It’s been a year since the start of my rom-com love story

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

Last July, on my portfolio site, I wrote about how my life turned into a rom-com cliché and that I was okay with it.

It was a post telling the tale of how I met Adam unexpectedly shortly after moving down to Florida. As you now know, the past year has been especially challenging as I slowly climbed out of the darkest place I’ve ever been to in my life. Meeting him had a lot to do with finding the courage and strength to turn my life around, and I can never give him enough credit for the love and support he has shown me.

This past weekend, we celebrated our one year anniversary by going to the beach in Marco Island, FL, and spending a lovely day together. Doing a little day away was incredibly fun, and I am even more excited for part two of our anniversary celebration this coming weekend. We’re heading to Fort Lauderdale for a mini-vacay weekend, where we will stay in a fancy hotel and see Matilda the musical on tour. It’s a particularly perfect celebration of our two interests — since I’m a huge Broadway fan and he loves the work of Tim Minchin, who wrote the music and lyrics.

Since writing my initial post about Adam ten months ago, not much and a lot has changed. For one, we’ve now perfected our little love story. Whenever someone asks, it typically goes something like this:

I left NYC and moved back down to Florida at the end of April. Out of boredom, I turned on all of my dating apps back on a few days later and, exactly a week after the big move, we met for coffee. It was a four hour first date, followed quickly by a two hour second date and a seven hour third date. He was my first date after moving down to Florida, and quickly became my only one. We fell in love when we went away together on long weekend just two and a half weeks into dating. I moved in after a month and a half of being together. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Our incredible little rom-com cliché of a love story is still going strong a year after that first coffee date. In fact, we revisited that coffee shop on our six month anniversary and again this weekend. We shared dessert just as we had that first day and laughed about how my mom interrupted our date at the very end (yes, really!).

Adam still teases me about how I rushed off into the bathroom to compose myself after that, and I still joke that I can’t believe he asked me on that second date despite my mom showing up. But hey, when you know, you know, right?

That’s the mentality that has perpetuated our relationship from the very beginning, and it still holds true today. That’s not to say our relationship is perfect or ideal all of the time. We have our fights and have to get through difficult situations just like any couple. But what I wrote last July, about how I couldn’t have even dreamed of a relationship this great, is still true.

He is still the most incredible, generous, sweet and kind man that I have ever met. His love for me and support of me (and my career) has only continued to grow. In fact, he even gave up drinking shortly after we met because I’m in recovery and he wanted to be there for me. Even this gesture — giving up something he enjoys and has no problem with just because he loves me so incredibly much — has meant the world to me. And to be honest, I feel much stronger in my sobriety because of his constant support there.

The most incredible thing I have felt in this past year, though, is that I truly have a partner in life. I wrote recently that marrying a man doesn’t make me straight (ya know, since I’m bisexual), and he supported my piece. Anything that comes up, even fights and issues within our relationship, we deal with in the best way we can and ultimately come out stronger on the other end.

Now that it’s been a year, I realize that I am happier than ever. A little over a year ago, I didn’t know what it meant to be truly loved and I didn’t know what it meant to be in a relationship where I didn’t have to constantly question that love. But with Adam, love came easily.

I’m still a little surprised at how we found each other… Two people that ultimately don’t belong in Southwest Florida, that don’t fit in here, that shouldn’t even really be here in the long run. But we did. And now that we have, that feeling is incredible.

The feeling of not having to second guess myself or second guess my partner’s feelings for me is pretty incredible too, to be honest. I love actively planning our future with him, and I love that we constantly talk about spending the rest of our lives together.

I know that life doesn’t actually end when you’ve found your “happy ending” relationship, unlike what those rom-coms would have us believe, but I’m glad to see that the right relationship (even after so many wrong ones) does lead to many, many happy times.

And now I have a year of happy times to look back on and, say, roughly 57 more years of happy times to look forward to.

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!

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!

How to choose to be happier in our crappy world (VIDEO)

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

Happiness is something that humans think about a lot. At least I do.

For years now, I have been saying that “happiness is a choice and it’s a choice that I make (almost) every day.” That’s still true, of course, but sometimes that kind of thinking gets away from me.

Look, there’s no two ways about it: The world is currently not a happy place.

