Hedonism: Then and Now

One of the things I heard consistently from older people as I was in my twenties and thirties was that by the time you hit your forties, you feel comfortable in your own skin. You're still young enough to enjoy life, old enough to have a little money to do things with a bit more style, and finally have some wisdom as to who you are and what you stand for.

Well? I'm waiting.

I seem to have done it backwards. I had oodles of confidence in my twenties and thirties; I was bursting with it. So, naturally, I couldn't wait until I was in my forties to see what they held. But then came a whole lotta unexplainable pain and the corresponding depression, and those two things, teamed up together, flattened me. I found myself rudderless. I suddenly had no idea who I was and where I was going.

The person I'd been up to then was larger than life. Brash, crass, fearless, bold, uncensored, mighty---the person who fills up the room at a party. But sometime around 40, when I'd already been in pain for a couple of years and the depression was just starting to settle in (but I hadn't yet identified it as such), I noticed I no longer had the energy to be That Girl. But beyond that, I was questioning my existence up to that point. That my life had been a whirlwind of hedonistic excess with some incredible experiences didn't register pride in my soul like it once did. Instead, I felt empty when I looked back, like I'd wasted all those prime years partying my nuts off and had nothing to show for it. To out it more bluntly: Can you imagine the kind of money I'd have if I had taken everything I'd spent on cigarettes, booze, and drugs in my life and had put it into the bank instead?

That that kind of Monday-morning quarterbacking doesn't do anyone any good was lost on me. But more than wallowing in my past, I was now looking at my future with a newfound terror. Beyond pain and depression, I also simply recognized the fact that this lifestyle wouldn't be pragmatic heading into the second half of my life. Nothing sadder than a 60-year-old cokehead who's still hanging out with an ever-rotating cast of twentysomethings so they can surround themselves with people who still party like they do. I know a few of those people, and I most decidedly did not want to be that. No, I needed to find a new raison d'etre for my back 40.

And part of this blog, my podcast, my photo-taking, my constant quest to find happiness and happy people…it's all part of this continued search to Find My Passion. It's maddening at times, truly. Mostly because while I say I no longer wanna be "that girl," part of me misses it terribly. Why wouldn't I? I was Amy Schumer before Amy was Amy---loud-mouthed and crass; a bit mannish yet with a ravenous propensity for cock and more than happy to talk about it; saying things that most people didn't expect women to say; drinking, drugging, and bursting in on parties with verve; turning my whiskey-heated tongue on anything I felt deserved my scathing commentary. All those cigarettes and whiskey shots---while I can't say I remember them all---I can say that I enjoyed them immensely at the time.

My shrink, who is a total wise badass (or a bad wiseass, a little of both), pointed out that it was certainly infeasible to expect to sustain the level of energy that that persona requires. It takes an enormous amount of energy to be that "on" all the time. That I could still be expected to summon those levels of energy when I'm simultaneously battling the enemies of age, pain, and depression is unrealistic. That makes a lot of sense to me, even if I don't know what I'm gonna be next. It has allowed me to look back on my years of 16 to 40 with more fondness. Being that girl and chasing those experiences has made me the person I am now.

And, yes, I know that being a Fun Party Girl can seem vapid and shallow to many, but I would also argue that being a drinker and smoker got me places I wouldn't have gone to had I been a "good girl." For example, when I was traveling by myself for six months through 15 foreign countries, there were many, many times I was swallowed in loneliness. I was three weeks into my trip when 9/11 happened, so when my fellow countrymen were going through trauma, upheaval, and uncertainty, I was by myself, say, on a bleak and rainy day in Budapest, feeling very isolated and lonely and cut off.

And each and every time I felt like that, I went to a bar. Not to drown my sorrows, but because bars were a place where I felt at home. The bar universe was a universe I understood; I understood its etiquette, its norms, its social mores. And every single time I plopped my ass on a bar stool, ordered a drink, and lit a cigarette (oh how I miss the days where you could still smoke in bars), I met someone. I inevitably ended up striking up a conversation with a local or even other tourists, and I learned much. Whether it resulted in new adventures with my new bar friend(s) or resulted in a good tidbit of travel advice that I ended up following, I connected with people; I had a new and exciting adventure.

And being a drinker and smoker has also made me an excellent study of people. One of my strongest traits is my ability to read a person, people, or a situation and adapt accordingly. Had I not spent so much of my life in crazy situations around so many different types of people, I don't think that skill would be as finely tuned.

So here I am, a few months from 46, and I still haven't found my grand passion; I still haven't figured out "what I want to be when I grow up." And so I keep pushing. But while my "what next?" journey seems interminable, I have at least started to make peace with my past. I no longer look back on those hedonistic years as wasted time. Those years made me who I am now, put me on the path I'm on now, opened my heart and mind, and gave me some unbelievable stories for my dotage. My shrink thinks I need to start telling some of these tales from my past and that will help me let go of that old me with a little more peace and grace. Which means, you all might get to read stories of how I shat my pants in Istanbul, or broke my leg in Cappadocia, or partied with a Frank Sinatra impersonator one rainy night in SF, or held the hand of a guy who'd just lost his leg in a motorcycle accident while he laid bleeding in the middle of the road, or threw a drink on a guy's face in a crowded restaurant.

In the end, it really is about feeling comfortable in your own skin. These days, I mostly am. I'm not nearly as comfortable as I used to be, but I also have a little more self-awareness than I had then. I worry more about what people will think when I say something truly outrageous. I still say the outrageous things, mind you; it's just now I might inwardly wince and wonder if I just pissed someone off. It's just that now, that booze-soaked tongue comes with perhaps a little empathy for others as well. 

Maybe that's the definition of happiness: feeling utterly and completely comfortable in your own skin. I was happy before, largely because I rarely questioned myself. With age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes questioning. Is there a way for me to question my place in the world and my actions and STILL be one-hundred percent comfortable with who I am and what I'm doing? Maybe if I achieve that balance, I will be happy? Who knows? But I'm not giving up on the quest. None of us should. It's how we grow.