For years, I would try to tell my dad that our thoughts affect everything. This was only after I realized just how obvious the truth of that statement was. He held such a negative outlook on life for so long, that I could barely remember how he lived before the light died in his eyes. I can’t blame him. I lived life that same way for longer than I ever should have. That’s why I won’t sit here on a towering pedestal of optimism and pretend it’s easy to be happy, pretend I don’t know what it is to sink into the depths of a personal hell and burn in my own inferno. Because I do know. And I almost let it cost me everything.
His life wasn’t an easy one, and neither was mine. But not many people’s lives are, for one reason or another. For my dad, it was one tragic incident after another. It only ever seemed to get worse year after year instead of getting better. He played a part in some of his misery, and some of it was beyond his control. I think that’s how it goes for the lot of us.
I know those feelings. It’s hard to look on the bright side when the sun refuses to shine. You’re buried up to your eyeballs in misery. You’re lost in the grey. We wrap ourselves up in a blanket of despair and never poke our heads out from underneath it.
He thought he was cursed – that nothing would ever go right for him, that he had shitty luck, that it wasn’t worth trying for anymore… “What’s the point?” he would ask to no one at all. There was a time when I thought this too.
But not so much anymore.
I told him life has nothing to do with luck. Because to me, it doesn’t. People don’t just luck out on easy lives with an overwhelming abundance of wealth, love, and happiness. I guess you can be born into some of those things, but all three still take work to maintain. And things will come along that will fuck all of them up, sometimes all at once. That’s why life has to be what we make of it, even the shitty parts.
Our perspective and our attitude have a lot to do with how we see things, how we value things, and how we handle things, planned or unexpected. We also must keep in mind that to be human is to error. We will make good and poor choices and we will make mistakes. Things will go wrong. No one is ever happy all of the time. But still, we need to try.
“Do whatever it takes,” I would tell him, “even when it seems hopeless, even when you don’t want to.”
He would just scoff at me. I cant blame him for that either. It’s hard to believe anything I’m saying unless you yourself have made it to the other side. He’d have to take my word for it. And he wasn’t ready for that. None of us usually are.
When I was buried deep in my rabbit hole, there was nothing anyone could say or do to change my mind. In my eyes, my life was over. My life had beaten me down. And I was too weak to recover. I spent all my time drowning in a sea of victimization. The “why me?!” The “what did I do to deserve this?”
Then came the waves of self-loathing, guilt, shame, despair, anger, and the eventual “nothingness”. This is the part where we give up on trying to find happiness or meaning to our lives and we no longer care much about anything. I thought to myself at the time: “Just exist Steph, just survive, go through the motions and expect nothing extraordinary until it’s time to die. That’s all you have to do.” And the best case scenario, I would muster the ability to end it all on my own earlier than my life clock had planned. That feeling… of walking through life defeated, beaten down each time you try to get up, until you are reduced to nothing more than a shell of a person, it’s overwhelming. It takes your breath away, smothering your soul. Upside-down and twisted up in this rock bottom was where I existed for years. Until I forced myself to pull me out of it. What was left of me anyways.
My dad hit rock bottom too, way after me. He thought he had hit it many times before then and maybe he had, but it was nothing like this drop. And it was definitely the furthest down he had ever been. During this particular climb back up, he told me my words popped into his head and for the first time, he chose to make them stick. He kept them there, my voice always in the back of his mind, until he believed it for real.
I was thrilled the day he called and told me I was right all along. It had nothing to do with the satisfaction of being right but everything to do with the fact that he finally believed. It was the way his voice had changed, the confirmation in it. He knew he could find happiness for the first time in many years. And he had begun to seek it out. He sounded almost giddy about it. It was a new lease on his life and he was excited.
He said to me, “Bud, you were right. You never stopped trying to tell me, but I guess in order for me to understand, for me to work towards it, I had to see it myself. I had to believe on my own. Thank you for never giving up on trying to make me see it.” He’s been on the upswing ever since. It’s not easy. But his outlook is different now, and that changed everything.
He deserves this more than anyone I know. It’s been a long time coming. He tried so hard to be both my mom and my dad pretty much my entire life. He did the best he could. But it killed him when he thought he let me down, on a few occasions, for reasons I won’t get into here. There are things that happened to me that I kept from him until only recently. I didn’t want to burden him. I didn’t want to hurt him. He blamed himself for that too when he shouldn’t have. It wasn’t his fault. Hell, it wasn’t mine either, but the shit happened just the same.
