Life Wasn’t Designed With Happiness in Mind
The Journey is Fraught with Pain
Stress, depression, anxiety, worry, despair, competition, disappointment, loneliness, I’ve experienced all of them from time to time. America is the most medicated society in the world. So, I’m assuming that many of my readers have experienced some if not most of these emotions at one time or another as well.
To suffer is to be human as near as I can tell.
Some of it was unnecessary, some self-imposed, and a good bit was due to being around the wrong people at the right time. A good bit of it was also culturally orchestrated. And, then there’s Mother Nature who isn’t known for her kind and gentle ways. How do we manage to get through life has been the burning question on many minds since the beginning of time.
Here’s my story, the short version …
I’ve never been prescribed a medication, but looking back on my life, I think I would’ve benefitted from seeing a therapist much earlier than I did.
I waited until I was in my sixties to choose a therapist.
I didn’t vibe with the first one. So, after two visits, I switched to a woman therapist. She was well past retirement age, white haired, and a comfortable fit. I spent the next year in therapy, mostly dealing with my past.
I don’t presume that my past was the worst situation in the world, but certainly it was outside the mainstream of “normal” upbringings.
Mind you, I use the word NORMAL loosely. My lot in life was to be raised in a religious cult. I’ve written about it before, but that’s not what I want to discuss today. Suffice it to say, my dad was diagnosable. He could’ve benefitted from medication but back in the day that wasn’t something people did. So, he heard voices, suffered from delusions of grandeur, experienced extreme highs and lows, and had a pattern of risky behaviors. The damage he did to his family is probably much deeper than I realize.
It was my job to deal with my own damages.
I spent a solid year with my therapist. After digging up the past, accepting my innocence and lack of control, while also learning ways to avoid intrusive thoughts that could trigger an emotional reaction from me, I decided to end my sessions.
Two important things …
I’ll never forget how it felt to finally tell someone about the things that happened to me. The mental, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that I suffered as a child had never been acknowledged by anyone. No one! Not once in all the years before I left home and was disowned by my family did ANYONE intervene on my behalf. Even after I left, no one asked questions or showed any true interest. I was expected to assimilate into mainstream society after living in a religious cult without so much as a blink of the eye or a hiccup.
I did surprisingly well.
In fact, when I listened to my new civilian friends talk about their problems, which I was often expected to do, I marveled that they were the ones getting divorces, doing drugs and alcohol, and deeply dissatisfied with life. Not me. Them. Oh, yes, I’ve spent hours and hours listening to people’s problems. All ages, from relatives to friends. Rarely did I share my junk.
I realized that most people simply couldn’t relate. The rule seems to be that unless it’s happened to you, you’re probably not going to appreciate the pain.
The second thing that I learned from working with a therapist for a year was that I could develop skills to help me cope better with my emotional pain. There were things that I could do, tell myself, and practice to help me better cope. Some of them I had been practicing for years and didn’t even know it. Others were new to me, but with practice and hard work became second nature.
I could look back and see the step by step, often painful progress that I’d already made and take credit for it.
It took me years to understand that no one else has the right to define me. I get to do that. My struggle to discover my own identity through finally having some personal freedom to do so was my path to a better life. Until I did that, defined my preferences and those bits of me that should never be compromised, I would forever be a ship lost at sea.
It wasn’t easy.
The process of defining who I am, deep down inside, was just that, a process. I floundered a lot. Guilt which was the primary emotion that I was groomed to feel in my religious upbringing.
It was a truly nasty thing to overcome.
I had been taught to equate pleasure with sin. I had to get over that. I was always amazed at how easy it appeared for my mainstream friends to seek pleasure whether through fun experiences, buying things, multiple relationships, even sex. Unlike me, they thought pleasure was a good thing not a bad thing. I had been wired to discredit feelings of pleasure. After all, I came into this world a fallen creature that needed redeeming. Every day was just another day to prove to a god that with his help I could deny myself carnal pleasures. When guilt is your number one measurement for living your life, things get complicated. You experience a lot of self-hatred, self-harm, and self-denial.
