A year ago, I was single, unemployed, homeless, broke, fat and drunk

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Exactly a year ago, I had just arrived in my hometown of Fort Myers, FL.

After 11 and a half happy years as a resident of New York City, I had decided to move back to Southwest Florida with my tail between my legs. Unknown to my friends at the time, I had just come out of the darkest place of my life and decided that what I needed was to restart.

So in early April 2016, I accepted my parent’s invitation to move back home for a little while and set about changing my life. I packed up my apartment, sold as much furniture as I could, had a goodbye party with the friends I loved but couldn’t yet tell the full truth to yet… and finally left the city in a van with the rest of my stuff, my faithful kitty Jack and my mom helping to drive the next 1,250 miles.

When I arrived at my parent’s house on the night of April 22nd last year, I felt completely defeated and lost. I didn’t know what the next month or six months or year would bring, and I was scared.

At the same time, however, I was ready to face up to defeat and admit that I needed to make some drastic changes in my life. As this post would suggest… When I woke up the next day, I realized (albeit half jokingly) that I was single, unemployed, homeless, broke, fat and drunk.

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit there.

The whole idea behind the title of this post actually started after an idea I had while working on my Map Your 30s blog on my portfolio site. While I ultimately abandoned that idea like so many of my writerly fantasies, the thoughts still persisted.

At the time, I knew that I needed to make changes and figure out some stuff in my life. I had decided to blog about those changes and that “figuring it all out” mentality with the idea that life continues to change and evolve even after turning 30, which I had done exactly a month before my big dramatic move out of the city. I categorized these changes into six different sections: relationships, career, home, money, health and confidence (my code word for mental health and recovery from alcohol addiction, which I wasn’t yet ready to talk about publicly).

Those were the categories in which I thought I needed to make some changes… and although my life might not sound quite as dramatic as the title of this post implies, I was in fact all of those things:

I was single (no long term relationship in the past six years, and the ones back then were pretty freaking crappy). I was unemployed (I had just lost a new job that I realized too late wasn’t going to work out anyway). I was homeless (living with your parents isn’t exactly being the self-sustaining adult I had known myself to be). I was broke (no real savings or any money to speak of, and what little I had was used on moving expenses). I was fat (my health had slowly deteriorated in the past few years to the point that I was 20 pounds higher than what I wished I was, 40 pounds higher than my lowest weight post-weight loss surgery, and 30 pounds higher than my goal weight). And I was drunk (in that I had just suffered from a horrible-but-brief relapse into alcoholism after my first and only stint in rehab in July/August 2015).

Basically, everything was wrong with my life a year ago.

I wasn’t happy. I knew I still loved living in New York City, but I also knew that I needed to get out of there in order to clear my head. Recovery was harder than I thought and being an adult had become increasingly more difficult. And to be honest, being single in the city sucked.

I’m not blaming the problems of my life on where I was living, but I knew at the time that it wasn’t helping. I had loving, supportive, incredible friends… but it just wasn’t enough. My health and career had stalled, I never had enough money and somehow the support system I knew I had just didn’t seem like enough. And so I went home.

Well, as hard as it is to admit… that’s probably the best decision I could have made.

At the time, I remember feeling ashamed. My friends knew I was leaving the city, but not a single one of them truly knew why until weeks later. I just wasn’t ready to come clean as I packed up my boxes and said goodbye to the only city I had chosen to call home, to the friendships I had spent my entire adult life cultivating. It was hard.

But it was also good for me.

I took the wounds that life in the city had slowly cut into me, and I healed them.

In taking myself out of the environment I thought I wanted, I discovered that I am still the person that I always was – I had just gotten a little lost somewhere along the way.

I don’t know if it was the job troubles or the drinking or the not taking care of my body or the frustrating dating life or the living alone or the feeling constantly penniless for 12 years, but I finally broke. But in breaking and admitting that something in me shattered, I was slowly able to put myself back together again.

Shortly after moving back to Florida, I unexpectedly met the love of my life.

