In 7 weeks time, I will turn 25. I will be officially into my 26th year on earth, my second quarter-century if you will. Hallelujah – miracles do happen! When I was 15, I thought that 25 was *ancient* – “here for a good time, not for a long time!” I used to slur dramatically, 1.5 litre bottle of lambrini in hand, next one in the bag ready to go. When I was 20, I still thought 25 was ancient, but I had just started university, which would take me to 23. By 25, I would be sorted. It would just all ‘click.’
I’ve had a charmed life, I know that, with so many priviledges I wouldn’t know where to start. I am one of a family of 4 – parents, brother who is 16 months older, and I never went without. My dad, a senior army officer until 4 years ago, was often away on Tour, and I went to boarding school aged 7, as my parents had done (each an army brat themselves) to spare me from moving school every 2 years, or with each new posting.
I was a vicious over-achiever at school, the worst kind of pre-adolescent whose names was on all the noticeboards, and in all the newsletters. I was top of my year academically for 16 of the 18 terms I attended at my first school, I was a lead in all the school plays and captain of all my sports teams. On top of that, I was also the sorest loser, and extremely sensitive. I would cry, and hate myself for crying, because I came second in my maths exam, or because I lost a race, and I would **hate** myself for crying, but couldn’t stop it, I didn’t understand it, these tears would just appear. I would wake up in the middle of the night aged 12 worried that I wouldn’t get straight A*s in my GCSEs, or even worse that I wouldbn’t get the top academic scholarship to my next school, which obviously meant my life would be over.
By the time I was 14 I had moved on to my secondary school (I got the 2nd top academic scholarship..) and had gone from being the biggest fish who had everyone’s attention whether he wanted it or not, to being completely anonymous – no-one know me, except by the fact I was my brother’s younger brother.
I loved it. But I was confused by it.
Time for a reinvention. All the world’s a stage.
I learned the hard way, but I learned quickly, that in life, you could not be the best at everything. It was not sustainable. I was exhausted, I needed someone to give me a ‘time-out’ because I didn’t know how to give myself one, and the more I worse myself into the ground, the more angry I became because it didn’t seem fair. Aged nearly 15 I got drunk for the first time – it wasn’t any huge deal but I was with a group from the year above me, and we went to the park in town on the sunday afternoon. I don’t know how much we drank, probably not that much by my standards now, maybe a bottle of wine each, but I was, for all intents and purposes, shitfaced.
I remember going back to my boarding house for dinner at 6.45, and trying to eat this pasta-bake type thing but it kept falling off my fork and onto the table. Oh dear, best to get myself to bed, I could see my housemaster giving me a funny look.. Waking up to a ringing bell was my prompt to get out of bed and get dressed, as I was late for registration, and so there I was scrambling into my clothes onto to realise that it was 10pm, and that bed meant to head to bed, lights out.
I didn’t realise, until leaving school and moving to London quite how sheltered my life had been. Bells, uniforms, activities, organised fun, organised everything.
The next day I genuinely thought I was dying. I had never had a hangover before, I didn’t understand that you could feel that ill without being ill, or at least without being legitimately under-the-weather-through-no-fault-of-your-own.
Being drunk that first time told me it was ok to let go, to give control away. And so I did it again, and again, and again.
I don’t know if this is obvious, but I didn’t find I had the easiest ‘teenage’ years, but who does? As much as I couldn’t cope with the pressure I put on myself, I couldn’t let it go, or deal with it in an appropriate manner, so I was drinking and still holding on to push myself through my GCSEs when all I wanted was to drop. I knew that as bad as I felt then, it wouldn’t be as bad as not being able to apply to Cambridge, or Oxford, for university, and so I dug deeper.
Finishing school, in one piece, and getting a place to study history at a top 5 university is hands-down my greatest achievement – pure endurance, will-power and obstinence to not let myself down, pick myself up and go again, and again. The long game.
Previous to university I had had an extremely sheltered life, which is difficult for someone as independent-minded as me to come to terms with – how do you marry the two? How did you let this happen to yourself?
i had always pushed the boundaries anyway, even if i wasn’t doing it for that reason, but now I needed someone to push back. Hello, self-destruct button.
I’ve written a little bit about the 5 years I’ve spent in London – the park benches, the street corner, restaurants, strangers’ beds – in short, the glamour and the laughs. And now, I feel like I am ready to put the first 25 years to bed, to draw a line. Done.
It was what it was, now this can be something else.
I’m ready to grow up now – I’m ready to push myself again, to not self-sabotage because its so much easier to not come first through your conscious decision to remove yourself from the race than to lose even though you tried your hardest. This is why completing my half marathon a month ago meant the world to me – I competed.
Hide under the duvet, or come out into the sun?
I would not change anything that I have done in the last 25 years, because I don’t live on regrets and everything happens for a reason, whether because I have done something to make it that way, or someone else has, but I am excited to grow up, take responsibility and accountability. Ownership – the bad and the good.
I also feel I can now roll much better with the punches, whereas before I would enter the ring under a blanket of alcohol. Now I can hit back, or at the very least dust myself off, and admit defeat without incurring a hangover that could last five days.
I don’t see this, my 25th birthday, as a watershed moment, where I no longer fall flat on my face (literally, figuratively, blah blah), or get irrationally angry, but I am excited to see what happens next. I’ve stopped looking forwards by one day at a time, and I’m ready to start strategising and planning.