10 years ago, around my 30th birthday, my dad asked me to go to dinner with him and his wife. I thought it was so he could give me a long lecture about religion, so I was dreading it. Plus, I had also been very sick all week and was on antibiotics and painkillers.
I stopped at my mom’s to drop my kids off so she could watch them while I went to the dinner. But to my surprise, my mom wasn’t alone. There were about 30 people there waiting for me. My sister had planned me a surprise party.
Thanks for the surprise?…
The things I remember most about that day revolve around how awful about myself. I was embarrassed by what I was wearing, I didn’t like the way my hair looked, and I couldn’t drink because of the medications I was on.
At first I was actually kind of rude to everyone. I was just feeling so awful and was so surprised by the party. I remember fighting the urge to drive away when I went out to get my daughter’s things out of the car.
Although I was turning 30, I felt like I was turning 80. I was so unhappy. And I didn’t even really know why.
Fast forward 10 years:
I recently celebrated my 40th birthday. There was no surprise party, but I did go out to dinner with my whole family. I wore this big, bright dress that I absolutely love, and felt fantastic.
The whole night I was surrounded by the people I love and I had a wonderful time.
This time, I felt great. I was happy and wasn’t worried about what I was eating or whether I could drink or how my body looked. I just enjoyed myself.
What happened in those 10 years to bring me from a place of pain and sadness to absolute elation and confidence? Well, a lot happened.
How did I get there?
The first thing I did was lose a ton of weight by dieting. From the outside looking in it seemed like I was finally getting my life under control. But things were actually worse than they had ever been. I was just distracting myself from the big problems by focusing on my body. My marriage was falling apart, I wasn’t being a great mom, and I was thoroughly unfulfilled by my work.
Dieting is so tricky because it temporarily makes you feel wonderful. But it actually makes things much, much worse.
I spent literally all of my time worrying about food, whether I was getting enough exercise and tracking what I ate. My life was falling apart around me while I was micromanaging my body.
Eventually that imploded, as all diets do, and I was forced to face my real problems. After getting separated, having dating nightmares, gaining back all the weight I’d lost, and drinking very heavily, I finally started to look at my real problems. The biggest learning curve was acknowledging that losing weight didn’t fix my life – because I had been convinced that it would.
One day I was cleaning out my car and listening to the radio. An ad came on that talked about binge eating disorder. It was the first time I’d heard that phrase.
It was if I had been struck by lightning. I walked straight to my computer, Googled “binge eating disorder”, and made an appointment at the closest place to me. Little did I know, this act would transform my life in every single way.
I remember sitting in those early therapy sessions like a statue consumed by worries about how I looked, whether my body language was appropriate and if my hair was okay. All of my confidence and self-worth was still wrapped up in how I looked.
But slowly, the carefully-constructed facade started to crack as I allowed meaningful change to happen.
Then I decided to stop drinking after a particularly poignant experience on a camping trip. It was painful to acknowledge that I had let alcohol have so much control over my life. Realizing how difficult it was to stop was also a shock.
Like dieting, drinking is sneaky and controlling. It takes over before you even realize what’s happening.
There’s nothing like sobriety and eating disorder treatment to help you face the painful stuff in your life. But, you know, it wasn’t hard. It did take time, but it all felt perfect and divinely inspired.
So much has changed in my life since I was 30; it almost feels like a different lifetime. I’m grateful for the milestone of entering middle-age that inspired me to take stock and see how far I’ve come.
Here are a few simple practices that got me to the place of actually enjoying my birthday for once.
5 secrets to finally enjoying your birthday:
1. Love and accept yourself completely, in whatever form your physical presence takes
My body does not define me or say anything about the kind of person I am. Every lump and roll and curve is worn like a badge of honor, because it’s all part of my journey.
I am so thankful to be where I am, doing what I’m doing, and living the life I live.
2. Learn to respect the diversity of opinions
Part of becoming a more secure, confident person is recognizing that everyone’s opinion, experience, and behavior is completely valid.
Judgment comes from insecurity.
So when you’re perfectly confident in your own convictions and values, it really doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing or thinking. We’re all always learning exactly what we need to learn.
3. Learn to spend energy on things that actually matter
When I have an opportunity to do something with my kids, or when I’m inspired to write something meaningful, the vacuuming and dishes wait.
My house is a lot messier than it was when I was miserable, but that’s a trade-off I’m delighted to make.
4. Learn to let other people’s problems be theirs
When someone does something that reflects their own struggle, I can make a choice not to accept that as part of my experience (and I can usually even feel sympathy for them).
Other people’s insecurity and defensiveness and judgment have nothing to do with me.
5. Be incredibly grateful
Grateful for every twist, every turn, every lesson, every challenge, every opportunity, and every miracle I’ve experienced.
It seems so simple, but learning to focus on the good rather than the bad has been one of the major transformations of my life.
Now, I make it a daily practice to express gratitude and give thanks for every little detail of my life. Life becomes wonderful and exciting when you look for the good and expect miracles.
Your next 10 years…
When you respect yourself, other people respect you. When you feel great about yourself and live authentically, you inspire others. And when you’re happy, you attract wonderful things.
I can look back and see each step on my journey. Some steps are minor and others are big, major changes.
But all of it led to where I am right now: loving my life, doing amazing things, and being happy.
How do you want to feel in 10 years?
I encourage you to get started making the changes you want to make, because there’s absolute joy on the other side of self-acceptance.