Life can be tricky. There are twists and turns, challenges and triumphs, accomplishments and failures, and everything in between.
But, are you HAPPY?
Even with the changes and pressures that life can throw at us, it is imperative that we continue to check our “happy status”. We can be happy even while we are working toward a huge goal, or while we struggle to accomplish a dream ahead of us.
Yet, some of us define HAPPY differently.
Yesterday I was speaking with my best friend and he said something that struck a chord in my heart.
“ We are very much alike, you and I. We are people pleasers and we have always based our happiness on how happy we make others. It’s time we find our OWN happiness and please ourselves”.
What a Concept.
I cannot quite wrap my head around his statement, yet it resonated within my heart, like the sharp poke of a blade. He’s not wrong.
Over my past 50 years, I have been guilty of living my life vicariously through other people’s happiness. I gauged my own contentment and joy based on what I have done for others to make them smile. I have always spent extra time thinking about what others would want from me, in order to make them happy. This, in turn, would make my heart light. It would make me feel like I was happy.
But, was I? Am I?
It Started with Being a Mom.
Actually, it most likely started when I was a kid, and chronically wanted people to like me. That is a whole other story that I will save for a later time.
Becoming a mom, however, was the single most joyous time in my life. as soon as I held my newborn daughter, I realized that I would literally do ANYTHING to make sure she was always happy. I would ensure that she had everything she ever needed and more love than she could handle.
That’s what parenting is.
And I spent her childhood living for her smile when I “did” for her. Her happiness made me glow, and I always thought that was enough for me. I actually began looking after everyone in my life, as I did my daughter. I loved to be “the one” to make celebration dinners, like Christmas, and I wanted to be “the one” to bake birthday cakes for the extended family.
Yes, it was a lot of work, but I felt it was a labor of love. I always told myself that as long as everyone else was happy then so was I.
10 Years Ago it all Changed
I was a good wife. A kind, loving wife, who would do literally anything to have a happy husband. I married too young, and suffered PTSD and some other issues from an abusive childhood, yet, I stifled it all to make my husband of 21 years happy. I always worked hard, usually with more than one job at a time, I kept the house tidy, and I became a cook, baker, and doting partner. It was what my husband needed.
One day, I awoke and had some sort of epiphany. I am unclear what happened in my head, or heart, but I realized that I wasn’t happy anymore.
My daughter was an independent teenager and I was trying to change career focus while my husband stayed at his long term job, which made him miserable. He disliked that I was looking to make changes, as it would affect us financially. Further to this, he was the guy who stayed at ANY job for many years, because he found it easier than making changes. We just didn’t understand each other, and I was depressed.
After a few arguments and discussions with my then-husband, I realized that I had spent so many years making him happy, that I had sacrificed my own contentment.
I wanted to go back to school, and earn my degree. I wanted to start a new chapter in a time when our daughter no longer needed me to feed her happiness. But, I had no support. He was so used to my making him happy, that he forgot about my contentment. It was no longer important.
So, I Left.
I found a place to live, and my daughter came with me. We shared a quiet condo and she continued with high school, her boyfriend, and her part time job at Walmart. I registered in College and worked full time.
Then I met D.
And my life spiraled out of emotional control.
D was a challenge for me. We started off heavy and physical. Within our first few days, he told me he was starting to fall in love with me, and those words made me happy. The thought of making him happy an in love, made me feel happy. At least, that’s what I thought.
He was coming out of a long marriage, and so was I, and at first we thought we found each other because of a twist of fate. I wanted to believe that. Damn it, I wanted to believe that.
Over time, D stopped using the LOVE word and repeatedly asked me to tell him those three words. I would take a deep breath, and say, “I love you.” He would respond with a breathy, “I know you do.”
This went on for almost a year.
That was when it all began. THAT was when I determined that in order for me to be happy, I had to please him. What was I thinking? Why did I stay?
I stayed for 9 long years of making D happy, and not worrying about how I felt. I had resigned to making sure he was always content, while I stifled my feelings and allowed my bliss to deteriorate, little by little, year by year.
I had defined my own level of happiness by how happy D was.
