This is my happy place.
And by THIS I mean sobriety.
I was on a walk yesterday. Walks are where I always have my deepest thoughts. I was thinking about my life. I was a happy go lucky young gal since birth.I know this from my mom’s reports and also I have picture proof of me with a big bald head and a jolly gummy smile.
I was meant to be happy. It was my most natural state of being. Unless there was discomfort, I felt good inside. I continued to have a sunny, upbeat, optimistic disposition about me, despite a few major bumps in my young life.
This automatically joyful girl changed around age 12. The same age I had my first sip of alcohol. How interesting that this went hand in hand. I didn’t drink because I felt good. I drank because I suddenly felt bad. I looked around and no one was as happy as me. I thought maybe I am not supposed to be happy. Maybe this is wrong. I am not supposed to be such a sunshine-y girl. No one likes me that way. I have to be something else. It’s natural, at this age, to start to value our peers' opinions of us over our own. I wanted to belong and fit in with certain people. I was willing to do whatever it took. I started looking for the approval of others to tell me I was good. My friends and cute boys (of course) were the judges whose approval I was seeking to win.
I started to believe what I thought everyone else thought about me. I started to be what I thought others wanted me to be. I didn’t want to make anyone mad at me. I wanted everyone to like me. I wanted more for others than I wanted for myself. I was ok to be at the bottom, as long as my “friend” was at the top. I preferred someone else at the top. I didn’t want to take away from anyone. Being my happiest self seemed selfish. Bragging. Gloating. I told myself to give someone else a chance. Life is not that good. Don’t be happier than anyone else. Sit in the hole with others. Do not help yourself out and leave them behind. Match the energy of others. Do not shine too bright, just fit in. Go unnoticed.
I got farther and farther away from myself. I stuffed my joy. Instead of waking up happy, I trained myself to be moody, grumpy, and sensitive. Like this is who I was supposed to be. It was just an act and I knew it, but I kept this going through college. I’d listen to sad songs, and wonderfully tragic artists like Tori Amos (“in these jeans of his with her name still on it…”) or angry music like Ani Difranco (thank you Ani). I felt mad. I felt the world wasn’t right or just. I was trying on all these different ways of being. I was mad at my parents for making me who I was. I was mad that no one seemed to love me enough, no matter how many admirers I had. I was a clown and a comedian to make others laugh. Everyone loves a clown. But this did not make me happy. I felt like a fool all the time. I had to be loud. I had to take the spotlight off others. It was my job. It was my attempt at lightening the mood, but it was also a mask I wore when I didn’t know how to be authentically me. I hated being mad at my parents. I wanted to love and adore them. I hated being a clown. I desperately wanted to be the pretty one. But instead I was the funny one. I had willed myself into being funny for lack of perceived beauty and other options for love and attention.
Alcohol was alongside me for all of it. One day in middle age I started realizing how genuinely unhappy I was. I didn’t dare tell anyone. This was a secret to hold so close to my chest. I had created a perfect life for myself. How could I be unhappy? What was wrong with me? My self esteem was so low and my shame so deep that I didn’t think I was allowed joy anymore. Joy was for childhood and mine was over. I had been too bad and too wrong for too long. My drinking got too out of control, reminding me of what a waste I was. I didn’t have permission for happiness. I thought because I had a drinking problem, my punishment must be misery. Especially because I make everyone else around me miserable with my drinking.
Sometimes when I drank, I got that light, happy, euphoric feeling. The closest feeling I found to the natural happiness that I was born with. It felt so good. I wanted to hold it. Sometimes after having wine, my anxieties that I had gripped to so tightly all day, started to melt away. I had these fleeting moments of freedom from my critical inner self. I experienced moments of uninhibited joy and a lightness only alcohol could induce. This of course was followed by blackouts, morning after detective work, crippling shame, nausea, headaches, hot and shaky sweats, and more.
For a moment there, though, it felt real. Even though it was drug induced, it actually felt like the real me and I wanted more of it. Perhaps that’s one or many reasons why I drank for 3 decades. For those glimmers of peace and happiness I felt inside at the right amount of buzz.
Sobriety has been the grandest return to self.
There has been a return to myself in sobriety. A return of happiness. I had to relearn how to be happy and I am still reprogramming my brain towards it. I AM happy now. I allow myself to feel joy. It takes practice and my inner critic says “who are you to be so happy” and I can now respond with “who am I not to be?”
Learning to feel joy, be happy, and shine bright takes practice. It was a break from a pattern that I was used to. It felt foreign at first and then it felt like I’ve finally made it home to yourself. I love witnessing these breakthroughs with myself and with my clients too.
Did you have a similar experience with losing yourself in middle school? Or later? Have you returned in adulthood? Still seeking? Not a happy person by nature? Tell me.