A year ago, I was single, unemployed, homeless, broke, fat and drunk

Please subscribe to my newsletter and read more of my writing on my portfolio site, IrinaGonzalez.com. Thank you!

Exactly a year ago, I had just arrived in my hometown of Fort Myers, FL.

After 11 and a half happy years as a resident of New York City, I had decided to move back to Southwest Florida with my tail between my legs. Unknown to my friends at the time, I had just come out of the darkest place of my life and decided that what I needed was to restart.

So in early April 2016, I accepted my parent’s invitation to move back home for a little while and set about changing my life. I packed up my apartment, sold as much furniture as I could, had a goodbye party with the friends I loved but couldn’t yet tell the full truth to yet… and finally left the city in a van with the rest of my stuff, my faithful kitty Jack and my mom helping to drive the next 1,250 miles.

When I arrived at my parent’s house on the night of April 22nd last year, I felt completely defeated and lost. I didn’t know what the next month or six months or year would bring, and I was scared.

At the same time, however, I was ready to face up to defeat and admit that I needed to make some drastic changes in my life. As this post would suggest… When I woke up the next day, I realized (albeit half jokingly) that I was single, unemployed, homeless, broke, fat and drunk.

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit there.

The whole idea behind the title of this post actually started after an idea I had while working on my Map Your 30s blog on my portfolio site. While I ultimately abandoned that idea like so many of my writerly fantasies, the thoughts still persisted.

At the time, I knew that I needed to make changes and figure out some stuff in my life. I had decided to blog about those changes and that “figuring it all out” mentality with the idea that life continues to change and evolve even after turning 30, which I had done exactly a month before my big dramatic move out of the city. I categorized these changes into six different sections: relationships, career, home, money, health and confidence (my code word for mental health and recovery from alcohol addiction, which I wasn’t yet ready to talk about publicly).

Those were the categories in which I thought I needed to make some changes… and although my life might not sound quite as dramatic as the title of this post implies, I was in fact all of those things:

I was single (no long term relationship in the past six years, and the ones back then were pretty freaking crappy). I was unemployed (I had just lost a new job that I realized too late wasn’t going to work out anyway). I was homeless (living with your parents isn’t exactly being the self-sustaining adult I had known myself to be). I was broke (no real savings or any money to speak of, and what little I had was used on moving expenses). I was fat (my health had slowly deteriorated in the past few years to the point that I was 20 pounds higher than what I wished I was, 40 pounds higher than my lowest weight post-weight loss surgery, and 30 pounds higher than my goal weight). And I was drunk (in that I had just suffered from a horrible-but-brief relapse into alcoholism after my first and only stint in rehab in July/August 2015).

Basically, everything was wrong with my life a year ago.

I wasn’t happy. I knew I still loved living in New York City, but I also knew that I needed to get out of there in order to clear my head. Recovery was harder than I thought and being an adult had become increasingly more difficult. And to be honest, being single in the city sucked.

I’m not blaming the problems of my life on where I was living, but I knew at the time that it wasn’t helping. I had loving, supportive, incredible friends… but it just wasn’t enough. My health and career had stalled, I never had enough money and somehow the support system I knew I had just didn’t seem like enough. And so I went home.

Well, as hard as it is to admit… that’s probably the best decision I could have made.

At the time, I remember feeling ashamed. My friends knew I was leaving the city, but not a single one of them truly knew why until weeks later. I just wasn’t ready to come clean as I packed up my boxes and said goodbye to the only city I had chosen to call home, to the friendships I had spent my entire adult life cultivating. It was hard.

But it was also good for me.

I took the wounds that life in the city had slowly cut into me, and I healed them.

In taking myself out of the environment I thought I wanted, I discovered that I am still the person that I always was – I had just gotten a little lost somewhere along the way.

I don’t know if it was the job troubles or the drinking or the not taking care of my body or the frustrating dating life or the living alone or the feeling constantly penniless for 12 years, but I finally broke. But in breaking and admitting that something in me shattered, I was slowly able to put myself back together again.

Shortly after moving back to Florida, I unexpectedly met the love of my life.