Once again, unless your brain is wired to think that way, it’s almost impossible to imagine it.
It took me a long time to get past the feelings of guilt that living my own life could illicit, but slowly the true me began to emerge like a butterfly from the cocoon. I started to experience an occasional release of self-expression that brought so much pleasure. I wanted more of that. The new me was enjoying herself.
But there was more to come.
I was surprised, caught off guard, by the fact that mainstream people weren’t as comfortable with watching me grow into myself as I had thought they’d be. Nor were they particularly supportive. Some even tried to hold me back. Frankly, I now realize that by changing myself, I also changed the dynamics of a relationship. What people originally responded to was the damaged version of myself. As I morphed into a healed version of myself, they felt threatened. The person they knew when I first left home was not who I gave myself permission to become as I healed.
So, I faced a second onslaught of judgement and roadblocks.
Because I was raised to be obedient, it was doubly hard for me to buck the feedback I was given. Much of it was subliminal but being an empath, unfortunately, I felt the current of disapproval and sabotage.
Contrary to popular belief, not everyone is happy to see other’s flourishing.
Eventually, I had to cut ties with those who resented my personal growth. Through trial and error, I began to find my path. Turns out that I didn’t fit into the mainstream world either. I ended up picking and choosing the bits and pieces that aligned with who I am and tossed the rest. The result was somewhat surprising. I think in the long run, I’m less constricted by social expectations than those who were raised within the mainstream American culture.
Consequently, I’ve never found my tribe.
I was and am a free floater. I can’t conform just to belong and still be myself, so I’ve accepted that. I find people here and there from various groups who I connect with, but I’ve never joined their tribes.
Consequently, I’m on my own a lot.
I have discovered that I’m a true introvert. That’s helped me a lot. Once I realized that people wear me out, I stopped feeling the pressure to keep a packed social calendar.
I’ve also learned to self-medicate without medicating.
Not that I’m opposed to medication to help a person manage. Not at all. I merely developed other ways of managing my feelings.
Creative expression has been my preferred method.
Writing this article is a wonderful example. I have a daily routine that involves getting up in the morning, fixing my coffee, and settling in to write. I usually write for several hours each day. I’ve done this for years. I’ve written thousands of poems, short stories, and plays. I’m currently working on my sixth book. I’ve published four. I play the piano and enjoy listening to music. I paint. Before COVID, I traveled. Oh, and I garden. This morning, I spent several hours deadheading. watering, and admiring my garden. Nature is my truest companion. I feel so much better when I get a generous dose of nature every day.
Life isn’t easy.
Not for me and not for anyone. I’ve noticed how hard it is for people to flourish and thrive. Most of us have been damaged to a greater or lesser degree, and then are expected to raise children without passing on generational pain. We’re not given the tools early on to cope. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger really isn’t a true piece of wisdom after all.
What doesn’t kill us breaks us is closer to the truth.
We’re all struggling to make sense of life, of our pasts, our fear of the future. Everyone is afraid. Everyone is broken. The biggest and loudest tough guy is often the most afraid. They can’t even talk about their feelings let alone learn coping skills. So, they arm themselves against life, literally and figuratively. It takes enormous courage to face the monster in the closet. To reflect upon life and develop a strong sense of self-awareness requires guts, perseverance, and a desire to find and then be your true self in a world of constant pressure to conform. Our cultural lies and expectations were designed to control us.
They are better at controlling human behavior than laws will ever be.
I appreciate my therapist. I found out later that she didn’t have an easy life either. Maybe no one does. However, I am glad she was there for me when I needed her. Although I’d already worked through a lot of STUFF on my own, it was nice to recap it all with her, learn a few new coping techniques, and tell my story to someone who remained nonjudgmental and listened.
It’s been over a decade since my year of therapy.
I’m 71 years old. Life looks different from this spot in the journey. I’m pretty much living the way I was born to live. That feels natural and right. I’m not my past. I’m me, right now, in this moment of time as I clip my zinnias and share my sunflowers with the goldfinches.
I like being me. Who else could I be?
Teresa is a retired educator, author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. You can find her books on Amazon.