There’s untold chaos, which isn’t exactly anything new, but now that chaos is complemented by a particularly hairy situation in the country which I call home: the United States of America.

In case you are living under a rock, our president of just under 100 days is not well liked by people like me… You know, basically anyone with a brain, an appreciation for science, the environment or any kind of diversity. As an American citizen and immigrant, I am not a fan and I truly wish that the American public hadn’t elected this racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic pseudo-tyrant into office. But it is what it is, and I for one certainly plan to spend the next four or so years resisting.

Enough about my politics though… This post is about happiness. About why we seek it and how we find it and, most of all, how we recognize it.

And that’s the key word: How to recognize happiness.

I honestly think that is one of the hardest things about “being happy.” It’s not that we are clueless about what happiness means, but I do think that we have much higher expectations for it than we possibly should. And that’s part of the problem: our expectations.

Recently, a video titled “An Algorithm for Happiness” made the rounds on Facebook. When I watched this fascinating video, something clicked in my brain and reminded me how to be happy.

The truth is, primarily because of what is going on in the world right now and the election of President Orange Cheeto Dumpsterfire (my all-time favorite moniker for #45, since I can’t actually bring myself to say or type his name), I haven’t been my usual happy self.

Sure, I’ve had a lot of happy things going on in my life: I bought a car, celebrated mine and my partner Adam’s 31st birthdays and I’ve had some pretty great successes in my career. But in general, I have been angry and grumpy and sometimes what I jokingly call an “angry feminist.” And those feelings are totally okay, of course, because we must acknowledge and honor our feelings.

But… at the same time, being an unhappy bitch sometimes can be mentally taxing and ultimately harmful to our overall selves.

A week ago, I celebrated my one year anniversary since my last relapse in recovery. You see, I’m an alcoholic. I entered rehab in July of 2015 and I have been working on sobriety ever since. It’s been a mostly successful and occasionally bumpy road, but I am proud of the progress I’ve made.

How does that relate to happiness, you ask?

Well… Although I no longer attend meetings, I don’t remember getting to know many addicts who were happy. Which makes sense, of course, because if you’re happy, why would you need to dull yourself with drugs and alcohol? You don’t, and that’s the point.

As I watched the video talking about the algorithm for happiness, I was reminded of some of the lessons I learned through recovery, primarily the lessons of cognitive behavioral therapy, which strives to teach you how to think differently about your issues.

To be honest, I was never a fan of AA or NA meetings, but I did thoroughly enjoy Smart Recovery – and cognitive behavioral therapy is exactly why. When I went through one-on-one- therapy for my alcohol addiction, it was with a CBT therapist too, and it’s a system that has really worked for me.

The reason that CBT has worked for me in terms of my alcoholism and happiness is because I learned how to reframe my thinking. In this video, the Google executive uses the example of a glass to demonstrate how we think about happiness.

He argues that happiness is looking at the half-full side of the glass and being grateful for it and looking at the half-empty side of the class and asking “Can I do anything about it?” and, if not, “Can I accept it?”

This kind of thinking is absolutely critical to understanding happiness and how it works in your life.

He goes on to explain that happiness isn’t actually about how much water is in the glass, but what you think about how much water is in the glass. LIGHTBULB MOMENT!

When I watched that, I realize just how much my happiness had to do with CBT and recovery and how much it had to do with the current state of the world and my thinking about it.

Adam recently pointed out that I am not the same happy-go-lucky girl that he met almost a year ago. And in a lot of ways, it’s true. Although I reasoned that there’s many, many reasons for it (most of them beginning with the man currently sitting in the White House’s main room), some of it is also my thinking about what is currently going on.

To be honest, it made me feel bad that the world has come to such a dark place and it’s made me feel even worse that I have lost some deep down belief in hope and the goodness of people because of the current situation.

But that’s not fair to the world, and that’s not really fair to all of the people who are doing good work now. I strive to be one of those people and, after watching the video below, I realized that there is more that I could be doing to help make the world a slightly happier place.

The first part starts with me. It starts with reframing how I view the world – even just a little bit – and recognizing that there IS still hope and there IS still good here.

To be honest, it’s a lesson that I expect to have to learn and relearn for the next four years. But you have to start somewhere, right? And I choose to start with being happy today, and happier than I was yesterday.

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!