I know how ridiculous that might sound, trust me. The “love of my life” is not a phrase I ever thought I would utter. But in meeting my partner Adam, I realized that I had never known love before. He was the first – and very vital piece – of putting my pieces back together.

Afterwards, I got my old job back. Then I moved in with him, just as we both started to eat much healthier and started to take care of my finances again. I rebuilt friendships new and old, reconnected with those I left behind in NYC and those I have missed here in FL since I originally moved away.

And most of all, I haven’t had a single drink since last April.

The life I left behind slowly faded away into this new life I created for myself. I realized that I wasn’t all gone and that taking some time to take care of my mental health was nothing to be ashamed of. I know that I am incredibly lucky to have parents who were behind me when I needed them, and even luckier to have found someone who loves me and supports me (and still wants to see me naked) despite all my horror stories of the past.

Now, a year later, I almost can’t believe the changes I have seen in my life since leaving New York as a single, unemployed, homeless, broke, fat and drunk mess of a person.

I’m now in a loving relationship with a man that shows me more support than I could ever possibly deserve, happier than ever working as a full-time freelance writer and editor, carefully decorating a beautiful home that I share with my love and our two fur babies, slowly paying off all of our debt and saving money for the first time in my life, back to a really happy weight thanks to my mostly-vegetarian diet and going to proudly celebrate two years in recovery this summer (and just celebrated a year since my last relapse).

I’ve rebuilt my life in completely unexpected ways, and it wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t admit to myself back then that I was lost.

When I set out on this journey a year ago, I didn’t know what the year would bring. I didn’t know how lost I was and, to be honest, I hadn’t yet realized just how dark of a place I was in until I was fully out of it. But that’s what happens sometimes, I think. Insert joke about hindsight being 20/20 here…

What’s true now is that I finally feel like I have my life back together. I’ve taken all of those little pieces that slowly crumbled around me without me noticing and I collected them all, meticulously glued them back together with my own brand of crazy glue, and just kept on going.

It’s incredible how I feel today in comparison to this day a year ago. I wouldn’t even know how to describe it except to say that my life is 1000x better than I ever could have imagined.

I know that a lot of that is in part because I found someone who is there for me all the time, no matter what, and who proudly calls himself my number one fan. Gotta love that!

But most of it is because of me, and because of the strides I made to pull myself out of that dark place I was in.

The smiling picture you saw at the beginning of this post was a mask… I was smiling to keep from crying as I took that picture in a restroom somewhere along the drive from NYC to FL. But now my smile is bigger than ever, and it’s genuine.

What a difference a year makes, huh?

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Thoughts on turning 31… and the
future of Map Your 30s blog

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When I first started writing about turning 30 years old and decided to create the Map Your 30s Blog, my idea was simple: I wanted to write about all of the changes happening in my life and I wanted to make the point that life doesn’t end when you’re 30.

In fact, in my very first post after turning the big 3-0, I said that “my goal with the Map Your 30s blog is to prove that turning this momentous decade doesn’t have to be the end of your journey.” I wanted to write about how it’s okay not to have everything figured out, because I still didn’t and because I knew plenty of people who were stressed because it felt like being 30 meant SO MUCH.

It doesn’t.

Or, at least, it doesn’t have to.

Yesterday, I turned 31 years old and, let me tell you, a LOT of stuff has happened in my life since. If you’ve been following me at all (on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram), then you might have noticed quite a few changes… Starting with the biggest one of all: At 30, I was living in New York City, the place I had chosen to call my home since I went to college there at 18 years old, and am now a happy resident of Southwest Florida, where I am actually originally from and never thought I would end up in again.

But there’s more. And since I had very specific categories I wanted to grow in, talk about and generally work towards bettering in my 30s, here it is.

Relationships: When I turned 30 years old, I was single and kind of starting to be miserable about it. I hadn’t had a longterm relationship in six years and, even worse, the relationships I had before were pretty freaking horrible. But in my first Map Your 30s blog post (which was written exactly 3 months after turning 30), I wrote about finally finding the relationship I have always dreamed of. And well, we’re about to near our one year anniversary and are happily planning for 57 more to come.