I know how ridiculous that might sound, trust me. The “love of my life” is not a phrase I ever thought I would utter. But in meeting my partner Adam, I realized that I had never known love before. He was the first – and very vital piece – of putting my pieces back together.

Afterwards, I got my old job back. Then I moved in with him, just as we both started to eat much healthier and started to take care of my finances again. I rebuilt friendships new and old, reconnected with those I left behind in NYC and those I have missed here in FL since I originally moved away.

And most of all, I haven’t had a single drink since last April.

The life I left behind slowly faded away into this new life I created for myself. I realized that I wasn’t all gone and that taking some time to take care of my mental health was nothing to be ashamed of. I know that I am incredibly lucky to have parents who were behind me when I needed them, and even luckier to have found someone who loves me and supports me (and still wants to see me naked) despite all my horror stories of the past.

Now, a year later, I almost can’t believe the changes I have seen in my life since leaving New York as a single, unemployed, homeless, broke, fat and drunk mess of a person.

I’m now in a loving relationship with a man that shows me more support than I could ever possibly deserve, happier than ever working as a full-time freelance writer and editor, carefully decorating a beautiful home that I share with my love and our two fur babies, slowly paying off all of our debt and saving money for the first time in my life, back to a really happy weight thanks to my mostly-vegetarian diet and going to proudly celebrate two years in recovery this summer (and just celebrated a year since my last relapse).

I’ve rebuilt my life in completely unexpected ways, and it wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t admit to myself back then that I was lost.

When I set out on this journey a year ago, I didn’t know what the year would bring. I didn’t know how lost I was and, to be honest, I hadn’t yet realized just how dark of a place I was in until I was fully out of it. But that’s what happens sometimes, I think. Insert joke about hindsight being 20/20 here…

What’s true now is that I finally feel like I have my life back together. I’ve taken all of those little pieces that slowly crumbled around me without me noticing and I collected them all, meticulously glued them back together with my own brand of crazy glue, and just kept on going.

It’s incredible how I feel today in comparison to this day a year ago. I wouldn’t even know how to describe it except to say that my life is 1000x better than I ever could have imagined.

I know that a lot of that is in part because I found someone who is there for me all the time, no matter what, and who proudly calls himself my number one fan. Gotta love that!

But most of it is because of me, and because of the strides I made to pull myself out of that dark place I was in.

The smiling picture you saw at the beginning of this post was a mask… I was smiling to keep from crying as I took that picture in a restroom somewhere along the drive from NYC to FL. But now my smile is bigger than ever, and it’s genuine.

What a difference a year makes, huh?

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my portfolio site and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

When did I become that person who calls her car “my baby”?

Please subscribe to my newsletter and read more of my writing on my portfolio site, IrinaGonzalez.com. Thank you!

This time last year, I was finishing packing up my apartment in New York City after 12 happy years spent as a New Yorker.

I left primarily because I needed a break from city life to recharge and figure out the next steps in my career and future in general. As I probably should have guessed, life has taken me in completely unexpected directions ever since. And one of those directions, weirdly enough, has been my new identity as a car owner.

Last July, I wrote on my portfolio site about the question: To car or not to car? I considered all of the reasons that I should and shouldn’t buy a car at that point in time, after living in my home state of Florida for three months, and ultimately concluded that I just didn’t need one at the time.

Back then, I had just started living with my boyfriend Adam and working from home. He has a great car (which I love) and it just didn’t seem necessary for a two-person household to have two cars when one of those people really doesn’t have a necessity to leave the house during the week. Whenever I did need to leave the house, we worked around it and usually just went together. That mostly meant grocery shopping and social plans, and it was fine.

For a while, we even had a nice thing going with him taking me to the local Starbucks a couple days a week to work, and then picking me up to bring me home around lunch. That worked quite fine, actually, until we moved apartments and it was no longer convenient.

As time went on, the need for a car increased.

But still, we resisted. For one thing, getting a car costs money. And not a little bit of money but typically several hundred dollars a month in car payments, and that was just not an expense I was looking forward to. Not to mention, of course, car insurance and gas.

