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I Didn't Want To Go Into My Birthday Like This

But life is a reckless teenager we can't control.


*Prefer to listen rather than read? I GOT you. Listen to the audio on Substack!


“What are your birthday intentions?” I asked my darling friend on the eve of her birthday, last winter. We were sitting in the backyard of my parents' temporary rental in Venice Beach, California. 


My darling friend—a Fulbright scholar from Eastern Europe—looked at me with eyes stretched open so wide they took up half of her face. “BIRTHDAY INTENTIONS?” She asked bewildered. It was as if I’d informed her I was sexting with the ghost of Stalin. She stared sadly into the dirt, “I didn’t know I was supposed to have birthday intentions.

Suddenly, I understood why she was so shaken by my mere mention of “birthday intentions.” I not only understood her fear—I caught it. Fear is wildly contagious and no amount of rhetorical condoms can protect you from infection.


“No, don’t worry about it. I was just asking. It’s nothing!” I laughed a little too loudly for a little too long. It was one of those laughs that makes everyone in the room uncomfortable, especially yourself. The kind of high-pitched cackle that harbors the unpredictable energy of a drunk. At any moment that laugh could turn into a sob or a scream or a scam. 

My darling friend and I looked at each other morbidly for several seconds. The truth was we were triggered, my darlings. We’re both entering our late thirties—which is a very specific juncture of life—a lovely little time when shit starts to get a little too real.


By which I mean, your late 30s are a mile-marker of sorts. You’re supposed to have procured certain things by now. Babies, mortgages, life partners, money in the bank, “security” and the rest of that bleak bullshit that’s supposed to make us “happy” and “full” (but more often than not render us caged and teeming with holes).


But here’s the thing—no matter how evolved you are and how deeply you know and understand on an intellectual level that cultural expectations are a load of patriarchal, dated bullshit meant to keep us small—it’s hard to not let the pressure get to you.


After all, we’ve only been told that if we don’t have it all figured out by now we’re aimless losers—for I don’t know how long?—our entire fucking lives?


And when there’s a collective demand to be in a concrete place in your life at a concrete age—goal setting can make you feel like a scared fawn being hunted by a pack of deranged Florida good ‘ole boys. Because it forces you to do an inventory of your entire life. You’ve got to stare down the barrel of the gun of the truth.


This is why sometimes it just feels safer to avoid the whole “introspective thing” and to just keep plodding along pretending everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.

I mean if you stop plodding for even a millisecond—won’t all of your failures and wasted potential snatch you away and airlift you to a dark and scary place?


Thirteen days ago it was my own birthday. And oddly enough I wasn’t afraid of pausing and taking a real look at everything. I wasn’t going to allow the bullshit to snatch me away to the dark and scary place. After all: I’d done so much work on myself. And honestly? I was actually in a Really Great Frame Of Mind.™ 


I’d just received my life coach certification and my practice was already starting to take off. And nothing—truly nothing is more healing and grounding than coaching clients! Writing makes me very mentally ill. She makes me insecure, starved for validation, and painfully trapped in my head. She’s the toxic relationship I can’t and don’t want to quit.

Coaching on the other hand makes me feel dare I say—the best version of myself? Helping people dissolve their limiting beliefs so they can live in alignment with their core nature does wonders for my well-being. (But don’t worry. I’m not going to become one of those annoyingly sunny people. The darkness of writing lives no matter how many times I’ve tried to kill her. Coaching has just given us a very necessary sliver of light). 


One week before my birthday I decided to revisit this whole “birthday intentions” shin-dig. Not in a high-pressure judgmental way—in a stable, exciting way! What positive things would I draw in this year? Between you, me, and the family: I was starting to feel pretty damn smug. For the first time ever I wasn’t panicked about my age, I wasn’t comparing my insides to other people’s outsides and I felt more present than ever.


Right as I was gloating over my own fabulous self-improvement, Life suddenly stomped into my apartment unannounced. I could tell by the fire in her eyes—that bitch was looking for a fight. 


She looked around at my “pretty pink apartment” and lit up a cigarette. 


“Life!” I shouted, “You can’t smoke in here!” 


Life snickered. “I’m Life! You can’t control me.” 


Oh. Yeah. That’s right.