Career: This is probably the place where I’ve grown the most, besides relationships. At 30, I had just accepted a job that very quickly turned out to be the wrong move for me and spurned me to go back to Florida, with my tail between my legs, to live with my parents and figure out the next step. In my update last June, I had thankfully gone back to being the Food Editor at Brit+Co and started writing again for MamásLatinas. Since then, I also started being a regular contributor to Mom.me and am hoping to find another PT writing gig soon. Beyond that, though, I also am freelancing a ton since the start of 2017 (after hiring a writing coach) and am very optimistic that I will hit my goal of being published in 17 publications this year… and very soon, I expect!

Home: My home situation obviously changed quite dramatically from being 30 to being 31, since I moved states and settled back in Southwest Florida (for now, anyway). I used to believe that New York City was the place where I belonged and the only city that I could live in, but that’s no longer true. It ironically probably took 10 years of living in the city (the official time you can start calling yourself a “New Yorker,” which I very much consider myself to be) before I realized that I could live elsewhere too. Right now I am happy to be in SW FL but I know that my life is going to take me elsewhere, and possibly before turning 32. That’s meant that my physical home, as in the apartment we live in, is a bit in flux. But that’s okay because, as we all know, I don’t have to have it all figured out just yet.

Finances: This area is a tricky one but, I have to say, I think I am finally starting to get to a better place. At 30, I had no savings to speak of at all. And shortly after starting this blog and moving to Florida, I realized that I might have to save for a car and who knows what else. It’s been tricky, too, because Adam and I traveled a bunch towards the end of 2016 and that ran up our credit cards a bit higher than we’d like. However, with my stable editor and contributor jobs, extra income from freelance writing and some hard-ass budgeting, I am very confident we will be able to pay it all off by the time I turn 32 next year.

Health: I have to admit: At 30, I was definitely not the weight I was hoping to be. Although that didn’t stop me from taking the boudoir photos I had always wanted, it didn’t exactly make me feel good to be eating unhealthy food 80% of the time and only focusing on healthy food 20% of the time. As I wrote in my first Map Your 30s blog post, I wanted to switch those numbers and start to really focus on my health. Although I still haven’t figured out a good gym routine, I am happy to report that I now eat vegetarian or vegan about 80% of the time and have lost about 20 pounds since my 30th birthday. And I wasn’t even trying to!

Confidence: Here is where things get a little tricky… You see, “confidence” was my secret keyword for writing about recovery, which was something that I was not yet comfortable sharing with the world this time last year. I had gone into rehab in July 2015, relapsed in April 2016 (yes, a month after turning 30) and finally confessed to my journey last September, the same month that I celebrated my half-birthday. I also wanted to talk about mental health in this space, and I haven’t done much of that. But from being 30 and on the edge of a relapse to being 31 and almost a whole year sober, I am feeling pretty good and (dare I say it?) more confident than ever.

So, all in all, I would say that the 30th year of my birth was a pretty good one. I met the love of my life, started a full-time freelance writing career, moved from NYC to SW FL, set up a good budget to pay off debts, lost weight as a result of healthier eating and finally figured out life as a sober person.

It’s been quite a rollercoaster and, although I haven’t written about it as much as I initially thought, it’s been a good check-in for myself to see how I have been doing on the bigger life goals.

Here’s the thing though: Although in my head, I kind of want to do more of Map Your 30s, in my heart I know that this is totally unrealistic. The truth is that I have other writing goals right now and no time to focus on this. Beyond that, I want to do something different with my personal writing… and I haven’t quite figured out yet. But I’ll definitely let you know once I do.

However, that’s doesn’t mean that Map Your 30s is totally dead. What it means is that it’s on the back burner and possibly something I just check in with once a year or so. I’m not sure yet, to be honest, but what I do know is that I was right all along: Turning 30 doesn’t mean the end of your life and it doesn’t mean that you have to have everything figured out by then.

