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 Leno, Family 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:
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.