top of page

A Birthday Without Presence

“Sometimes the most valuable lessons come from people who didn’t intend to give them.”


All my life I've been the creator of my own suffering.

Able-bodied, athletic, intelligent, and easy-going were all adjectives that any one of my friends could have used to describe me. They weren't wrong, but they also weren't seeing the whole picture. Those were all labels to describe a thin, albeit shiny shell covering up a deeper, darker truth.

That darkness was hidden by the light of the facade, but it was there, oh-so present to the experiencer of it. Only I knew the truth of what it was like to inhabit my body and my mind.

It was my 16th birthday, and I had been in an especially deep funk for several days. The pressures of high school - homework, tests, hockey practice, confusing relationships, and an unskilled way of dealing with all of these things - resulted in a 72-hour bout of depression that wasn't showing any signs of letting up.

My parents had prepared the vanilla-frosted cake - all 16 flames lit and ready to go - when I brought my miserable self to the kitchen table. This wasn't the first they had seen of me in this state, but perhaps they expected me to perk up. After all, it was my birthday, and I was about to make my wish.

But instead of a wish, they got a dejected son who, in their words, looked like he was on drugs. I could barely keep my eyes open, showing zero signs of gratitude. I was so distressed, so disrespectful, that my parents kicked me out of my own birthday celebration and sent me to my room. I didn't even get to blow out my candles.

The truth is, I was not on drugs, and they knew it. They were tired of seeing me like this, day after day, year after year.

I was so clouded by negativity that I couldn't even interact with, let alone appreciate, the beautiful birthday celebration my family had prepared for me. I was living in the past, the future, and a thousand different hypothetical sideways dimensions, none of which were my current reality.

I was in the backseat of my own life. I was the opposite of present. I was completely absent.

Getting kicked out of my own birthday was perhaps the wake-up call I needed to turn things around. For the next ten or so years, I realized that no matter where I was, who I was with, or what I had with me, I wasn’t any happier. Then it finally hit me.

At 25 years old, when I moved out of my childhood home to start a new life on my own, I realized that if I wanted my life to get better, I had to get better.

It took a quarter century to finally figure out that things would not improve someday in the future if I didn’t take responsibility in the present. This became so clear to me the more experiences I had. No matter how good things seemed on the outside, I was not feeling any better on the inside.

Years of living blind to this truth ultimately set me on a path of growth where I now view each and every day as an opportunity to find joy and love in whatever I’m doing. There’s no excuse not to.

When I was unhappy growing up, I just assumed things around me needed to change. Today, with any sign of misery comes a natural invitation to look within and ask what’s preventing me from feeling joy and love in this moment.

If you’re feeling unsatisfied with your life, I invite you to pause and look within.

Rather than trying to fix problems in your outer world, take a look at your inner world. What’s preventing you from feeling joy today? What’s blocking the flow of love into your heart? Realize that it doesn’t matter where you live or what you have if your experience of life is clouded by negativity.

You have everything you need within yourself right here, right where you are. You can find truth by releasing ignorance. You're allowed to bloom where you are.

Looking back at my former self, I see that despite an inner darkness that clouded most of my upbringing, underneath it all was always an eternal light. Perhaps that's what was creating my outer shell that my friends saw, shining through the darkness in the first place.

I thank my parents for the wake-up call they gave me by kicking me out of my 16th birthday celebration. It was the greatest gift I could’ve ever received.

Live with substance!

Gabe Orlowitz

bottom of page