If I’ve learned anything over and over in the past year, it’s that life changes and evolves in ways that we imagine, ways that we plan for, ways that we expect… and so many more ways that were definitely not the plan, not what we expected, and not what we could have imagined.

Would I have imagined this time last year that I would be a full-time freelance writer and editor, living with an amazing partner, in Southwest Florida of all places? Absolutely not! But this has brought new adventure, excitement, stability, love, career advances and so much more to my life. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

And I wouldn’t trade turning 30 for anything either. Or 31, for that matter.

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2016 was an exceptionally happy year for me (and I’m not afraid to admit it)

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We’ve all been saying it all damn year, haven’t we? 2016 IS THE WORST.

I know that I’ve definitely been guilty of this sentiment, and it wasn’t really just because of the election (although that contributed to my year-end complaints). But in the past few days, I realized just how much we’ve all been doing it lately…

Look, I get it. This year has kicked us all (figuratively) in the balls. Between the celebs that died throughout the year and especially around Christmas/Hanukkah, it’s been tough. The election was, well, pretty awful for those of us who care about other people and maintaining our rights. And that’s not even to mention Aleppo and Brexit and… ugh, I can’t go on. This year has been the WORST, right?

Or has it?

The truth is that 2016 is not killing people, but people die because of complicated things like a history of drug and alcohol abuse. That’s not the only reason why so many of our fave celebs passed away this year, but that’s certainly a theory that makes sense too.

Then there’s just the general thinking that… Hey, if we call 2016 the worst, then what about all of the bad years that came before it or the bad years that are still to come? (Ya know, with President Trump actually possibly accomplishing some of the vile things he said he planned to do during his campaign.)

Here’s an idea: Let’s all stop calling 2016 “the worst” ASAP.

The truth is that a lot of bad things happened this year. I’m not going to deny that. But a lot of bad things happen every year. When we put all of our blame on a year for doing bad things to us, then we’re taking away our choice – our choice to do something about it, our choice to see the positives, our choice to move on with something more than just feelings of anger.

So I’m done. I know it’s the last day of the year, but I am not going to look back at this year and talk about how it was “the worst” because, especially for me personally, it simply wasn’t.

In a nutshell, two major things happened to me this year that have actually made 2016 my happiest year yet:

1. After 12 years, I moved out of New York City and started a full-time freelance writing career that’s actually been going really well.

2. I met Adam, who turned out to not only be the most generous and loving person I’ve ever met but also an incredibly supportive life partner.

In fact, the first decision actually led to the second. I had been dealing with some recovery issues in NYC and simply no longer felt all that happy there. Plus I was turning 30 and needed to do something different in my life. By circumstance (not all under my control), the best thing for me was to move back home to Florida for a while.

I decided that I would do this for six months to a year, and that this would be my time to figure out what my next steps were and what I wanted to do for my career. It turned out that going all-in on my freelance writing was the right move, and I love where that part of my life is now.

Of course, when I moved to FL, I didn’t think that my personal life would go anywhere. I had been single for many, many years… And although I was sick of that life, I also thought: Who the F am I gonna meet down here?

Well, you know what they say: Life is what happens when you’re making other plans. In comes Adam…

Here’s the story that I tell friends when they ask how we met:

I moved out of NYC after 12 years on a Friday and, needing to find something to do and feeling like I was ready to “get back out there” after a 5-month dating break, turned my favorite dating apps back on the following Tuesday (meaning OKCupid, Tinder and Bumble).

Meanwhile, Adam had finally signed up for online dating after an even longer break when his last relationship ended… And so there we were, both finally “ready” for something real. We started talking on Bumble that Wednesday morning. By the next Saturday (exactly a week and a day after I moved to Florida), we had our first date. It lasted four hours, and only ended because I had a family obligation.

The next week, I cancelled another date in order to have a second date with Adam… and the rest is history. I never went on a date with anybody else. Neither did he. And we moved in a month and a half later.

