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

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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.

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

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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?

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Why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is still important 20 years later

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

The proudest moment of my career (so far) happened earlier last month when VICE published my piece titled “How Willow from ‘Buffy’ Helped Me Come Out.”

Not only did the piece go up the morning of the 20th anniversary of the television premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it was also featured at the very top of their website for the entire day. Seriously, that’s a HUGE honor for any writer but especially awesome since it was my first piece for them.

The thing that was even more touching to me, however, is that I was able to honor of one of my all-time favorite TV shows in this very special way.

The truth is that BTVS (as we fans frequently call it) has held a special place in my heart for a very long time. Not only did the show legitimately help me come out, but it generally left an impact on me that has lasted through the rest of my life.

When I first heard of BTVS, I wasn’t impressed. I never really watched it when it first started but got into it at age 16 when a couple of my high school friends became pretty obsessed. Soon enough, I was driving around in my car with friends as we all sang along to the musical episode’s soundtrack at the top of our lungs.

I remember endlessly debating the Team Angel vs. Team Spike situation (#TeamAngelForever), and grieving when the show ended just a year before I graduated high school – which was just a year after I discovered it. In a way, it felt as if BTVS entered and left my life far too soon.

What I didn’t know at the time, however, was how much impact Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles, Angel and the rest of the gang would have on my life.

It’s no understatement that BTVS helped to solidify some friendships for me at school (and in the years that followed), but the biggest impact that the show had (besides helping me come out, of course) is what many girls and women saw in Joss Whedon’s work – a kick-ass heroine who could be funny, pretty, awkward, loud and all-around awesome.

Although I always related more to Willow (hello, I even have red hair now!) than Buffy, I could still love and appreciate Buffy for everything that she was. She was a great leader and phenomenal title character. The show was funny and quirky and spoke to my adolescent and teen self in a way that I found freeing.

I don’t know how Joss managed to do it, but I felt more and more like myself the more I watched Buffy stumble through life with a wealth of responsibilities. She didn’t always succeed in picking out the right outfit, but she always saved the world.

When I read the recent issue of Entertainment Weekly featuring Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Boreanaz on the cover, I was thrilled to travel back into the Buffyverse to read how the cast (all except Giles!) reflect on the show 20 years later and what it has meant to them. Joss even calls Buffy and Angel the greatest love story ever told, so take THAT, #TeamSpike!

A lot has happened in the world since the show first premiered on March 10, 1997. But while it may not be the happiest place right now, it’s important to recognize all of the positive changes that have happened too. For me, the biggest (and happiest) is the nationwide legalization of gay marriage.

I remember doing a big report on gay marriage and civil unions during my senior year of high school, in Fall of 2003 just after the show ended, when very few states even wanted to talk about that kind of thing. And now it’s nationwide law! That’s amazing, truly.

For the past year, I’ve actually been re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer with my boyfriend Adam. It took us almost 11 months to get through the show, but it was sooooo worth it to share something I truly love with the person I love most in the world. Being a big Joss Whedon fan already, he loved it of course.

But more than that, watching the show with him this past year served as a great reminder for me about why I loved it in the first place. Of course, like most devoted fans, I’ve gone through the entire series 4 or 5 times already. Watching it all once more was a joy and, as the 20th anniversary came and went, I’m glad to have spent time with the Scooby Gang once more.

After all, if it wasn’t for them, I might have never come into my own as a proud bisexual woman as early as I did. And that’s something I will forever be grateful for.

To read my piece “How Willow from ‘Buffy’ Helped Me Come Out” on VICE, click here!

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!