The Storm and Happiness

            How do you define “happiness”?  The dictionary states: good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy. Happiness is very personal because what makes me happy may not make my friend or neighbor happy. Then there is momentary happiness and happiness in general as a way of life. Illusive happiness and centered happiness. And the demanding question “Are you happy?” Are you? Are you happy? Happiness as a mindset. Happiness as a measure of how successful your life is. Happy Birthday. Happy Halloween. There is a lot of pressure for one to be happy at any given moment in their life.

          If you have followed my blog at all, you already know my life has been a crazy, dysfunctional series of ups and downs. My childhood and adolescence was marred by alcoholism and abuse. Anyone who has grown up in this type of home knows that any fleeting moment of happiness is usually quickly followed by something horrific or terrifying at times. It doesn’t take long before you become skeptical at any feelings of joy or happiness because you know it won’t stay, something or someone will ruin it for you. Volatile is your world, not happy. You are always waiting for that other shoe to drop. Happiness is a temporary state.

          Since my mom passed away March 2014, I finally adjusted back into the world of the living. But I had been sleepwalking in my life for a long time. At the end of this last year, I realized I needed to start focusing on myself and what I wanted out of life as I sat down to do my five yearly goals I set each December to give me some guidance throughout the year. This is really the first time since I was in my teens, that I was focusing on goals for just myself. I registered for classes to try and finish my business degree but this time I went in and talked to an advisor. I walked out of that appointment with a list of things to complete and registered for two more classes and my graduation date in early May. After ten years of on and off taking classes online, I was going to finally graduate.

Having a goal and something to focus on has brought me a little bit of anxiety but since I am out of the fog I had been living in, this has given me a new spark. My therapist told me I was in a ‘valley’, your life is so busy and then suddenly you dip off. It takes some time but you recover and start the next journey of your life. Being me, I thought that meant a few months but for me it was really a few years.

This past Monday, the sun was out and I had spent the morning at the college library researching for my history paper. I had stopped at home to see my oldest before she went off to work. Then I had to drive to the grocery store and I really hate grocery shopping but at least on Monday, the stores are not usually crowded. My music is playing in the truck and I have my sunroof cracked when I notice this feeling I was not familiar with. A light feeling, like I do not weigh anything at all. Floating on a cloud. I had been singing with the song, loudly I might add. Inside I did not feel sad, down or pensive. I realize I feel, happy. Contented. Light. I had this feeling since I got up that morning felt this way and had just focused on the feeling because it felt strange and unfamiliar to me.

When you grow up the way I did, and spent decades of your life in miserable situations, you have moments of happiness but this was new to me. I’ve always tried to be grateful but it was usually during another storm in my life. I fixed my marital and financial problems, then my mom became sick again. Happiness is something that is temporary until the next storm rolls into your life. Except this time, it has been with me on a new level. Evolved into something I am not used to but am finally learning to embrace rather than stare at it warily with suspicion.

Twice that day, two people had referred to me as ‘young lady’ and let’s face it, I’m middle-aged at 45 though most people guess my age at 35. Usually it is only the elderly that call me that or someone being a sarcastic ass about my age. The first woman was a mid-20’s librarian at my college and she seemed sincere about the comment when she told me “Young lady your coat fell on the floor.” I had just spoken to her face to face at the circulation desk when I picked up some books I requested so she had clearly saw my face. She was very much twenty years my junior. I didn’t think much of it, she seemed like she was in a good mood.

Later that afternoon, a woman in her early 50’s, not far from my age, asked me a question and added ‘young lady’ to the end. I had left the store feeling bewildered and wondered if people were just feeling good because it was an unusually warm, sunny first day of February. Later that night as I was lying in bed, I was thinking about that odd coincidence and it dawned on me that maybe that light, happy feeling made me look younger to other people. I have no idea if that was true but it was not something that happened to me before. Maybe that should be a beauty tip, if you want to look younger, find your happiness.

Right after my mom died, my daughters and I were in the grocery store, we had split up and they found me again in the produce section bending over a display of oranges. My middle daughter remarks they couldn’t find me at first. I asked her why and they all thought I was some old grouchy lady in her sixties because of the expression on my face. I just sighed and gave up on finding decent oranges. I was just weeks into life without my mom. So maybe our feelings and level of current happiness can make us look older or younger.

Moral of the story, I’ve been learning how to be happy and let it be part of my life rather than just a fleeting moment. No my life isn’t perfect but when will it ever be? I can’t control most things in life but I can control how I react to things out of my control or other people. Allowing myself to be happy is new for me, but I really love that feeling of lightness I’ve been carrying with me. Life will always hand me knocks and challenges. It’s up to me to keep my inner peace, embrace what is good even in the storm.

Sometimes storms can be the most beautiful moments of your life. Give yourself permission to be happy, even in the rain.