Now he understands. Only we can pull ourselves out of the deep. He could have been there for me if I told him everything, but only there as much as I would have let him be. And he would have helped, as much as I would have let him. Which back then, might not have been at all. Loved ones can be there for us in our worst of times, holding out their hands for us to grab onto, but only we can choose to take hold and stop drowning. We have to make the choice to swim to dry land. I chose to drown myself back then.
There are so many things that can go wrong in our lives – through our own fault, through someone else, through circumstance, through things beyond our control. Things happen that we can’t understand, things happen that aren’t fair, and there can be overwhelming amounts of pain, tragedy, sadness, loss, anger, and grief. We find ourselves being swallowed in the white noise.
But amidst it all, there still exists love, beauty, and happiness. We have to force ourselves to shift focus even when we’re being blindsided by the bad. Until it becomes habit to do so. We are the curators of our own happiness only if we choose to believe. We must have faith in that. We hold our universe in the palm of our own hands.
A lot of us face insurmountable hardship. Some have it worse than others, but it’s not for us to think about. We carry the weight of our lives in different measure. Our pain is our own. It is not up to us to measure it against someone else. We cannot trivialize others’ pain because we feel ours is worse. Nor should others do that to us. It will always be worse to the one that lives with it. We have to understand that we’re not all built to just “get over it” immediately. But we are all built to fight, to rise up, and to come face to face with new hardships and tackle them head on, refusing to allow them to define or control our happiness.
We discover that we can hold on to the happiness we create and use it as a shield against the pain. When the pain consumes us, we can’t see the good. It’s like being caught in the eye of a tornado. Life is beyond the funnel but if we’re trapped in the middle of its storm, all we see is the darkness. We get swallowed whole. It’s hard to move beyond anything other than just trying to stay alive. Happiness is hard to find there.
I can’t tell you that storms don’t exist in my life anymore because I choose to be happy more days than not. That would be bullshit. They do. Storms are a constant, varying in size. Terrible things have happened since I started the fight many years ago. But I kept fighting anyways. And I find myself riding through the storms a bit easier. What was once an F-5, leveling my existence, may now be an F-2, with some minor cleanup and bounce back required. But my happiness remains intact, shaken maybe, but never leveled completely.
I may not have a lot, not in comparison to some people, but I am happy. I try to see the good in every day and I am grateful for all that I have and who I have. I try to give as much as I can, filling the world with more good, more kindness, more compassion.
I worked hard for this, all that I have built. I don’t care so much about the physical or the material, but more the emotional and the mental.
I control the storms now. I don’t let them control me.
I am aware of where I was and where I want to be. I am aware of who I was and who I want to be. I am firm in the belief that I will always be a work in progress but I live and love the best that I can. I will be hungry for happiness as long as I am alive.
We need to find what is important to us and fight for it, every single day. We define our happiness. It starts from within and radiates outward. It doesn’t matter if your happiness is different from others. What matters is that you want it, and you will do what it takes to find it. Our thoughts manifest. They do. Decide to stay on the positive wavelength.
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. You have to do something different in order to grow. And in order to grow, you have to change. And to change, you have to believe. And when you believe, you will move forward.
The only person that can take you there, is you.
There is no such thing as instant happiness. And there is a HUGE difference between pretending that you’re happy versus feeling the real thing. You can’t fake happiness. All that does is actually mask the real work you need to do. Real happiness amidst the fucked up shit in our lives takes work. It’s a struggle, it’s a process, and it’s a fight. It could take weeks, months, or years. It could take losing everything, including your mind.
It makes you feel things you don’t want to feel, see things you don’t want to see, come to terms with things you’d rather avoid, removes you from the denial, and it provides a hell of a lot of clarity that you sometimes wish you can push back out of focus. You see yourself for who you truly are, and you learn to fall in love with you, flaws and all, as hard as that may seem. You forgive people you don’t want to, even when they’re not sorry. You also forgive yourself, sometimes that’s even harder to do. But you do it so you can let go and be free from it. You have to. You don’t think it’s possible but then you feel it for real and you’re like holy shit, it is possible.
So this is a case where I feel like I can tell you to put the cart before the horse. Because eventually, the horse will move into place.
You just have to trust that it knows what to do.