A Letter to Myself at Age 23.

Thanks to a couple recent events, I’ve been reflecting a lot on my life ten years ago. The reflection began on Friday, my anniversary. On that day 10 years ago, I arrived in southern California. That means I’ve lived in Los Angeles for a decade, which seems both like a monumental amount of time and like no time at all. On top of that, Friday was a big day for another reason: There was a reunion of a big group of friends from that period in my life, many of whom I haven’t seen in years.

I made it to Los Angeles fresh out of college, and my first job here was  as a Page at NBC. We gave tours of NBC Studios, and seated audiences at The Tonight Show with Jay LenoFamily Feud, and The Weakest Link. If you’ve seen 30 Rock, you’re familiar with NBC Pages: Kenneth is a Page, and I wore his exact same uniform every day for 10 months.

It was a great gig for many reasons, and I’m grateful because it introduced me to my first group of friends in LA. I knew a handful of people out here from college, but the Page program introduced me to dozens of people, all of whom were in the same boat as me: young, recent graduates from all across the country who wanted to work in television. I still count a bunch of Pages as good friends, and my life is richer because of them.

On Friday, NBC offered their final studio tour. Dozens of former pages went to witness the end of an era, and while I was unable to take that final tour, I did meet up with everyone after. Sixteen or eighteen former Pages came, and it was a really fun night of reminiscing and catching up.

Time for photos. I didn’t take any pictures at the Page reunion, but a few months back, my friend (and former Page) (and former roommate) Meg sent me some photos from our Page days. Here I am in late 2002/early 2003:

The back of Meg’s Head, me, Emily, Terrence.

Me, Meg, Ashley

Me, Peter, Robb, Darryl, and Dave (in the corner).

I look at these photos and think about how exciting everything seemed. It was a brand new start: a new career, in a new city, in a new state thousands of miles from home. I was eager to forge a path and be a part of something big and thrilling.

My other reaction to these photos made me tear up, quite honestly, and that’s because the guy in these photos is beginning to be more and more foreign to me. I know I was that heavy. I know that’s a 3XL shirt. And yet, the muscle memory of being that size is fading. I’m now so accustomed to seeing my neck that when I see myself from the days when I didn’t have one, it just seems… bizarre. Unreal. Alien.

The tears are happy ones – after all, these photos are evidence of the incredible work that I’ve done to make positive, healthy changes in my life – but there’s some sadness, too. I know how long that version of me existed, at that size, and I know the unhappiness that accompanied it. I know the amount of repression that happened some days (or weeks, or months) so that version of me could keep going. I know what I was doing to myself, both physically, by eating the way I was eating, and emotionally, by letting low self-esteem and unkind thoughts preside and prevail. That knowledge, just like me in those days, carries a lot of weight.

I’m generally not a big fan of writing letters or giving advice to other versions of myself, but, in this instance, thanks to this congruence of events, I’ve thought about it a good deal. If I could say something to the 23-year-old version of myself, it’d be this:

You’ve only had one bully in your entire life, David. There’s only been one person who’s ever told you that you’re not capable, not good enough, or not worthy, and that’s yourself. Unfortunately, you can be a vicious, unrelenting asshole that’s not afraid to pick new fights when you’re feeling good or dig deeper into older wounds when you’re already feeling like shit. But, no matter how it may seem, that side of you is NOT all-powerful. You need to learn to put that voice in its place and stand up for yourself. It won’t be easy. It’ll take time, and energy, and determination. You’ll need to help and support of friends and family. But once you figure out how it’s done, and how to take care of yourself, and how to really, truly start loving yourself, a whole new world will open up for you, with benefits and opportunities you never would’ve imagined. You’ll never want to turn back. And you won’t.

