clicked inside of my head and I began to see my younger self in a lot of these girls. Some of the scenarios they describe sound so familiar.

When the Me Too Movement first started a few years ago, I felt somewhat conflicted. I saw everyone around me sharing stories of times they had been abused or disrespected by men. It seemed like all women had at least one story. Yet after searching my memories, I felt I didn’t have any of these types of experiences. I felt lucky, of course, grateful, but I also felt confused. Why didn’t I have any of these stories when so many other women did? I couldn’t find a satisfying answer. Of course my self-hating, low self-esteem mind told me that it must be because I’m not attractive enough to be assaulted. Which I know is offensive and ridiculous.

Since that time, I’ve thought about a lot to different sexual encounters I had growing up. It feels weird to say, but looking back, I feel like I was victimized at least twice without even realizing it or acknowledging it. How can that be possible? I’ve asked myself that question, and I still don’t know. Maybe the only separation is whether or not you feel like you’ve been traumatized. That doesn’t seem right to me either though. Just because a lot of the kids we see at our center are in love with their abuser or even enjoyed the sexual experiences they’ve had, doesn’t mean how things happened wasn’t wrong. It doesn’t mean these adult men haven’t broken the law and done egregious things. Does the fact that at the time I was complacent or believed I deserved what happened because of the situation I put myself in make what happened to me acceptable? I don’t think so.

It’s not as if I want to go after these boys from my past or have them prosecuted. Although I’ve come to accept I wasn’t to blame for what happened back then, I don’t necessarily put the blame on those boys either. I think what’s more important is to address the toxic, sex-phobic culture we were raised in. The culture that led me to believe being drunk and alone with boys meant it was my fault if I was then sexually assaulted. The culture that taught these boys what they did was normal, perfectly alright behavior. This is what I want to address. I don’t think the boys from my past had any intention to harm me or even disrespect me. They were just doing what young boys are expected to do. I doubt they viewed themselves as sexual predators, nor do I necessarily want them to. I just want us all to learn together how we can communicate better and respect one another so we can facilitate healthy sexual experiences, especially for teens and young adults.

During that phone call with my friend, we talked a lot about my sexual promiscuity when we were in college. Her impression was that I just had a high sex drive, that I was being care-free and having fun. She seemed surprised and somewhat saddened when I told her that actually wasn’t the case. I just didn’t know myself well enough, didn’t understand relationships enough, to make the right decisions. Given that my first sexual partner was someone that I was dating and who I was deeply in love with, I didn’t really grasp the correlation between love and sex. Desperate to feel that same emotional intimacy, that spiritual closeness, I found myself confusing it and conflating it with physical intimacy. I really didn’t have desire for the actual act of sex with most of the men I’ve been with. What I desired and hoped to obtain from sex was actually love and tenderness. As you might imagine, it took me a long time to understand and process the pain of never finding it.

This is one of the many reasons why we need to teach our children how to have these important conversations surrounding sex. The more prepared we make them, the easier it will be to talk about with their partner when the times comes. I wish I had been wise enough, brave enough, to ask more questions of my partners before having sex with them. Questions like: what does sex mean to you? where do you see our relationship going, if anywhere? do you have romantic feelings for me or are you only interested in a physical relationship? I always made the mistake of just assuming we were on the same page. Then I felt heartbroken and wronged upon discovering that wasn’t the case.

In addition, we need to emphasize that while no means no, only an enthusiastic, informed yes is true consent. Pressuring someone until they eventually give in is not consent. An obviously reluctant partner that hasn’t verbally said no is not consent. It is so important that we all work to improve society when it comes to its ideas and understanding of the complex issues surrounding sex. I only wish I could go back in time and share this new, deeper understanding with the young girl I once was. Instead I will try to help other young girls avoid my same mistakes.

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Memory

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Memory has always been something that fascinates me, like dreams. Another mysterious inner activity of the mind that we struggle to fully understand. Both my memory and my dreams are private worlds that only I may enter. It’s an interesting thought. Reality can be confirmed by those around us experiencing the same things. How are we to know if our solitary memories and dreams are “real?” Perhaps in the end it doesn’t matter. They are real to us. Therefore they influence the way we see and interact with the world.

Lately I’ve been asking people about their earliest memories. I’ve done this a few times in the past as well. Even though I always seem to get similar responses, I never cease to be shocked and frustrated. I don’t think anyone I’ve ever asked has told me about a memory from before they were in school. Even kindergarten memories seem to be rare for people. This is just so hard for me to believe. Do most people really not have any memories from early childhood, before school? Before 5 years of age? That just can’t be true. I can’t imagine going through life like that.

The excuse is usually, “Well, I have a really poor memory.” But so do I! My friends will tell me stories from our adventures together in college and I’ll have only the foggiest recollection of the whole scenario. There are handfuls of people I’ve met and even slept with that I don’t remember at all. Sometimes it feels like my memory is a jar of sand with a crack near the top. All of my early memories seem to be safe at the bottom of that jar, but memories from recent years slip through the crack and are lost forever. I used to have a nearly photographic memory. However years of drug and alcohol use have all but destroyed it. But I just thought a deteriorating memory would encompass every memory, not just more recent ones. Perhaps my brain is able to hold onto the memories it keeps, but is just hit or miss when it comes to forming new memories.

