I am turning 40.
I have to keep saying it, because I almost don’t believe it. It isn’t a dread for growing older, or an aversion to the aging process. It truly is because there have been many times in my life when I didn’t think I would even reach 40. It is gratitude I’m feeling.
There was a time, when I was very young and was being raised in the religious teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses that I thought the world would end before I even reached 20. My sister had said one day it was very possible Armageddon would occur before my niece’s generation passed away. My niece is only six years younger than I am. Once I spent the night at a friend’s house and she explained she didn’t like going to other people’s homes for sleepovers because she was worried Armageddon would happen while she was away from her parents. I made no plans for my future because I was fairly certain I wasn’t going to have a future.
There was a time when I believed if I was just good enough, or smart enough, obedient enough or pure enough, perhaps God would turn His eyes my way and would spare me from His wrath. A time when I believed the people teaching me about God were supreme authorities in my relationship with God. A time when I gave up because I couldn’t measure up and a time when I grew discouraged and blind to God’s love because of human error.
There was a time when I was closer to 20 and realized Armageddon could be a lot further away than I originally thought. Then, I began to question the validity of what I had been taught and my desire to be with “God’s people.” I fell in love and did things I knew I wasn’t supposed to. I was disfellowshipped from my religious congregation, my family and my friends. The boy I fell in love with had a drug and alcohol addiction and was incapable of completely giving himself to our relationship. I had never felt so alone.
There was a time at 17 years old when taking a shower exhausted me, when my boyfriend tried to kiss me and my skin burned, when I wouldn’t eat and slept all day only to remain wide awake at night listening to Pink Floyd, “The Wall,” without end. There was a time when my memory failed and I fought with my parents, ran away from home and punched holes in their walls.
There was a time when I wanted to disappear, to die, to no longer exist as a problem in anyone’s life. I caused injury to myself, over and over, hoping to build up the courage for a final act. A time I had planned to say good-bye to those I still loved and instead broke down in the shower and confessed to my mother my intentions. A time when I was admitted into a psychiatric hospital for two weeks.
There was a time when I thought I had begun dealing with my problems when truthfully, I was drinking to forget them. I became a person I never imagined and kept myself drunk so that I wouldn’t care. There was a time when my only purpose was to avoid pain, which sadly caused even more pain – to myself and others. A time when I would look to the sky and curse God for what I’d done to myself.
There was a time when my selfishness blinded me and I almost killed myself and others by driving while intoxicated. A time when God gently and firmly placed His hands upon my shoulders and held me in place until I opened my eyes to see the chaos I had chosen in my life.
There was a time when I married someone I knew I shouldn’t because we were too young, inexperienced and unhealthy. When we separated shortly after, there was a time when I thought I couldn’t live without him, when I writhed back and forth on the dirty, cigarette ash filled carpet thinking I most certainly could and would die from a broken heart.
There was a time when I was sure I would never love again. I went through divorce and my ex told me it would be as if we never met. A time when I relied totally on God and the friends he put in my life. A time of spiritual enlightenment as well as growth. A time I lived by myself (barely) while spending every waking moment trying to find ways to help others.
There was a time I loved and married again. Even though I was still young, my new husband explained to me that love is a choice – not some willy, nilly, here and there emotion – a choice to respect, honor and support each other.
There was a time when I didn’t want children. I believed I was too messed up. I was too focused on my own pain to even attempt healthy parenting. A time when I was too immature to risk the responsibility of molding fragile, young minds.
There was a time when I was sure Armageddon was upon us and I wasn’t right with God. Although acts of terrorism occurred in other countries every day, when it hit the United States, it felt like the end of the world. And even though we were told to be brave and to show we couldn’t be terrorized, I was shaking in my boots, literally and figuratively.
There was a time when my heart began aching for the chance to be pregnant, to feel a baby moving inside my tummy, to be able to raise a child to make a difference in the world. There was a time when I had confidence in my ability to parent for even the most brief of seconds.
There was a time when my body revolted against me and became unmanageable. When I had completed the birth experience and wanted to relax into the duties of motherhood. A time when my mind began racing and my stomach began churning, when I couldn’t wake without feeling startled and a time when I wanted to hurt or kill myself because I couldn’t make the crazy stop. A time when sadness seemed the most illogical reaction, yet had set up camp in my heart and home. A time when I was paranoid I would never be normal again. A time when another psychiatric hospital stay was required and medication became not an option, but a necessity. And a time when my husband had to remind me that “Every day is a victory.”
There was a time when the death of others was an abstract concept. A time when I was safe in the knowledge that those I loved dearly were always available and would be for a very long time. A time when I couldn’t relate to anyone who was grieving because I hadn’t experienced it. A time when I thought perhaps death was similar to Armageddon – I awaited its arrival, but it never came.
There was a time when death finally came – sometimes loud and angry-like and sometimes soft and quietly. My Grandpa, my Grandmas, my ex-husband, my father, my brother, my friends. The people I had talked about life and death with were actually dying and I wasn’t quite sure what to do.
There was a time when I believed I would never stay at a job I didn’t enjoy. A time I kept my mouth shut during many injustices and allowed my soul to shrink deeper into itself simply because of the almighty dollar. There was a time when money reigned supreme and I believed being a Deputy Clerk of District Court was the best I could ever do in my life.
There was a time when I didn’t have to worry about my weight or my health. A time when I ate whatever I wanted and hardly gained a pound because I was smoking. A time when I quit smoking and began to gain weight and then became pregnant and began to gain weight and began taking medications that added more weight. There was a time when I told myself it didn’t matter what other people thought about my weight, it only mattered how I felt. And a time when I realized I didn’t feel all that great about how I looked.
There was a time when I once again turned to self-injury and tried to convince my doctor that hurting myself was better than killing myself and he threatened to put me in the hospital again. A time I reached out and a loved one got me in touch with a therapist who helped change my life.
And then, there is this moment, right now. When I am about to turn 40.
I have been sober for 21 years and have been happily married for 18. I have two beautiful, bright children. I am a business owner and work from home. Instead of scarring my skin with self-injury, I honor those I love with tattoos that decorate my skin. I have a firm belief that God has my back and it is a knowledge I can rest easy in. Today, I know that God loves me, not because of my actions, but because of His grace. My relationship with God is personal and something I can celebrate with others who know God’s love. I still take medication and quitting it is not an option. – but I’ve accepted this about myself. I have a healthy diet and have been working at exercising more frequently. I have a community of friends and family who cheer with me during success and mourn with me during sorrow.
I am not naive enough to think there will be no more troubles in this life – but I am hoping the legacy of my 40’s will bear the titles, “Wise and Youthful.”
I think I’m gonna like it here.