Life is like an out-of-control teenager who has burned every bridge with every authority figure imaginable, so she’s got nothing left to lose. And we’re the helpless parents throwing our hands up into the dark sky at midnight, screaming to the stars, “I DID ALL THE RIGHT THINGS. I SENT MY KID TO ALL THE BEST SCHOOLS. MADE THEM EAT THEIR VEGETABLES. RUINED MY VAGINA FOR THEM. WHAT MORE CAN I DO?” 


And yes doing all the “right things” can definitely pay off—but still, none of us are immune to Life’s whims. By which I mean—no amount of coaching or workouts or meditation workshops will tame the reckless teen that is Life.

“Please be gentle with me,” I pleaded to Life.


“I thought your mental health was strong for real this time? If your constitution is so sturdy, you should be able to withstand the shit-storm I’m about to throw at you.” 


My heart began to thud like the boots of a prison guard stomping down the halls of a state penitentiary. “I’ve had ENOUGH shit-storms, you hear?” Rage rose like bile in my throat. 


Life ignored me. She stamped out her cigarette and dug into her oversized crocodile bag. She pulled out a large bubblegum-colored nail file. 


“You know it’s cruel to wear anything made from murdered crocodiles,” I sneered, trying to shame Life into submission. 

Life didn’t respond. She just began filing her long nails into deadly red points. Who was I to think she’d care about the fucking crocodiles? This was LIFE. 


“Just try and go easy on me,” I murmured lamely. 


“I’m bored,” Life vocal-fried, her eyes glued to her nails, “so don’t worry. I’ll at least make it interesting. Plus—let’s test it out! See if all ‘the work’ you’ve allegedly done has moved the needle. Let’s make sure you’re actually in a good place” She flashed her teeth at me. They blinded me with their artificial whiteness. “It’s for your own good.” She turned on her heels. CLACK. CLACK. CLACK.


Life’s stilettos made quite the racquet for such delicate-looking shoes. (It seems like there is a metaphor there but I’m not sure what it is?). Before waltzing out my front door she stopped dead in her tracks. She was wearing one of those Juicy Couture terry cloth tube top mini dresses that were all the rage in 2004 and her exposed shoulder blades jutted out of her back, jarringly, like wings.

She slowly turned her head toward me, her ice-blue eyes as cold as a dead body. She looked at me lifelessly from behind the curtains of her acid-blonde hair. She was beautiful in a sharp, dangerous way. She looked like a razor blade. Her suspiciously full lips half-mooned into a waning little smile. “If you come out the other side of this—all kinds of fabulous shit is going to happen to you. Just saying!” She breezed out the door, CLACK, CLACK, CLACKING down the hall. 


I was fucked. I just knew that life’s threats were not empty. Do you know that feeling that manifests in your body—the one that warns you that danger is ~lurking~ ahead? Some call it intuition. I call it “girl alarms” because I felt this loud blaring vibration in my chest for the first time when I was twelve, debating whether or not to get in the car with the creepy older guy.


But regardless of gender—I believe every good person is armed with an internal alarm system. Whether or not we choose to listen to the blare of its dutiful sirens—well that’s a whole other story. 


A week or so after Life paid me a warning visit—I swear to Lana Del Rey, kittens—SO MANY bad things began to unfold all at once. I can’t and won’t get into the details for my own safety and sanity—but let’s just say I was tested in ways I’ve never been tested, ever. Let’s just say that what has gone down (and continues to go down) was so confusing and terrifying and utterly disruptive to my life and family and nervous system at large—I was afraid to walk down my block, sleep in my bed, be in my own company. And that my ~darlings~ is all I’m going to say about it. Ever. 

The night before my birthday—after things took a drastic turn for the much, much worse—I put my head in my hands and sobbed on my pretty pink couch. I didn’t want to go into my birthday like this. This was supposed to be my year. Why is this happening? 


KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK. Someone was pounding on my door. Having been in a perpetual state of fight or flight for several days—a knock at the door was enough to make me speed down the emotional autobahn. I braced myself for a new monster to come and taunt me. I tip-toed toward the door. I peered through the peephole. I was shocked at ~who~ I saw waiting patiently at my door. 


It was me


I was standing in the hallway, twirling my hair, rocking a very chic (rather expensive-looking) monochromatic suit.

I opened the door, my mouth agape. “What are you doing here?” I asked myself, convinced that it had finally happened, I was in the throes of an irrevocable psychotic break and would spend the rest of my life in a mental ward the only thing to look forward to my nightly sedatives administered at sundown by a furrow-browed medical professional named Pamela. 


