Viewing any years as your best ones is a set-up for defeat …

You ever look back at what you thought were the “best years of your life” and realize they were actually trash? Maybe you haven’t lived these years yet. Perhaps you’re a serene and joyful individual, and all your years have been the best. More likely, maybe it’s all been misery? Regardless, viewing any stretch of years as the best is a set-up for unhappiness. Understanding why you’ve labeled those years as such is vital in moving forward and bettering yourself. 

In a perfect world, all of our “best years” would be ahead of us. I think that’s how happy, successful individuals view their paths. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them.

All arbitrary meaning aside, I had confidently defined my “best years” as the end of high school to beginning of college period (age 16-19). Upon speaking to folks about it, I found the average person hated high school. Many denote that stretch as their “awkward years.” Not for me. Those were the glory days, and how sad it is to make such a claim. Especially considering I was about as weird as an individual as one could get. Short, grotesquely skinny, and never dropping the dry shtick that only a select few even picked up on. 

Most people I’ve spoken to note college as their finest years. Well, far from finest. More so their 'favorite' and 'most memorable.' It makes sense, bearing in mind it’s a carefree period when you have your first dose of freedom from home; an initial taste of adulthood without all the responsibility before the frightening reality of the real world. College is a period where one is expected to grow and discover, yet a lack of self-awareness is completely excused. Substance abuse is written off as having a good time. One-night stands and binge drinking don’t yet appear to be problems. In fact, they’re priorities for most.

I had a different university experience. The end of freshman year marked the end of my “best years.” I still had a young unworried joy throughout my first 2 semesters of school — not much was expected of freshman students, so I took that opportunity to drink, smoke pot and be social. I finally developed my first relationship. That’s right, my first girlfriend at age 18. (Let’s not discuss how it ended.) When that love crumbled, early in my sophomore year, I too fell apart. I changed, my view of the world changed and the way I handled life significantly changed. 

It’s in my best interest to not go into the rocky details, but let’s say that was my introduction to real trauma. I transferred universities, both out of necessity and in the hopes of change, but more misery piled on. My mother’s health worsened, drinking went from a social lubricant to a poor coping mechanism. I couldn’t move forward. The only progressing aspect of life was my drinking, which quickly got me into trouble. Four months after I could legally drink, I was in rooms with other recovering alcoholics trying to get sober. My final years of college were spent focusing on sobriety, simply trying to graduate and not letting my mother’s rapidly deteriorating mind destroy mine. Party. 

Fast forward to present day, not even a year after graduation. Just a month after graduating, I moved from home in eastern Pennsylvania to Denver, where I lived with my sister and worked retail jobs to get by. Seven months after transplanting to Colorado, I made my way to Los Angeles, where I live currently. Sure, I’m still taking little gigs as they come solely to survive, but I’m where I always dreamed of being. Everything I love is here. All I’ve aspired to get involved with is here. I’m living with my best friend who has very similar ambitions. While the financial needs frighten me, I’m as proactive as can be and practicing all I’m passionate about. So why am I not in the midst of “the best years of my life”? 

Excellent question. Lately I’ve been reflecting on past years; trying to figure out why I considered 16-19 my “best ones.” The realization I finally came to disturbed me — 16 I started drinking, 17 I got into pot. The span from 16 to 19 is when my friends and I spent the most time smoking and drinking, goofing around purposelessly and not really caring about anything. There were no overt consequences for our actions. There was no indication that such habits would eventually provide a problem for us. Most appealingly, we could screw around and get drunk or high without any worry about financial responsibility. We still had wonderful parents providing for us, looking the other way as were were merely “young guys.” 

Like a lot of young people, our time chilling revolved almost completely around booze or weed. It didn’t matter what we were doing or where we were, as long as we could alter our minds with the aforementioned substances. And these seemingly innocent substances changed me. I never really cared for pot or what it did to me. I did, however, love drinking and its effect. Put simply, it made me not care. I forgot my constant anxiety about what others thought of me. I was finally able to flirt with girls. Before booze, I had no concept of “making a move.”  It deluded me into thinking “drunk me” was the actual me. I was always outgoing, but while intoxicated I was confidently and shamelessly outgoing; absent of the fear-filled inner voice that told me to hold back, or convinced me that people were laughing at me in the way I didn’t want them to. 

It wasn’t long before reality set in, and I encountered the true ugliness of people and disease. Since the initial suffering and subsequent mental struggle, my life has essentially been picking up the pieces and attempting to move forward. I’ll never fully “be over” the misery I faced, nor will I be cured of my disease. I can accept these facts. It took great trial and tribulation, but I’ve finally begun to understand acceptance. While I do partake in the things I love and continue to pursue my dreams, every single day remains a constant battle with my mind, my disease and the past that brought me here.

In retrospect, those “best years of my life” weren’t at all. They were simply the years of untainted young innocence and substance abuse. Years which I’ve romanticized in my alcoholic mind. Looking back with an unfogged mind and a lot more life experience, they were actually quite pitiful. I drank just as alcoholically then as I did in the days before I found myself seeking help. We were young and invincible, however. My friends and I were “boys being boys,” unexposed to the harsh realities of life. 

Viewing that span of time as my best years was more or less me still fighting acceptance and fearing the move forward. The fact is, I’m in a great place currently and am always moving forward and bettering myself. I believe I’m ready to drop this “best years of my life” shit and keep pushing. The best ones aren’t behind me, but the worst ones certainly are. I simply loved comfort and lack of accountability. However, neither of those qualities ever got anyone anywhere. 

Take a page out of my book. Deeply consider why you view your “best years” as such. I’m willing to bet, for most of you, that you’re in the same boat as me. You think back to your high school or college days and idealize them, almost entirely because they were a time of comfort and reckless fun without consequence. I commend those who can’t really relate. Maybe you’re consistently working towards your best days, or you don’t view life as a series of phases. You’re better and healthier people for it. 

Dwelling on the past, whether it be in a positive or negative light, isn’t beneficial to anyone. We can use our pasts as a learning tool to guide us, but aside from that it should be left as is. Worrying too much about the future is very much the same.  Sure, you have to set goals and work towards them, but future success stems from the present day.  Living in the now. It’s been hard for me, although it’s essential in finding serenity and contentment. Forget the “best years of your life.” They’re probably ahead of you. As a matter of fact they’re definitely ahead of you. You can be living them right now if you would like to be.