What Trauma Taught Me About Happiness
I was driving across Manhattan at midnight, passing through a city that held me for nearly 7 years. For once, it was peaceful and relatively quiet. Nothing in particular was happening, though I was captivated by everything, every street sign and person walking. Somewhere between the bridges and the lights, I just began to cry out of pure joy. Like…messy, ugly cry. It was probably the first time in my life I had spontaneously burst into tears with no tangible reason behind it. But the feeling was overwhelming. My heart couldn’t hold all of the gratitude and joy I had.
At some point it occurred to me that I was happy because I no longer believed that life was about suffering. I no longer believed that my life would have to be about coping with pain and trauma. And that small realization was revolutionary.
I’ve been a trauma survivor since I was 3 years old. Between grief, death, abandonment, emotional abuse, and multiple sexual traumas, I quite simply believed that life was about dealing with that shit, cleaning up the mess, and trying to cope with the pain. For much of my life, I was ok with that. I got really good at it, because I had to be. I made it my personal mission to find better ways to work through it all. I got real cozy with my shadow (I mean…REAL cozy), healing became my #1 priority, a way of being. Never once did I consider that the years upon years of work would make me feel truly…better.
The thing about trauma, especially early trauma, is that it teaches you to be a fighter from day one. But the very feistiness that got me out of harm’s way, helped me move across the country, pick myself up from nothing, face every demon in the closet, start over a million times, and most importantly…survive, also kept me attached to suffering. It had me believing on some subconscious level that it could never be over. In some sense, I built myself at an early age around a “fighter” identity. And while I honor everything that she had to do to survive, I’ve also had to ask her to put her sword down on many occasions. There are times when surrender is more necessary than fighting. There are times when softness or acceptance is called for.
I didn’t realize that years later, even after letting go of so many of the beliefs, perceptions, feelings, and attachments that held me to the trauma, I still had a tiny subconscious part of me that was holding her breath. I was still under some impression that the trauma work would never be over. And while, yes, of course, there’s always more self-work to do (we’re always changing and require new skills, beliefs, and mindsets for each journey), my life did NOT have to be about coping anymore. Suddenly, after many, many years of deep emotional processing, life was no longer about suffering, or getting by, or coping, or even healing. I was finally allowed to just…be.
In the past, happiness always had seemed so fleeting to me. Small moments of excitement, or accomplishment, or the mere absence of pain. But this kind of happiness I had never experienced before. A deeper peace, a grounded kind of happiness.
Rooted in everything that surrounded me. A grateful-to-be-alive happy. Happiness that was a deep awareness of the small and beautiful things. The gratitude I had in that moment, driving to pick up my love from the airport to go back to our home in the woods, was enormous. It filled my heart with so much joy for the communities, friends, passions, and freedom I had in my life.
I’ve told myself some crazy things about what happiness is or where I’ll find it. If I just achieve that goal – ok, no, maybe THAT one! If I just find the right people. If I just gain this quality or become this way. If I just work though this problem. If I could just love myself this much more. It’s all lies.
In my opinion, grounded Happiness, is not: happiness despite, happiness because of, happiness deserved or rewarded. It is not a reprieve, an escape, or forgetting of the state of things as they are. It is not perfection or even stability. It is the acknowledgement of everything that is right and good, the deepest awareness of the positive connections weaving together the life you co-created in this world, great gratitude for what has been right in front of you and all around you.
Wishing you so much happiness and joy.
In deep gratitude for your presence,