Yesterday was my birthday. As soon as I woke up, I thought about everything I told myself I’d do to mark the day: quit smoking, lay off the caffeine, and eat like a grown up. Then I rolled out of bed, made myself a Cool Whip cone, and sat down with a black cup of coffee and a cigarette.
I should know better. I’ve been making and breaking promises to myself since 1972. It’s hope, I guess — despite all evidence to the contrary, I’ve continued to believe that I could do anything if I just set my mind to it.
It started in elementary school. I vowed to lose ten pounds n fourth grade, and dined on grapefruit and hard boiled eggs for an entire day before I lost my shit and ate two dozen chocolate chip cookies. I took a self-administered oath to be well behaved at school and was in the principal’s office five hours later, and, shortly after resolving to be nice to my next door neighbor, I started the “I Hate Alecia Club” in her honor. (That’s not a typo; that’s how her name was spelled. Which, obviously, was a reason to hate her.
And so it went. Every birthday I swore off, tried to, and didn’t. I didn’t lose weight, pay every parking ticket or organize my receipts; I didn’t go to the dentist or send overdue thank you notes. I failed to keep away from casinos, Neiman Marcus, and scabrous men, and I didn’t return every call or respond to every email. Once a decade, I’d admit to my innermost self that I had a problem with drugs, and once a decade I’d go back to rehab.
I have plenty of willpower, but it doesn’t help. I fold, and I end up hating myself. I think about how a better person would be able to stick to his or her vows. Then I resolve to be an all-around better person — the kind who doesn’t need to give anything up in the first place — and then I fail again.
Besides, I have made changes. It’s just that none of them have anything to do with my annual birthday resolutions. For me, change doesn’t come on a calendar; change comes when I’m ready for it. So, on my next birthday, I’m not resolving to do or not do anything. I’m just gonna settle in with a chocolate cake and a pack of smokes and accept my ghastly imperfections.