Secondly, I was still working from home (and quite happy with that setup) and wasn’t sure that it was worth getting a car if I am only using it, at most, twice a week. Considering the expense and how little I actually needed a car, it seemed almost silly to get one. However, I’ll admit, there were moments when it would have been convenient if I could take the car on my own… which, sadly, I couldn’t since Adam’s car is a manual and I can’t drive stick. However, we formulated a plan to teach me how to drive his car and avoid spending the money on one for me.

And then I met her.

On a sunny day back at the start of February, we went with our friends to the Naples 5th Avenue Ferrari Show. It’s basically where all of these people that have ridiculously expensive cars go and show them off once a year, and it was fun to see. As you might expect, there were also a lot of car companies there – including MINI of Fort Myers.

Here’s the funny thing: When I originally planned to move out of NYC, I had planned to get a MINI eventually. I have loved MINI Coopers for many years now, mainly because its small size seemed just perfect for my 5’2″ frame. And I still occasionally passed by the dealership and thought about it or even looked at used MINIs available online.

When we came to the MINI of Fort Myers booth at the Naples Car Show, however, we discovered that the friends we were there with were friendly with Jerry – the guy staffing the booth. They themselves had gone through four MINIs already, and were big fans. I sat in the MINIs they had there, and discovered that I totally loved the convertible and new color available on the newer models (Caribbean Aqua Metallic).

We weren’t planning to get a new car, though… but then Jerry told us all about this cute little convertible MINI that had come in the night before. It hadn’t even been detailed yet and didn’t have a price tag, but the car sounded kind of perfect: It was a 2014 MINI in British Racing Green with tan leather seats, and it was a convertible!

I had been joking to Adam for months now that, if we were to get a car, then we might as well get a convertible. Not only have I dreamed of a convertible car ever since I came to the U.S. at age eight, but I figured that if we were going to get a car and barely use it, then we might as well make it an extra-fun car so that we can use it for extra-fun weekend trips. I know that might be a silly plan, but it made logical sense to me at the time.

Well, long story short, WE GOT THE CAR.

In one afternoon, we went from occasionally thinking we might need one soon but would power through for a while without one… to being bonafide car owners to this cute 3-year-old MINI with only 3,000 miles on her (definitely one of the top selling points too, TBH).

Instantly, I fell in love. I mean, that’s why we got the car in the first place, isn’t it? It may have been a slightly impulsive decision, but the truth is that not having my own mode of transportation for when I needed it was starting to get more and more difficult. And the fact that this was the exact car I wanted (a MINI, convertible, great condition) was just the cherry on top. And although originally I had dreamed of a red car, I immediately got into the British Racing Green color.

She’s a little speedster, in fact, and I decided to name the car Elphaba after the main character (whose skin color is green) in my favorite Broadway musical, Wicked. I call her Elphie for short.

Dorky? Absolutely. Adam laughed and made fun of me for the car name, but he also agrees that it’s weirdly perfect for me.

Now here’s the thing: I never thought that I would become the kind of car person who would, ya know, name their car and call the car “my baby” but that’s exactly what has happened in the two months since I have been a car owner.

This past weekend, we got my baby (yes, I’m really saying that!) back to the dealership in order to outfit her. Don’t judge me, but one of the fun parts of owning a MINI is that there’s all kinds of accessories for the car. And it had been our plan since day one to get her racing stripes and checkerboard side mirrors. Courtesy of my parent’s birthday present and income from one of my recent freelance pieces, here she is!

It’s been a really weird transition from being a total New York City girl who was more than happy to spend the rest of my life commuting via subway to being a happy car owner who’s thrilled whenever I get to take her out for a spin.

In fact, I’ve noticed that there’s nothing quite like a short drive (even just to meet a friend for coffee) with the top down and the sun shining down on me to lift my mood.

And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Since I’m making a commitment to be happier right now anyway, I’m admitting that my car makes me happy.

Maybe it’s a bit shallow of me, sure, but we have to take our wins wherever we can find them. Right now, I’m happily settling into my new identity as a newly minted car person. It feels a little bit weird sometimes but then I walk outside and see Elphie and, well… I’m totally cool with people thinking that I’m weird while I drive down the street with the top down while blasting Broadway songs and singing at the top of my lungs. It makes me happy, period.

