They’re something to anticipate with excitement. Having parties and being celebrated is instinctually fun. Certain ages are rites of passage; they mark the beginning of driving, of being a legal adult, and of being able to drink alcohol.
But somewhere along the line, there’s a shift. Suddenly, we’re taught to dread our birthdays.
I can remember approaching my 30th birthday with a sense of impending doom. I was newly divorced and feared my dream of one day becoming a mother was disappearing as quickly as my youth. Thankfully, I was wrong about that- and so much more.
As 35 came onto the horizon, my life was filled with many blessings. But somewhere deep inside I feared I was becoming “old.” Married to an amazing man and about to give birth to our first child, my life was full of blessings.
But I still cringed when someone mentioned my age.
As my 40th birthday loomed in front of me, again I felt a crushing sense of dread. Although I was married with my third child on the way and had created the life I always dreamed of, the idea of turning 40 took the breath from my lungs.
I began to ponder my life and my purpose and was overwhelmed with a sense of grief for my “youth.”
Now here I am, typing this on the eve of my birthday. When I wake up tomorrow, I will be 44. And when I think about that girl who panicked at every milestone birthday, I am suddenly overcome with a huge sense of relief and gratitude.
An unexpected gift
All of the sudden, I realize that recovery has given me so many unexpected gifts. Not only have I gained freedom from the obsessive and all consuming thoughts and behaviors of the disorder, but for the first time in my adult life, I am looking forward to my birthday.
I am happy to CELEBRATE life and to celebrate ME. No longer a slave to any number – on my scale or measuring my years – I realize that my value as a human being is totally independent of any number.
Just as my body shape and size will continue to change, wrinkles will appear and my hair may gray, I know that underneath my body, my worth as a human being will remain. The love and connections I share with people will continue to grow and strengthen.
This year my birthday will be filled with sharing meals and cake with the people I love most. And as I get ready to go to bed tonight, I’m filled with a sense of curiosity and excitement of what is to come in the next year.
Changes, spectacular changes
You see, I’ve struggled with an eating disorder off and on (mostly on) for over 25 years before entering what I now consider “real” recovery for the first time in my life.
Here are a few examples:
And this year as I celebrate my birthday, I realize that recovery has changed more than just my eating habits and weight. It’s changed my birthdays in a pretty spectacular way as well.
1. I can be present and spontaneous during meals
I can celebrate at a restaurant without feeling huge amounts of anxiety or grab dinner with friends without feeling the need to research the menu ahead of time. Rather than being lost in my head, I can now be present during meals and connect with loved ones.
2. Dessert is fun again
I can enjoy cake after eating a satisfying meal. The ritual of dessert now brings me joy and pleasure- not guilt and panic.
3. I wear a different pants size- and I’m fine with it
My pants size has changed. Yes, for me, recovery from an eating disorder meant restoring my weight.
Eating disorders come in EVERY shape and size, so this is not true for everyone. But for me, it means accepting a new body size.
4. I can actually CELEBRATE a new year
Most importantly, though, I realize this year that I am able to CELEBRATE the starting of a new year. I am no longer a slave to numbers.
My worth is not defined by a number on a scale NOR by the number of years I have lived. Recovery has taught me to cherish every moment, celebrate every joy, and to be present in the now.
It has taught me that what matters the most in life is being authentic, genuine, connecting with and loving other people, continuing to learn and grow, creating art, and using my voice.
No longer a slave to any number, I’m approaching the next year with excitement and anticipation of what is to come rather than with dread.
I no longer feel like I have to prove myself or live up to certain standards that are only illusions. And as I age I will develop more wrinkles, my hair will gray, and my body will continue to change.
Yet my happiness, my joy, the love I share, and the worth I have as a human being will remain constant despite these changes.