Braving Happiness

Happiness can be scarier than hardship.

It takes an incredible amount of bravery to be happy. It isn’t really surprising that we may tend to resist happiness; when we are in a place of hurt, sadness, insecurity, weakness, depression, frailty or hardship, there is really not much else to lose. In my own experience, this place can be almost… well, comfortable. It’s like a case of emotional Stockholm syndrome – our hurt  (or insecurity, or fear, or dissatisfaction) can become something we know so well that living without it feels terrifying; we may even develop the urge protect it.

I wasn’t necessarily aware of this until I pointedly asked myself one day: Are you afraid? Be honest. Is it unsettling to think of letting go of what binds you? The answer was yes.

Internal whispers can paralyze us, can’t they?

If I love, I will be hurt.
If I move on, I will encounter the next tragedy.
If I accept it, it will be taken away.
If I try to do it, they will see me fail.
If I attain it, I will have to maintain it.
If I am confident, I will have to let them like me.
If I let them like me, I will have to like myself.
If I conquer my weakness, I won’t know who to be.
If I lose weight, I won’t be able to hide behind it.
If I dream it, I will be disappointed by it.

I was talking with a good friend last night about how many of us “young” adults are now experiencing a realization of mortality. It is nearly impossible to really live or really love when the fear of losing it all has made a nest in the back of your mind. I am curious if this condition is a result of experiencing some form of loss or if it is a normal stage of development (anyone have any wisdom to share about this?). Either way, I desperately find myself hoping that there is more to maturity than simply being made aware of painful realities.

How does one shed the fear of happiness? I’m not sure. I know that I have slowly moved from paralyzed, to nervous, to wanting freedom – which proves that change is possible. But fear is a giant. My counselor used to say that the most important time to reach out for help is when you feel stuck somewhere – this seems to be my cue. I am a huge advocate of counseling and have done my fair share, but I know as well as the next person how hard it is to pick up the phone when you don’t have the energy; To make yourself seek advice when you don’t really know what you need (I’ll take an intervention please!). But I have promised myself that I will do it, because I know that the results of others’ wisdom in our lives can be powerful, and I am excited by the potential of happy unstuckedness.

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Waiting for Goosebumps

It took over two years before I started to feel the tingles of life again. I will be honest, I didn’t think it would ever happen. In case we aren’t on the same page, tingles are a bit different than happiness – they are like the micro-moments of happiness. They are natural responses to emotion that are closely tied to the physiological. Life-tingles go hand in hand with happiness but the way I see it, happiness requires the coming together of many natural as well as intentional factors and processes; life-tingles mostly require time. (This, by the way, is a completely made-up definition of a self-invented theory…)

After mom died I did feel emotion – I laughed and cried – but beneath those things I was frozen… numb. The world went from a dynamic, multidimensional, colourful place to a flat plane of hazy grays. So did my physical emotional reactions. I could look at the most beautiful sights (so many surround me on this island) and feel nothing. No butterflies, no warm heart, no stomach reaction. Nothing ran deep; the tingles were gone.

I  don’t exactly know how one goes about finding said tingles again; like I said, I think it just happens in time. At least it did in my case… It’s strange to remember such a small thing so clearly (though in this case the small things are the big things) but I was listening to a song and I found the beauty of it running through my bones – almost a physical vibration. It was like feeling life again for the first time – like a fresh breeze had blown through my living room and given me goosebumps.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, pay attention to the tiny physical responses that accompany the next time you feel excitement, hear a pretty song, see a beautiful sunset, or even smile… Those are the tingles. Never take them for granted.

If you know what I’m talking about and your sensitivity to the micro-moments of happiness has been dulled or flattened, I empathize greatly with you. I know that I often say this was the hardest part, but there really are many hardest parts and this was absolutely one of them. To not feel is the worst thing.

When I did my juice fast last month, my sense of taste afterwards was intense – flavours were concentrated, every bite of food tasted stronger and more delicious than I remembered it being before. To me this is a picture of the potential we have to experience life after death. I cherish every moment of being able to feel “details” because I couldn’t for so long.

Eventually, you will feel life again; it will seem impossible until you do, but you will. For now, keep listening to beautiful songs. One day you will find yourself surprised by the goosebumps on your arms ♥

Some Things Take Time

Being Okay with Being Happy

I have felt bliss. The kind of happiness that has made me completely content in the moment. I’ve taken a breath that is deep and smiled as the wind brushed past my lips on exhale. I’ve closed my eyes and felt peace invade every fibre of my being.

When we lost her, I remember asking in disbelief did I actually feel that way at some point in time? When somebody leaves you, a ubiquitous fog of resistance rolls in that makes it difficult to even think about feeling truly happy again. Maybe it’s a fear that it will end, or the distrust that it’s real, or guilt…

I want to feel happiness, but if I feel it I will be saying I don’t need her. I will be saying it’s possible to be just as happy without her. I will be saying that I don’t care if she’s gone.

The vocalizations are often quiet. Sometimes they are only heard when you are completely alone; when the nagging void is eating you up inside and nothing can soothe it; when you realize your heart isn’t as full as it once was. They come in whispers, almost too small to distinguish but loud enough to keep happiness at bay.

When life first goes awry, it’s possible to chase some form of happiness based on the statement “he/she would want you to be happy.” Or, “they are gone, but you are still here…” True enough statements. However, regaining real contentment and happiness takes much more. It means fighting the inherent notion that a smile endorses the tragedy. It means accepting the frustrating concept that you can feel joy when they aren’t here. It means making peace with the one who is gone.

The last one has been the kicker for me. There has been a single knot existing in my stomach, the one that won’t leave its post; the one that’s duty is to protect mom and I. It guards our relationship from the elements. This instinct, however, is not what will conserve my bond with mom. What will is giving the knot permission to relax.

Starting on the journey to relaxed knothood required what almost felt like a face-to-face conversation with my mom; a point in time that I told her I love her and lamented that nothing is the same without her. And I listened to her voice that said I am loved in return and that it will always be that way. I am a good person. I am a good person if I’m sad and I’m a good person if I’m happy. Even without her. I needed to close my eyes and hear her say it.

When one of your favourite people isn’t in this world anymore it shouldn’t be possible to feel unconstrained joy. But against all odds, it is. The ability to heal, for things to be regenerated, for second chances to be so common, these are things which amaze me the most about the world. Actually accepting these gifts is another story. Time helped; a “conversation” with mom helped; and remembering, imagining and including her in my present happiness has been crucial.

It is so subtle. Perhaps you’ve never thought out loud I would be unloving to let a bounce enter my step or a belly laugh live in my stomach but it’s something that I think holds a lot of us back more than we know. Though the resistance to happiness is just a part of the process, and will continually materialize in moments that are the most precious of life experiences – the ones he/she should be part of – I think it’s true, they would want us to be happy. My mom doesn’t want another life to end because hers did, and frankly it would be selfish to let it be that way.

Being okay with happiness has been one of the longest processes in my own experience, but it is such an extremely important end to chase. Two and a half years into the journey, I’m eager to honour my mom with smiles and closed eyes and deep breaths, allowing her, and happiness, to be part of every fibre of my being.