Either way, the fact remains that even will this poor memory of mine, I am able to remember countless things from a very young age. I have tons of memories from before I went to school. I have memories of my grandmother watching my sister and I and the fun we would all have together while my mother was at work. I can remember going to preschool when I was 3 and 4. I remember the friends I made. Even snippets of conversations, the toys we would play with, the ones we weren’t allowed to and how frustrated I was by that. (There were finger paints and giant blocks that we were forbidden from using to my confusion and dismay.) I can remember a lot about kindergarten too, not just one or two memories.

It is honestly scary to me that no one else has these kinds of memories. It makes me afraid that I will someday lose them. It makes me want to start writing it all down for myself. It also makes me doubt myself. Do I remember these things? Maybe these are false memories. Maybe none of those things really happened or happened differently than I remember. Maybe I am just remembering the times throughout my life when I have recounted these memories to others.

What I used to consider my earliest memory is now suspect. I was only 1 or 2 years old. I was in my crib, throwing a tantrum, throwing binkies out onto the floor. I wanted my original binkie. Like the first one I ever had, if that gives you an idea of just HOW young I was. But it had gotten old and used up so my mother threw it away. (This I only discovered from telling this memory to my mom when I was younger.) Even at the time she was shocked I could remember that. And at the time I truly did. But now it feels more like I am remembering the story, not the actual experience. There are some of my very very early memories that feel this way now, but with others there is still that feeling of being transported back in time in my own head, that bodily sensation of being there again.

Part of me doesn’t fully believe people when they tell me their first memory is from when they were 9 years old or something. It just seems absurd to me. I question if it’s just that they don’t want to tell me their earliest memories. Perhaps that’s too personal for me to be asking. Or maybe they could think of earlier ones if they really concentrated and put more effort into it. I just cannot accept that I am rare in remembering things from when I was 3 or 4. Or that I could possibly be mistaken in thinking I can. That’s what actually unnerves me the most. Because those memories mean a lot to me.

I want to hold onto as many memories as I can from those early years. Those years of simple bliss, of being so lovingly cared for, marveling at the whole world, learning, exploring, loving everyone and everything with the innocence of a child. Maybe I will write as much as I can remember down and see if I can at least confirm it with my mom, grandma, or sister. That might give me some peace of mind on the matter. For now, I am going to keep asking people in the hopes that I can find more people that share these memories of early life. Please help me out by leaving a comment letting me know when your earliest memory is from. And if you’re comfortable doing so, let me know what the memory is about as well. I would love to hear from more people.

Sitting In the Sun

I can only hope to some day find the same satisfaction of a cat lying in sunbeams as they pour through the window. Even my dog, sweet little oddball that she is, loves basking in that warm glow. They always look so peaceful. You can almost see them savoring each delicious moment as they doze on the edge of consciousness. Perfectly peaceful. Precious angels. If only they could tell me their secret to serenity.

The closest I ever came to this simple bliss was one summer evening at the peak of an acid trip. I forget what my companion was doing at the time. They must have been absorbed in something inside that didn’t interest me. I had decided to go outside just as evening was giving way into another luscious, humid summer night. Summer nights are my favorite. I don’t know what it is. Perhaps they remind me of being a kid, watching fireworks on the 4th or catching lightning bugs with my sister and grandma. Or maybe it’s my teen years, sneaking out to meet friends, having midnight swims, trying my first cigarette as the rain drizzled down lazily, drinking by a fire in a friend’s backyard. There was always a certain excitement saturating summer nights, a sense of danger and adventure. Hedonism and recklessness and youth.

As the sun’s warmth still lingered in the soft air, I went out to use my newly set-up trampoline. I’m certain I would have appeared insane if anyone had been around to witness the sight. A young woman in her mid twenties, alone, at night, laughing her head off while jumping on a trampoline. I have no idea how long I was on that thing, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt like a kid again, with all the innocence and sheer joy I once knew.

When I finally got tired of that, I got down and sat breathless on my back porch under the stars. I think back to that moment a lot. Ever since I learned about yoga philosophy, I can’t help but think about it when I trip. It’s always funny to me how simple and true it all feels when I’m in that altered state. I see it all so clearly. It feels like I’ll be able to keep that insight and inner peace with me when I wake up the next morning, but of course I never can.

This evening as I sat there alone, I felt more alive and safe than I ever have before or since. I breathed in the thick air of that summer night slowly and deeply. Enjoying every subtlety of this slight movement as the air passed through my nostrils and expanded my abdomen. Feeling this oxygen infusing me with precious life. In that moment I knew everything I needed to know. There was no grasping or worrying or fear. I was truly at peace with myself and the universe. I knew that I was exactly where I needed to be. I knew that I was one with everything around me. That this whole universe was a part of me and I a part of it. I felt the lines of the self blurring into eternity. Anything that I could ever need or want was already a part of me. It was all so beautiful. I could have sat there, utterly content, forever. Everything is as it should be. Never had these words felt so poignant and true.

If nothing else this experience stands as an example of the power of perspective. Nothing has changed since then except my state of mind. Things that felt so simple then have reassumed their complex and elusive nature. That peace that felt ever-present now escapes me. Even the memory can’t compare to the perfect state I was in that night. My brief moment in the sun has now passed. Yet still, the residue of that moment lingers within me.

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