My thought reel was suddenly interrupted—by me. Or at least a version of me. “I’m YOU. Which means I’m always here. You can’t escape yourself, babe.” 


“But I’m here, looking at you—me—what the hell is going on? What are you? Am I losing my shit?” I pinched my flesh to see if I was dreaming. 


“I’m your higher self,” she/I purred. “I’m here to help you protect your fucking sparkle.” 


“Usually my guardian angel, Sharon, flies down to earth and fixes everything when things get this bad. Where is she?” Betrayal curled up inside of me. My guardian angel had gotten me through so much—why was she neglecting me NOW? 


“I told her to sit this one out. We got this, Z,” she pointed at me, “and she agrees, we don’t need her to rescue us this time. We can rescue us.” She leaned in close to me. Her breath smelled of vanilla bean. “You and I—we got this.” She batted her lashes. They were slightly longer than mine but that’s to be expected. The higher self has to be at least a little prettier than your lower self. It only makes sense.


I stared into the face of my higher self. She looked like me on my best day. As if I’d gone to the salon and had a professional wash and blow dry. Of the hair and the soul. My higher self had the clear-eyed glow of a person who is healthy within. (Her bouncy blowout looked great too). 


“Okay,” I declared, my confidence suddenly springing up on all fours, like a meerkat. “Okay!” 


“I’ll hold your hand through this nightmare,” My higher self chirped. 


“That’s what I tell my listeners on my podcast,” I chirped back at her. 


“Yeah and not to be a bitch. But girl. Sometimes you need to hear your own words.” 


I smiled because my higher self was painfully right.


I needed to hear myself.


Listen to the words I write and throw out into the world.


Suddenly a flood of my own mantras downpoured over my brain: there is a beautiful freedom in breaking down. You get to rebuild yourself into whatever you want to be. You are the bouncer of the nightclub that is your mind. Mistakes don’t break you they make you. Heartbreak is the perfect reset button for your life. The messiest paths lead to the most extraordinary destinations. Protect your fucking sparkle. Protect your fucking sparkle. Protect your fucking sparkle. 

Suddenly I understood what my higher self, (who is the ghostwriter of all my good work), meant by “protect your fucking sparkle.” I realized I’d only half understood it this whole time. I thought it meant lean away from the things that dull you and lean into the things that light you up. And yes—that’s true. But it’s also so much deeper than that. 


“I’m having an Oprah-esque ‘ah-ha!’ moment,” I confessed to my Higher Self. “This—” I broadly gestured with my arms like the Italian movie star I was meant to be“—THIS is what it means to protect your fucking sparkle.” 

“Say more,” my Higher Self crooned. 


“When life comes at you this HARD—when everything flips and you’re pushed to your limit—your sparkle is at high risk. Because your sparkle represents the most sacred thing of all: your integrity.” I paused for a pregnant, loaded moment then continued to pontificate. “Who you are when no one else is watching? How do you react when Life throws you the most unexpected of curveballs? Do you compromise your sparkle? Do you plot revenge or cower in fear or hurt others—or hurt yourself?” I shuddered.


“Say more,” my Higher Self, the consummate coach, crooned for the second time. 


“Protecting your sparkle means staying true to yourself—even when people or circumstances try to knock you into the sand with them. Protecting your sparkle is about rising above no matter what. Not giving energy or power to the darkness. Trusting that the light is the strongest force of all.” 


“Brava,” my Higher Self grinned. 


“And also—” 


“Girl, I love you but you’ve made your point. Let’s add ‘brevity’ to your list of birthday intentions, shall we?”


“Can we have a glass of champagne and celebrate my birthday early tonight—just us?” 


“Obviously.” 


My higher self and I cozied up on my hot pink couch together. For the first time in days, I  relaxed. While I hadn’t wanted to go into my birthday “like this”—I did want to go into my birthday like this, you know? Chilling on the couch, protecting my fucking sparkle, knowing in the deepest depths of my bones that the greatest milestone of all isn’t marriage and kids or money honey—but to have an unwavering sense of self no matter what.


For that is the sparkliest sparkle of all, my darling. And in order to protect the glimmer shimmer that is us—we must rise above the ash and travel upward, ‘till we get to the place where our higher self resides. We must stay with her way up above ground. And as long as we don’t let the negative pull drag us down—we’ll be safe. Safe no matter what happens.


(I love you all so much.)


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