Reaching for Happiness

The past couple of weeks have been filled with moments of announcement and glimmers of something new in my life.   I may have a map, or at least some sense of being able to see the lay of the land.  But the way is still different and unfamiliar.

I know some things.  I know that I am leaving another place.  The place I have lived and moved and had my being in for longer than I can remember is a place filled with sadness, loss and grief.  It seemed that I moved from here to there just to keep moving.   Moving kept me busy.  And being busy kept me from realizing just how incredibly sad and filled with despair I was much of the time.  It is probably just as well that I wasn’t aware.  I wouldn’t have had the confidence to face into that void inside of me.  Coming as I do from a family with a lot of history of suicide, I wonder if I could have made it.  I am a woman of faith.  I am a priest, even.  But I think my heart was too troubled to give God much space.  Maybe all God could do was watch and wait and hope on my behalf when I lost my capacity to hope. Oh, as a priest I could still talk about it quite convincingly.  I could even visit places of hope for certain parts of my life for a little while here and a little while there.  But dwelling in hope? Abiding in hope?

Around October of last year, that began to change.  In June, my mom’s death had been a mirror that I would have preferred to ignore but couldn’t any longer.  Then, almost by accident, I finished crossing the river of denial related to my health and weight, and on the distant shore, after about 2 years of swimming in and out of eddies and currents of disbelief, I stopped and looked.  I had to look way down into a sink hole with another mirror, the mirror of aging with a chronic condition of insidious destructiveness.   I had to stop and be real.  Tell the real story even when it was embarrassing.  I realized just how much I was using food to numb myself out, to deny the sadness, the grief and the wrenching losses I had not even stopped to recognize.

It was more than I could do alone so I started seeing a therapist.  She is a gentle, kind woman who won’t let me off the hook for games I have long since mastered.  She can disarm me by simply asking me to sit quietly and breathe, breathe deeply.  J has been helping me sort through my early years as an adult, the decisions I made, the path I opened for myself.  I look back on myself with a lot of compassion these days.  I had no earthly idea what honest human needs look like and even less, what my own inner resources might be.  Instead, I invented and improvised and fell back on patterns I saw played out in my family of origin—patterns I am not particularly proud of but understand much better now.

How can you be in any meaningful relationship when you put yourself on like a dress every day and you never quite fit?  Over time, the dress gets stained and soiled, loses a button, and becomes frayed at the edges. You never stop to think this might not be you, so you spend a lot of time putting more stuff on to cover it up.  But it all looks and feels shabby, stifling and shameful.  It is easy to be a bag lady in your own skin, walking through your days muttering to yourself with an edge of angry desperation:  “You stupid idiot.  You messed up again.”

I kept moving.  I kept pitching my tent and pushing my cart full of bits and pieces that I thought made me me.  But I got lost an awful lot.  I also lost many things. One of the things I lost was my engagement ring—a lovely, simple piece of jewelry that symbolized promises and goodness to come. It was as if promises and goodness got lost with it. I was so extraordinarily lonely and afraid.  And the sadness grew in me. It pushed harder and harder so it was hard to catch the next breath.  Recently J called me on the fact that I was sitting in her office smiling, beaming really, and invited me to breathe.  It wasn’t thirty seconds and I was sobbing as grief just poured out of me.  I swallowed an ocean of sorrow over the course of 25 years and I am letting it go.

My walking, my praying, my time in therapy, the fact that I am eating more healthily, my willingness to start naming the grief and accepting the pain have brought me to a new place.  A thin place between sorrow and the rest of my life.  A place where my endurance allows me to reach destinations I set for myself and to accomplish things that matter.  The losses are no less real for my finally having named them—unlike God, when I name things I don’t really have any more control over them than I did before. But naming things allows me to be true to what is and not what I once hoped might be.  It is a form of sobriety.

It is possible that another major loss lies ahead for me.  But if that happens it will be because I am not trying to cover myself up any more.  If there is more left to let go of than grief, it is pieces that are certainly not me any longer and maybe never were.  I will be able to continue to go towards a new place because I know now that I have many more resources inside myself than I ever allowed myself to believe I had.  I am not scared as I contemplate that possibility.

And as I said, I have moments where I have already crossed over.  Tonight as I unloaded the dishwasher, I delighted in the lovely mug I use for my morning coffee.  It is perfect, absolutely perfect for me.  On Tuesday, I stood outside a hospital in my ministerial black—black skirt, black clergy blouse, official looking name tag and clergy collar.  A man I’d watched get out of a car in front of me—an aging, somewhat feeble-looking person, stopped and with a strong, life-filled voice told me how much he liked my subversive, sexy red heels.  I smiled all the way back to my office.

I talked to dear friends this week, each time I went out for my long walks, no longer needing quite as much solitude on those walks as I have before.  Tonight, I go to bed tired and tomorrow morning, I am going to work on taxes for a while, then I am going to a quilt show and coming back to clean my house so it will be shiny and welcoming when the Mallowman and the girl get back from a week-long road trip.  It struck me tonight:  I’m happy.

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