I gave up sex and dating. I gave it up just like I would give up chocolate for Lent. It was a very deliberate and conscious choice.
At the time, I had just turned 24, and was fresh off the heels of a broken engagement and sending out the "I'm sorry, I'm no longer getting married so here is your gift back" announcements. I was grieving, and I was lost.
I didn't realize I was on a downward spiral, I thought I was just rebounding. Everyone wanted to take me out for a drink, introduce me to their single friends, set me up and party my woes away. While these might have been well-meaning acts of support, they were not productive ways of coping for me. My behaviors led me to a dysfunctional rebound relationship, empty sex, drunken sex, quite a bit of guilty self-loathing and a vicious up and down cycle of convincing myself I was fine and the next day, not being able to get out of bed.
The day I realized I needed to change was the day I realized I was talking to myself in affirmations and quotes just to get by. I had one for everything. One day, it would be, "What doesn't kill you will only make you stronger," and another, "Don't cry because it's over -- smile because it happened." All of them were written in fancy typography against Instagram photo-like backgrounds. I was a walking Hallmark card trying to convince myself what was going on inside of me would catch up with the way I appeared, normal, as though nothing had changed. But it didn't, because when you're desperate, you'll find meaning in anything -- even a cheesy affirmation.
I needed to change. I needed to be alone. I needed to work on rediscovering myself without the distraction of a romantic interest and without the noise of other people. To do this, I decided to stop dating and take a year of celibacy. I was going to work on me, because the "me" in a relationship always disappeared. I gave "me" up to accommodate my partner and ultimately lost any semblance of who I thought I was.
In my year of no sex/no men, I went on a journey to find myself and heal. I started my business, The Bella Bambino, and I focused on both my mental and physical health. I started doing yoga. I rediscovered me. I learned how to be an independent individual again after being co-dependent for so long. I joined the Catholic Charities of LA-San Pedro Region Advisory board and donated my time and skill sets to my community. I found a passion for helping others.
When the 12 month mark came and went, I let it continue. I let it go on for roughly another 6 months until I was ready. I waited until I was ready to date again without bringing a heavy load of emotional baggage to the table. I waited until I was ready to let someone into my life again without feeling like I had to give parts of myself up to accommodate someone else's needs. I was more secure with myself, I was happier, and I was making better decisions.
Well, except for one thing: I was still gauging my success by pitting it against my lowest point. To define today's success as the distance I had come from the point in which I felt I failed meant I was letting that failure point define me and limit my success.
I still struggle with that, but it gets easier. I catch myself from time to time letting that hurt drive my actions to move in the opposite direction. The difference now is I can recognize it and change my thoughts, so I can proactively change my experience. As I approach my 27th birthday, I allow myself a moment to gauge how far I have come in the last three years, but more importantly, to celebrate this year from a new vantage point of happiness.