When people think of the word ‘milestone’, it’s usually associated with a birthday, a graduation, or the point where the first number in their age changes. Not many usually see ’29’ as a milestone. Rather, most view it as a precursor to ‘the big 30’.

But 29 is going to be huge for me. See, when I was 19 years old on a mid-June day in Florida, I decided to embark on what I call my Self-Love Journey. I’m not so good with marketing so I haven’t thought up a wittier name to call these past few years. Nevertheless, it is an experience that I thank my past self for starting. (From bottom of my heart, old me. You rock.)

When I was 16 years old, I remember laying on the floor in my bedroom. I had a full-length mirror that I tended to either shy away from, or analyze my flaws. In that room, I would put on my headphones and blast Linkin Park and Evanescence in my ears at the highest possible volume. Sometimes I did it for fun, but usually, I did it in an attempt to drown out my grandmother’s cursing and insults thrown my way. One night, I remember looking in that mirror and wondering what my life would be like when I was 25 years old and out of that hell. I kept telling myself, “You’re almost 18. Just count down to 18. It’s almost over.” And on that night, when I looked into the mirror and imagined myself, I pictured the qualities I wanted when I got to that quarter century age.

I wanted to have energy. I wanted to be a vibrant person who attracted positive, loving people. I wanted to sing my lungs out at karaoke and be the kind of friend who would go on spontaneous adventures with others. I wanted to be a writer and a poet. And most of all, I wanted people to find me worthy and beautiful.

Even though I had such positive views of my future, it almost fell through. About halfway through age 16, I remember making a conviction. I made a decision to throw my life away, bite the bullet, and murder my abusive grandmother. Miraculously, right at the moment I decided this (because I honestly would have went through with it), my aunt and some police officers barged into the house and told me to get everything I felt I needed because I would never enter that house again.

Thank God, the cosmos, the universe, and whoever the fuck else I need to thank.

Because I would not have had the opportunity to embark on this mission of improving my life had it not been for that moment of rescue.

However, after that moment is when the real work began. I moved in with my other grandmother – my dad’s mom or “the nice one” as I liked to describe her. Though as nice as she was, I had a terrible habit of assuming that she had the same mindset of “the bad one”. I suspected that she thought negatively of me, thought I was worthless and undeserving, and assumed that she would never truly love me as I was. Therefore, I couldn’t help but lash out at her and treat her unfairly. I had a really bad attitude. Hurt people hurt people after all. And this pattern continued for a few years, all the way up until I was 19 years old.

Somehow, despite my bad attitude and crappy demeanor, I had made a friend. My best friend. We hung out very often, especially once I started college. We loved the same music, played video games together, and went to bars together. We particularly liked Goth Night at a small, independent bar with a dance floor. I have really good memories of our times together. She gave me true, unconditional love. I took all of it for granted, of course. As much fun as we had, I know I blasted negative energy everywhere I went. She even told me one day that “Being your friend can be really exhausting.” It wasn’t until that hot summer day in June that it hit me. I looked up at the Florida sky and realized just how beautiful of a day it was. And I decided, I wanted more of that beauty in my life. I wanted to be better, and in turn, treat those around me better. Especially to her.

That was the starting point for me. And I can’t even tell you just how difficult it is to change your mindset about some of the most basic things. From 19 until maybe 24 years old, I saw very few results. Many bridges have been burned in my trial and effort in treating others better. I suppose that’s the natural result through all of my social experimenting. Perhaps other people don’t feel the burn so hard because they go through this stage during school years. Or perhaps my plight is more common than people would like to admit.

At 25, my friendships started sticking. I started experiencing people who wanted to be with me because they actually enjoyed my company. I was more personable than ever before. Literally. I wasn’t quite at my dream goal that I had set up at 16, but I was almost there.

I decided to treat my body better. I’ve been losing weight and now I’m on to building muscle. I’ve been rocking cute hairstyles and started a skincare routine. I’ve been actively working on the projects I’ve always dreamed about. I’ve even started getting comfortable singing in front of other people in casual settings. Things are looking up.

Fast-forward to today, I have people I think I can actually call upon if I want to vent and cry in front of. Not that I’ve ever cried in front of any of my friends here, but I know I could if I needed to. And I probably wouldn’t be judged for it. Perhaps I’d even be encouraged. A couple of these people, I have known for a year or slightly more. And that’s a bigger achievement than I have ever been graced with in my entire life.

I am not a naturally sociable person, nor do I exude charm. But by being the best I can be, honoring my own personality, and giving myself nurturing, space, and love, I’ve finally been able to develop a stable, healthy social circle. A decade hasn’t passed quite yet, but I’m excited to see how much more things will develop in a year. Would I be comfortable upgrading a friendship to a ‘best friend’ status? Could I ever be ready – truly ready – to bump one up to a romantic relationship? I’m not sure of the answers, but considering these questions is far less daunting than what it seemed 8.5 years ago.

So in June 2020, I will be celebrating my 10-year milestone on my self-love journey. I’m not exactly sure of the specifics yet, but I have an entire year and a half to plan it.

And yes, you’re invited.

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