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my portfolio site and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

What exactly is “The Cookie Dough Life” anyway?

Please subscribe to my newsletter and read more of my writing on my portfolio site, IrinaGonzalez.com. Thank you!

Let me introduce myself first…

My name is Irina Gonzalez and I am a 31-year-old Latinx journalist, freelance writer & editor and future YA author currently based in Southwest Florida.

I was born to a Russian mom and Cuban dad in Moscow, Russia, and, after a brief stint in Cuba, we moved to Miami (and eventually to SWFL) when I was 8 years old. Although I grew up in this state, I escaped to New York City by way of college as soon as I could. I spent the next 12 years in the city of my dreams until last year, when dramatic life changes brought me back to Florida once more.

Since then, life has been pretty crazy… and changed so much.

First of all, last April I moved from the city that my heart called home (New York) to live at home with my parents while I figured out my next step. But then my life turned into a rom-com cliche and I unexpectedly met the love of my life shortly after.

These days I am happily living with my loving partner (who happens to be the kindest man I’ve ever met) and our two fur babies, his Border Collie named Moose and my orange tabby named Capt. Jack Sparrow. We’re building a great life together and his support is actually one of the reasons for the other major change in my life: I’ve gone completely full-time freelance as a writer and editor, and it’s been a crazy ride.

I’ve also happily settled (permanently?) in SW FL now, hanging out with my family and reconnecting with old friends. Honestly, what started out as a really challenging 30th birth year turned into the best year of my life. And now that I’m 31, it’s incredible to look back at all of the changes and challenges I faced last year.

However… as I dealt with some career ups and down earlier this year, I realized: Those changes and challenges are not over.

They’re never over, are they?

Last year, I tried to write about some of the changes I was facing. My goal was to work on different areas of my life to “figure things out”… but now I realize that we never truly have things figured out. Instead, the more I think about it, the more I am sure that the only constant in life is change.

We change when we move, we change when we shift careers, we change when we find love, we change when we form new habits and get away from old ones. But we’re never really done figuring things out. And that’s where this whole “The Cookie Dough Life” thing comes in.

A couple weeks ago, Adam and I were finally finishing watching the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which we coincidentally started together, him for the first time, on our third date). In the very last episode, this scene happened:

Buffy: I’m cookie dough. I’m not done baking. I’m not finished becoming whoever the hell it is I’m gonna turn out to be. I make it through this, and the next thing, and the next thing, and maybe one day, I turn around and realize I’m ready. I’m cookies. And then, you know, if I want someone to eat m- or enjoy warm, delicious, cookie me, then that’s fine. That’ll be then. When I’m done.

Angel: Any thoughts on who might enjoy – Do I have to go with the cookie analogy?

Buffy: I’m not really thinking that far ahead. That’s kind of the point.

Angel: I’ll go start working on the second front. Make sure I don’t have to use it.

[starts to leave]

Buffy: Angel. I do. Sometimes, think that far ahead.

Angel: Sometimes is something.

Buffy: Be a long time coming. Years, if ever.

Angel: I ain’t gettin’ any older.

Buffy’s silly analogy about being cookie dough really struck a chord with me.

She’s not ready, though she hopes she will be many years from now. But the thing is – I don’t think she will be. It’s not because she won’t ever grow up or learn how adulting works or anything, but because I think part of being cookie dough is constantly growing and learning.

And that’s what I am choosing to embrace.

This Cookie Dough Life is exactly that: It’s about the realization that I am not done baking yet either… Meaning that I haven’t figured it all out, and maybe that’s okay. No, actually, it’s totally okay. Living The Cookie Dough Life is about embracing the fact that life is constantly changing and evolving, and so am I.

So here’s the deal: In an effort to give myself a fun creative outlet, I’ve created this blog that’s all about change and fun and life and learning and… well, whatever else I want to write about here, really. You’ll notice at the top that I set some categories (relationships, career, fun, food, health, life) and I’ll do my best to stick to those, but no promises.

In the meantime, I’m just going to enjoy trying new things and living life to the best of my ability, even if it means facing more changes and challenges along the way.

And besides… isn’t cookie dough more delicious, anyway?

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my portfolio site and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!