Not only has my career and my new relationship made me really happy this year, but I learned a lot about myself throughout 2016 too. I’ve also met some great new people (mainly, my boyfriend’s family, and also many other writers who I now call friends) and I learned how to accept love.

Before this year, I never truly knew how to be kind to myself (my NYC therapist’s parting words to me). I still have trouble with that, to be honest. But Adam reminds me every day that I am worthy of love.

Although I’ve had a few relationships, even a two-year one where my ex lived with me, I never truly knew that I was worthy of love. In fact, I had never heard anyone say the words “I love you” to me. Sure, I mean, family and friends… but never anyone who truly loved me in every way that a person deserves to be loved. Until Adam.

He taught me how to accept love and that I deserve it. He continues to teach me that every day and, the more I am with him, the more that I realize that he is truly the love of my life.

I know how cliche that sounds. I know that it’s a funny and kind of ridiculous statement to be saying at 30 years of age. And yet… I’ve had boyfriends and I’ve had countless dates in the past 14 years of my life. But I’ve never had love. And now I do.

So when I look back at 2016, I can still recognize all of the bad things that happened this year. This year, though, is about more than that. This is the year that I fell in love for the first real time of my life. This is the year that I truly found what I want to do with the rest of my life. And this is the year that I learned what it takes to be my best self (even if I’m not totally there yet).

To be honest, I don’t know what 2017 will bring. But I have plans! Plans for my career and plans with my love. If 2016 taught me anything, it’s that a year isn’t to blame for bad things and it’s not really to blame for the good things either.

My year was great because I made it great. Because I learned what I wanted and went after it and accepted the things that came to me unexpectedly too. 2017 will hopefully be more of the same.

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I’m about to turn 30…

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In the past few months, and I couldn’t tell you if this is coincidence or some weird algorithm or simply because I am more aware of it, my Facebook feed has been full of “hey you’re turning 30!” articles.

And it’s true. I am turning 30. In exactly a month, to be precise.

To be honest, I am not yet sure how I feel about the whole thing. At times I feel like the it is kind of silly. All of the pressure that we face, as women and as human beings in general, to have checked off certain life milestones by this age. A great career, a nice home, a semblance of independence and some vague definition of being a real adult now that our twenties are behind us.

Oh yeah, and can’t forget the whole life partner thing.

Whether married, engaged or simply paired off with the person that you’re thinking you probably *will* marry, the pressure to “Have It All” seems to really start at this age when we have graduated from those years of growing and finding ourselves to these years of settling into our lives.

But what if you’re not actually quite settled or ready to be settled yet? Is the pressure to have it all figured out by 30 real, or is it something that’s just in our heads?

Irina25thBdayAs I read through what seems like the 27th list of things I should have done/read/watched/experienced/learned by the time I hit the big 3-0 next month, I’m left wondering: isn’t there more to figure out after this? After all, life doesn’t begin at 30 and it definitely doesn’t end there either.

So that’s where I find myself now, thinking that turning 30 is both a really big deal and absolutely no big deal at all.

Sure, I have some things figured out, like that really awesome career that I love. But some things are still in the To Be Determined folder, like that life partner-type figure that’s looming somewhere on the horizon. Maybe.

In the end, though, I know I still have some work to do on myself. I don’t really think that work will ever end, because what’s the point of life if you just stop improving yourself? But since I’m turning 30 and all the hoopla that supposedly comes with it, I am taking this year to especially focus on some of the things that are important to me.

I’m calling it the Map Your 30s blog. It’s basically a vehicle for me to focus on the things that are important to me and the parts of my life that I want to work on, strengthen or improve in some way. That means my career, relationships, finances, home environment, health and confidence/spirituality.

I doubt it’ll only last a year. That’s quite a big undertaking that I am planning to tackle. But the truth is that it’s really not about a year-long project or because I’m turning 30 and all of a sudden some sort of alarm is going off in my head (it’s not), but simply because I want to do it. And I want to do it now.

Being 30 (and maybe having learned a thing or two in the last decade) is just a perk.

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