On turning 25 at 26

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Up until last year every birthday had felt basically the same, even the milestones. I didn’t feel any different after 16 or 18.

16 gave me freedom to make mistakes in places that my friends did not personally transport me to.

17.

18 allowed me to buy cigarettes without begging my older friends to purchase them for me. The night was spent at a sex shop after which I forgot my dirty magazine at the diner where we had been drinking coffee and chain smoking.

19.

20 felt a little uncomfortable because I was leaving behind the manic naivety of my teenage years. I spent an evening alone in my father’s house sneaking brandy on the couch while typing in my journal about the discomfort I felt leaving those trying yet formative years behind. Aside from that I was the same person living the same life.

21 altered my lifestyle in that I was able to drink legally in bars, but the change didn’t go below the surface.

22.

23.

24.

25 was something else, though. I am not the same person living the same life, and even 24 has begun to feel like an eternity ago.

My early twenties felt a lot like playing house. Teetering on adulthood but not particularly racing towards it.

25 was something else. 2013 was vastly different than every other year prior. Personally and otherwise. I’ve begun my career, my goals are different, and my skin is drier.

As more of my friends enter the 9-5 club, I really wonder when the novelty of adult life wore off and we all stopped playing house. When I worked in the restaurant industry, the concept of happy hour was a joke. On the rare occasion that we’d be free that early in the evening, we would go out and sip half price cocktails and secretly pretend to be successful young professionals who do things like pay for manicures and hire pet sitters.

In the past year, I’ve done both of those things.

I think part of me never thought I’d actually get to this point, because I chose the hard way. I didn’t enroll in a typical college right after high school to get my undergraduate like everyone else, because I didn’t want to waste money studying when I wasn’t certain about my passion. The way academia worked rubbed me the wrong way, and it still does. While I built up my writing portfolio and juggled community college and barista shifts, my friends graduated and remained unemployed—and wound up breaking into their field around the same time that I did. Except I’m still working towards my degree. Slow and steady and all.

But it seemed almost as soon as 25 was reality, so was adulthood and financial independence. You know how if the 12 year old you met the current you you’d have hard time having a conversation? That’s how I feel about my 24 year old self and my 25 year old self.

Last year kick-started my career in a new way, but that wasn’t the only change. It was like I snapped out of hedonism almost overnight.

For years of my life I gave myself a free pass to enjoy indulgences in way that I knew I wouldn’t be able to later on in life. In high school, we had a milkshake bar. I was an (extremely unhealthy) vegetarian for a few years, so for lunch at school I’d opt for french fries and a chocolate milkshake. That was my lunch every day my freshman year. And I swear I weighed like 110 lbs.

I also never exercised because I hated it. Cardio makes me want to anger-vomit. I tried out for the tennis team my senior year but didn’t make it because despite the fact that I was good in-game, I couldn’t do the warm-ups without feeling like I was going to die. So I rebelled by going to art school.

Did I mention I used to smoke? For like, 8 years?

But all of these things I resolved to quit in this ethereal “some day.” I knew I’d stop smoking. I knew. I knew I’d eventually become a healthy eater. I knew I’d force myself to exercise regularly. I knew I’d eventually be “old enough” that my health had to be a priority. And it happened at 25 without me even realizing it.

It was like my body just said, “Okay, you’re an adult now. Here’s all that shit you said you’d deal with.” Although I quit smoking several years ago, the rest didn’t catch up to me until last year. And here I am now, free of the service industry, financially independent, with a job in marketing that offers great health insurance.

My teenage self would be so horrified.

 

“Anything.”

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Addiction is a sensitive topic and not one that I take lightly. Furthermore, I fully recognize that as someone who has never experienced addiction, I have no idea what I’m talking about. But I’d like to say a few words because there are people in my life whom I love deeply who have struggled with addiction, and people that I have known and respected who lost the battle. I have read many articles from former addicts recently about the horrors of relapse, and I’ve heard some disgusted individuals spitting fire.

Let me start by saying, I fucking love Phillip Seymour Hoffman as an actor. I’ve always felt that everything he touched turned to gold. The man had incredible talent and he was an outcast’s spirit animal. Despite his past, he wasn’t the kind of celebrity you’d expect us to lose.

So when I heard he had died of a heroin overdose, I felt something. It’s not terribly common for me to react to a “celebrity death”, but this time I couldn’t help it. At first I was pissed. At first I started ranting about the arrogance it must take to have everything in the world and just stuff your veins with poison to escape. He had children, for Christ’s-sake. How could he do that to himself? How could he let himself so needlessly die?

My anger didn’t last long. I’m no fool, I know addiction is a cruel and powerful thing. And then I felt grief. A strange kind that is reserved only for those who you never met but respected immensely. I felt sad that such a talented man’s life was cut short. That he’d never see the world recognize him as one of the best actors of his generation. That his kids would grow up without him. That there was a community of people who actually knew him hurting in the gut wrenching way that only having someone you love torn from the earth can bring.

The truth is, addiction is impossibly hard to understand unless you’ve gone through it—and I say that as someone who has never been an addict. I say that as someone who has merely seen addiction from the outside. It’s so hard to grasp something having that sort of power over you. Fully aware that if he didn’t stop he would die, but completely incapable of saving himself. Not arrogant. Not stubborn. Sick.

Addiction is a disease, and it festers even when it is dormant. Phillip Seymour Hoffman was 23 years clean when he checked into rehab in 2012, supposedly because a celebratory drink at a release party awoke the beast that at the age of 22 drove him to every drug he could get his hands on. That’s not reckless partying, that’s illness.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death is not the reason we need drug reform—every overdose is the reason we need drug reform. It’s time to stop the stigma of drug addiction and treat addicts as patients in recovery and not delinquents. If we continue to consider addicts as criminals they’ll never get help, and the instance of overdose will just keep rising. Spain, England, Switzerland, and Germany have all implemented programs to treat addicts rather than jail them, and each and every one has seen a drop in deaths, crime, and yes—usage.

Russell Brand said it best in his Guardian piece, ”tradition is the narcotic of our rulers.” And until they clean up, all the rehab clinics in the world won’t make a difference.