And… I’m crying again. This time because even though I’ve made a world of changes, I know my struggles aren’t over. That bully – the one that can appear in my mirror – hasn’t vanished completely. There are good long stretches where that side of myself is dormant – and those stretches have become increasingly longer over the past couple years. But every so often, that voice surfaces and tries to tear down every success I’ve achieved, and drain every ounce of self-respect that I’ve accumulated. I’m in this for the long haul, and I suspect my bully is, too.

All I can do is continue to fight. Thankfully, the past two and a half years have proven that I’m a really good fighter. Even better, I have pride. So much pride. I can’t quantify the pride that comes with knowing how much more prepared and equipped I am for battle now than I was in those pictures.

Nothing can stop me.

Nothing will stop me.

Keep it up, David.

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14 Responses to A Letter to Myself at Age 23.

  1. vanessa says:

    beautiful and inspiring. im my very worst enemy. ive lost 125 pounds over the last 18 months and ive stalled horribly, and i still see the old me. my family tells me they see the changes but i still dont believe them. im going to print out your letter to keep motivated.

    • David says:

      There are times I see the old me, too. It happens regularly. Or I’ll walk into a room and suddenly feel shy and painfully self-aware, like everyone must have noticed the fat guy that just walked in and is passing judgment. We can be cruel to ourselves. It can be hard to focus on the positives. But 125 pounds is a HUGE positive… amazing work! Don’t fret about stalling – just figure out what it’s gonna take to get back on track, and start doing it, and KEEP IT UP!

  2. My bully uses a different tactic… she tells me everything is fine; everything is wonderful; you’re great; that fried chicken isn’t all that bad; here, have another couple slices of bacon and some fried potatoes and don’t miss the pie! She’s full of all kinds of advice – all of it wrong. She defended my from all the pain of growing up, though, so I cut her some slack as we reached middle age together. When I finally realized she wasn’t my best friend, we had a hard parting. She slips back now and again, though, and tries to sabotage my success. She’s back in my head right now trying to get me to regain the 96 pounds I’ve lost.

    Now, when I talk to my young self, I tell me that things weren’t as bad as she let on. My mom could be a bitch, yes; but she wasn’t as bad as some others. I could have had some dates… if I hadn’t acted like a bitch myself. I tell me I wasn’t as ugly or as smart as I thought… and I wasn’t as fat as I would get, trying to insulate myself from whatever I thought life would use to hurt me.

    Once again, you’re helping me, David… thank you for showing me that the old version of me who still lives in my head will fade in time and let the new me enjoy life. I hope the new me always has the strength to shut the old me up when she starts trying to convince me it’s better to be wrapped in a thick layer of fat.

    Keep it up, David… the fight never ends.

    • David says:

      The good news for both of us is that we’re well aware of the tools and forms our own personal bullies use – and that’s a huge first step in fighting back. Thanks for yet another thoughtful, wonderful comment, Jenny. And you’re absolutely right – the fight never ends. KEEP IT UP!

  3. Archibald Leach says:

    Wait, you were at the Weakest Link?

  4. Katrina says:

    David. You are amazing. You inspire me to be a better person. I’m so happy for your successes and strength. Love you!

  5. Nurse Karen says:

    I got all teary-eyed at your post. I am so proud of you for hoisting yourself out of the black pit of despair onto the ledge of the light of Hope, –which often seems on the daily edge of a cliff for us foodies–yet you persevere: with honesty, candor, humor, and bravery. That’s part of what inspires one to try again each day, that you: Keep It Up David! xo

  6. Tavi says:

    only if you feed the bully will he be nourished to survive. I suggest keeping your self love alive and vibrant!!! I love to vibrate at GOLD, doesn’t leave space for bullies!

    here’s a fun challenge: every time that bully reveals his ugliness, make a list… say it aloud, and do sit ups while rattling off this list! You can only stop when you have reached a point where you can easily and quickly rattle off a great long list of many things. So thankful in fact, that you can barely catch your breath.

  7. sweat4life says:

    You are amazing and inspirational. I’m proud to call you my friend

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