From the time I was in second grade I lived disappointed. People around me seemed to be living the Father-Knows-Best life but in our household Father Didn’t Know Best. Some classmates’ had homes with tall glasses of cold milk and scalloped china plates piled with still-warm-from-the-oven cookies on the kitchen table. Our house was dark and scary and mostly devoid of parents. And when they were home my father’s temper could erupt at any moment, (usually did) resulting in every hollow-core door upstairs having the impression of a fist or a foot through it.
Never woke up feeling as if every day was a bright new beginning. Didn’t feel as if things were more positive than negative on balance. Always lived in some state of worry. Worry about my explosive father and my too-hard-working mother. Worry about my in-and-out-of-the criminal justice system brother, worry about money. Lack of happiness caused me to leave my original family as soon as I could. I prayed and dreamed and wished for the Prince-Charming-rescue.
It never came.
Decades later I left a 17-year place of employment, a loving relationship of more than thirty years. The unhappiness was crushing. While I’d been happy over the course of those decades, I never lived happy. There was always WORRY. worry about the kids, worry about my weight, worry about hanging on to our jobs, worry about raising the kids and raising them well. Why was happiness so elusive?
I felt I’d lived my life doing flips and somersaults and one trick after another to get someone’s attention, to make me valuable to those around me, to be perceived as lovable. I was always looking for the fulfillment and the happiness and the joy to come from outside me. I needed someone or something to give it to me.
In my youth I wowed’em with my cuteness, in elementary school my writing, and then In high school with my pep and energy and smarts. In my 20s it was seduction and sex, in my 30s it was my strategic thinking, knowledge and ability to fit in pretty much anywhere.
Thrift-store shopping gave me a modicum of happiness for many years, finding and collecting things of beauty that gave me pleasure to display. All my things, my fabulous finds, garnered me praise for how I displayed my eclectic finds or how little I spent and how valuable they were. But over time that pleasure faded away and wasn’t enough.
Caregiving had become another means of gathering love. I’d give and give and give of myself in the hopes that it would give back to me, fill me up. And for a time it did. But then over time caregiving turned in to caretaking and all that giving depleted me. It felt as if my wrists were embedded with small spigots that were always turned on full force and my life force was streaming out of me all the time. The giving was leaving me empty.
Leaving my marriage put a stop to all that output.
What will take its place?
For oh-so-long my focus was on what I wasn’t getting, what my family, my husband, my job, or my friends weren’t giving me and now, well, having lived the past nine months on a logistical and emotional roller coaster, I find myself facing new truths. In all that unhappiness what was my role?
Like tectonic plates shifting beneath my surface I’m going through what feels like seismic change. The ensuing tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, and deep chasms seem as if I’m in a dark and frightening abyss where I have no foundation, no anchor, no port in this storm.
All this upheaval is leading to new surfaces, new peaks, new valleys to explore and consider giving me an opportunity to view my world through a different lens.
That inner little girl grew up knowing she was damaged goods and no amount of razzle-dazzle is gonna fill that big black hole inside.
Time for a different approach.
So in the spirit of filling my own happiness, I ‘m working on some new tracks. I’m listening to music, music, music. Music that makes me want to sing out loud, music that makes me wanna jump up and dance, music that makes me cry and cry and cry. As my friend Judie says, “Crying is underrated. It’s good to cry. You’ve got something to cry about.” So I’m letting myself cry but trying not to fall apart at the seams.
The other night I pushed myself out of my little box and got dressed and went alone to a local business holiday party open house and though I dreaded walking in by myself I made my way out to the tented courtyard where I could hear great music playing. All I wanted to do was dance and I just decided that if I wanted to dance, well maybe I could.
Now, let’s be clear: no one else was dancing yet. But I went up front by the band in a corner and as they channeled Stevie Wonder I just let myself move to the great saxophone playing and my face became one big smile.
I had a great time, saw some couples I knew well and not-so-well; managed to survive the evening without drinking myself into oblivion or picking up that guy who was eyeing me most of the night.
Recently I ventured out again and went to a “wave” "ecstatic dance" session (or at least I think that's what I was at) where for 90 minutes twenty+ people spent the time dancing freely and passionately — with NO talking allowed! NO talking the entire time! All communication was non-verbal. It was an experience of sheer joy — dancing, moving, connecting to some great dancers — with no judgement and no expectations.
I may not be able yet to fix that little girl, to make her feel she’s not damaged goods, to reassure her that she is entitled to feel happy, to fill that black hole that seems impossible to fill...but I am working toward making me feel happiness, practicing being happy, and right now — my joy comes from dancing.