If I did something special for him, no matter how he responded to it, I would feel my heart lighten up because I did something JUST for him. Whether it was spending thousands of dollars on a trip for the two of us, or buying him a $40.00 cigar, I thrived on gifting him, caring for him, and nurturing him-JUST TO MAKE MYSELF HAPPY.
The problem, however, was that over time, especially over the last years, my kindness and my giving to D was no longer appreciated. He would become annoyed that I was spending money on him, or he would say things like, “Why would you waste your time and money on this?” It was soul crushing.
When I would make special dinners, and tidy up dishes afterward, it became an expectation rather than a gift for him. He had begun to take my kindness for granted, and in turn, it made my happiness deflate. My efforts to make him happy seemed to fall like balloons made from lead.
I had resigned to being in life with D where some days were diamonds, but most days were coal. We co-existed in a world where my trying to please him became an ongoing chore. It became exhausting.
That was when I began to write.
I wrote and wrote and wrote, just to have my OWN world, and at first, I struggled with the selfish time it took from D. He had his own hobbies with cigar smoking and motorbike trips, and I used my new found love of writing as my excuse for my OWN time.
Most times, D was okay with me taking time from him to write, but there were days when he seemed annoyed that I dare take time from “us,” to sit alone in my home office and write. He would call out to me, “Are you almost done?” and “When is supper?” even if I was on a focused train of thought, tapping away.
The train of thought would crash at the nearest paragraph, and I would rise from my chair to please D. It was simply the dynamic I had created for us.
In March of 2019, right before my 50th birthday, I opened my eyes-both figuratively and literally. I had recalled the time, effort and money that I had put into D’s 50th birthday a couple of years ago, and realized that for MY 50th birthday, I was doing everything for myself and dealing with D’s rules and regulations.
It was a time of reflection, a time of a new perspective, and an awakening.
The twists and turns of my previous half-decade crept into my heart like darkness with a light in the distance, and I snapped out of my inner ego. I realized that I had spent my entire life trying to make people love me, based on what I had to offer them-not for who I am. That was on me. I had done this to myself.
I felt like a lightning bolt of love surged within me, followed by a thunder crash of regret. I needed to get off of this crazy ride and change my focus.
Breaking Free of Empathy
I spent my 50th birthday hidden away from the world. I spent it on my own terms, and only had contact with those who were closest to my heart. It was a day spent in a luxury hotel, soaking in the hot tub, and reflecting.
It was a day of selfishness. And it felt DAMN GOOD.
As I sat in the hotel room, I reflected on what would make ME happy, without involving anyone else. It was a tough pill to swallow, as this was like landing on a new planet. or galaxy. It was a very unfamiliar territory, and I felt pangs of guilt thinking of myself. Just myself.
Since that day, my selfishness for my own happiness has snowballed. I created a domino effect for myself, by taking baby steps toward my own happiness.
I left mine and D’s home, moved in with a friend, and have my own home. I have my OWN space. I have a new future ahead of me. I make the rules and regulations to protect my heart now, and although it feels alien to me, I am becoming used to it. Slowly.
The guilt still creeps in, every damn day, but I now try and stifle the pangs like I used to stifle the unhappiness.
I stayed with a good friend while I searched for my new home, in the chaos of her house, and she reminded me daily that I needed to empower myself to be happy. She told me that it was never easy because we have too much empathy when we hurt others. Empathy is one of my most complicated struggles.
Empathy can work in many tortuous ways.
It is THE reason that I have always thrived on the happiness of others, and feel deeply cut by their sadness.
In order for me to be truly happy, I need to be selfish. I need to think only of myself, and to turn the empathy off. By leaving D, I have hurt him deeply, and that makes me feel wracked with guilt and remorse. However, in order for me to be truly happy, I need to leave D and his control of my emotions behind. I need to find a way to embrace my own feelings and turn D’s off.
I will get there. I will find my selfish love for myself. In doing so, I will find my inner happiness. I just need to follow the light at the end of the dark tunnel of empathy.
Once I reach that light and climb out of the hole, I will find my selfish happiness, for the first time in my life.
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