I was content with no longer being out, but I wasn’t content with the night being over. When I got back to the hotel, I remembered the cigarettes in my pocket. I do not smoke cigarettes. But the last few nights reminded me of how these bad boys hit you, and I was abroad, drunk, and not feeling at all like thinking into the future of my lungs’ well being. I was all about being young and stupid and I let myself run with that.
Not feeling particularly friendly at the time, I was only partially delighted to see a young Asian woman standing outside my hotel. On one hand, I honestly lamented the fact that I walked into a situation requiring even minimal conversational effort because I was really enjoying spending time with myself. But on the other, I now realize I probably would have walked straight inside and gone to sleep without smoking if I had to do it alone. I don’t smoke cigarettes.
“Hi!” I can hear the intoxication in my voice. Typical drunk Lisa (personable, talkative, friendly, and overly outgoing) has arrived.
She is visibly upset; either the darkness hid her tears or she wiped them away in time before I got there, but that didn’t stop her from slapping a fake smile on her face and embracing the conversation. Maybe she liked all the free cigarettes I gave her. I didn’t want them all – I don’t smoke cigarettes. We engaged in some small talk until I got bored with it. So I ask her what’s making her so upset, why she’s out here alone at God knows what time, wiping tears off her face. What’s really up?
In broken English, she tells me that she just got into a fight with her boyfriend. I can’t say with honesty that I remember any details about it. It was something about a job; her job or his job either moving them somewhere she doesn’t want to go or splitting them up, her not having the opportunity to do what she wants, her struggling to be honest with him, her just having tried and ended up in tears. I don’t know and I didn’t care very much about the problems of this stranger woman I would never see again. So it’s amazing, for both her and I, what happened next.
Losing 150 pounds has taught me everything I know. I know myself better at 20 years old than many people will know themselves in a lifetime. I know more about how to approach adversity and hardship than a lot of people and I’m more familiar with the pleasures of success and disappointments of failure than most. I know how to be stronger, more independent, more motivated, more determined, and more resilient. There is a lot that I know, but only because I’ve had the incredibly rare opportunity of losing half my body weight. Shedding an entire person has enlightened me, and that is not an exaggeration of how I feel.
It isn’t so much about spreading the story itself, but sharing the universally applicable life lessons that I learned throughout my journey, that has become important to me. Since the gradual realization that I had a unique experience and the corresponding wisdom not shared with the general population, I recognized that I had a story. At first I doubted that any of it was worth sharing. Once I started to feel that it was worth sharing, I didn’t know if anyone wanted to hear it. Once I began to trust that people really wanted to hear it, I realized I didn’t know how to tell it. As a result, I had been been living at a crossroads where I wanted to dedicate my life to motivating and inspiring the world with a story I couldn’t yet communicate. But then I did it, on the midnight streets of Hong Kong, for the first time to a person who had no previous context or knowledge of how I could give the advice I could give, I gave it flawlessly and with convincing passion. I just told her what I know.
I ask her if she would mind sitting down on the curb with me because my stomach started to internalize the intoxication. I think she said she was 22. It was a serious relationship for them both, but this job related issue was tearing them apart. I admit some of the blurriness of detail is a direct result of the alcohol, but most of my inability to remember her exact situation is due to the fact that her explanation yielded my response, and my response is what mattered to me. I let her get it all out, understanding that it was my turn when she gave up and gave in, holding her head in her hands and making something as simple as “I don’t know what to do” sound desperately heartbreaking.
My hesitation with telling my story is always a fear of sounding pretentiously and arrogantly like I’m bragging about what I’ve accomplished. So I started off slow, dipping my toes into the water of my coming sermon, because who the hell am I to tell her what to do? I acknowledge that I don’t know her, I don’t know her boyfriend, I don’t know really anything about this specific situation, so I tell her the universally applicable things I do know.
I begin with the importance of letting herself feel sad, fearful, and uncomfortable, because without that she can never pull herself into happy, fearless, and comfortable. I tell her that she has an obligation to herself to be strong and do what she knows she needs to do, because we only have one life to live and it is our obligation to be strong for ourselves during our times of weakness. I tell her that she only has herself to rely on, not her boyfriend or her family or her friends, because she is the only one who can make herself feel empowered and only she can give herself the strength to do what she needs to do. She’s wasting time not taking control of her life, however seemingly impossible and terrifying that idea may be. I repeatedly elaborate on the thesis of my story’s essay – you only have yourself to rely on, and once you get yourself out of hardship you realize you are capable of doing absolutely anything.
I get lost in it. Once I start preaching, I don’t care at all about whether her being nonresponsive is due to her politeness, her boredom, or her intrigue. It doesn’t much matter, because little does she know, this is my time in my own spotlight. These are the words I’ve been waiting to say and I could hear the alcohol firing them out of me ease. When I finish what I feared had been perceived as a drunken idiot on a bullshit rant, I look up to see my single person audience hasn’t fallen asleep. She looks up at me, having been as lost in it as I was, with tears streaming down her face. Her stutter is due both to her lack of English abilities and her being overcome with emotion.
“You…you are… I think…an angel.”
I burst out laughing. Highly unlikely, my new Asian friend, I am just a talkative drunk who had some cigarettes to spare. She reassures me, asking me “where did you come from?” as if she genuinely expected the answer to be from the heavenly clouds above rather than the suburbs of New York. I stopped laughing once I could tell she really meant it. She told me how she thought a higher power brought me into her life at just the right time and place to tell her exactly what she needed to hear. She exuded an air of pure astonishment at how fate could have planted me there like it did, but she saw a halo above my head and she wanted me to understand that.
I tell her as part of my conclusion how I know what I know. I tell her very briefly about where I was, where I’ve been, and where I am now. I tell her that my journey has given me everything because it has given me the opportunity to cultivate a relationship with myself, resulting in my feeling unstoppable and invincible against all of life’s lemons. I tell her that I know what it’s like to deal with hardship, but I also know from experience that it’s possible to claw yourself out of it.
With that look still in her eyes, we walked into the hotel lobby’s light. She asked if we could please stay connected, giving me a reason to appreciate the social media I previously felt only superficially attracted to. We said goodnight and I walked out of the elevator parting with a face that looked as if it had just seen a ghost.
I was buzzing from the impact I knew I just made. My curbside Asian friend will never know how mutually significant that interaction was. She awoke and embraced the beast within me that was getting tired of hiding in the dark but fearful of seeing the light. She taught me the truth that I’ve needed, and wanted more than anything, to be taught – it is worth sharing, and I know how to share it.