When I was on Welfare… 

The other day, my youngest daughter needed to go get a few shots to keep her up to date on her immunizations and while she is nineteen, she wanted me to keep her company.  We had to go to the local health department, where we used to go to another building in an adjacent town in our county for a clinic. It had been years since I had been inside this building. 

When I was 20 and pregnant with my first child, my husband at the time thought it was a good idea to change jobs late pregnancy which suddenly meant I had no medical insurance.  My obstetrician was ready to boot me as I was now uninsured.  And imagine, that marriage didn’t work out.  He only had to work three more months rather than taking a job that paid much less and the insurance wouldn’t cover the pregnancy.  So there I was, sitting in the same chairs I sat in today staring at the same tile floor (though more worn and scuffed today).  Except I was dying inside of embarrasment and shame.  I came from a family that looked down on those who used government assistance unless you were elderly or disabled.  You worked for your living, not take handouts. My husband was sitting next to me, just happy as could be.  He didn’t care that I was ashamed, he looked at it as something he didn’t have to provide.  That’s what you get for marry a narcissist.  

I spent the entire appointment looking at the floor because I was so ashamed.  I didn’t want to face the case worker.  I couldn’t tell you what she looked like today.  I walked out with Medicaid, food stamps (which I used in the next city) and WIC.  Though I was grateful that I wouldn’t have to give up my osbtetrician or have the baby at home because I didn’t have medical coverage, inside I was angry at my husband for putting me through this and the shame carried with me for many years after.  

When we got together, my first husband promised me the world and delivered me to pick up my welfare benefits.  This is why I have taught my daughters to be self-sufficient, get their education, follow their instincts and if it sounds too good to be true, it is.  We had two more children and the marriage ended.  Years of dealing with someone who couldnt’ even show up for his daughter’s kindergarten graduation and other self-centered behaviors took their toll.  As did the infidelity.  I was tired of getting calls from other women giving me bad news that finally stopped surprising me.  My second marriage wasn’t any better.  I was so beat down from the first, that this guy latched on, took me six years to marry him and five to divorce him.  We didn’t have kids together so that was easier to cut ties.  However, he was emotionally abusive to everyone in our home.  I finally woke up and got rid of him.  

Except this time, I didn’t lose my home and all my possessions except for my girls, their beds and our clothes.  (My first husband sold about everything he could so I didn’t get it – he’s a peach isn’t he?)   I planned ahead, paid off bills, bought a reliable car, planned my budget and got a good attorney.  He left with what he came with and I had never been so happy in my life.  Relieved when that monster moved out.  I could support myself, I wasn’t going to need assistance and I had my own medical insurance through my employer.  It felt good to have that control, that plan and to be able to do it on my own.  This time I was smart about it.  The first time I was railroaded because he threatened to fight for custody so I gave him whatever he wanted.  However, I still won.  I got our daughters.  

As I sat there today, I wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed that when I was 20, I needed assistance or that I lived in a crappy 1960’s single wide trailer that was just one step above a cardboard box.  This experience is part of who I am today.  Adversity teaches you to be more compassionate to people, to be less judgmental than if I had never had to accept welfare at all.  I don’t look at someone in line at the grocery store who has well what used to be food stamps is now a debit type card and judge them harshly.   They could be just going through a bad time.  Granted there are always those who take advantage of these programs, but I bet the majority don’t.  Instead of thinking they are lazy, I pray for them.  It could be a single mom who’s child(s) father doesn’t pay support or they got laid off of work.  I figure God will deal with those who are taking advantage of other’s goodness. 

Just a few weeks ago, my husband and I bought a brand new truck.  It’s the kind of expensive vehicle that I would have never imagined myself owning before.  And honestly, if we weren’t a dual income household and I was on my own, I still couldn’t afford it but I could afford the more scaled down version.  My husband now is the antithesis of a narcissist.  He wants me to have nice things that I never had and he takes care of me in a way that sometimes feels very foreign to me.  Driving my new truck that first week, I was in a bit of a daze.  I felt like I was in a dream, that I would wake up and my carriage would be a pumpkin again.  Actually some of the cars I’ve had, a pumpkin would have been a step up.   But the bottom line is, anything is possible.  One day you might be on welfare and the next day you might be driving a new truck that heats and cools your butt.  If only it would do laundry, I’d be set.  Or cook.  

Don’t give up.  Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed if you are going through a rough time and you have to ask for help.  Don’t let a rough time define you.  Realize that these times in your life are what make you a stronger more empathetic person.  You can relate to so many more people as you travel through life. Adversity is a gift, though at the time it feels like hell.  It teaches you to be less judgmental and that you can survive things you never thought you could.  

Your today doesn’t not have to be your tomorrow.  And this too shall pass…  And all that stuff they like to say.