Another Breakthrough. (For me, this time.)

April 10, 2012 at 8:36 am | Posted in Choosing Happiness., Crazy Talk (aka: Therapy) | 12 Comments

Had enough with the potty drama? Shall we move on?

So okay. There is something.

I had a HUGE breakthrough in therapy yesterday. And I really, really, really need to write this out because it’s just so big for me.

I wish I remember the specifics, really, of how it came up. But we were talking about how EVERYTHING changed for me after my cousin committed suicide. And my therapist asked me about punishment.

I can’t remember what she asked, whether I punished myself or felt punished or something.

And something clicked. In that moment, it all clicked for me.

I spent most of my childhood being punished. I CONSTANTLY rebelled against my parents, fought their ridiculous (and not-so-ridiculous) rules, and challenged their authority. Every day. And they fought back by imposing every type of punishment possible.

There was a time in 5th grade where my friends didn’t bother coming to knock on my door to see if I could come out and play because I was ALWAYS grounded.

So by the time I was a teenager, I was a prisoner. I thought of suicide all the time. I truly thought that my parents wouldn’t care; it would make their life EASIER if I was dead. But. I couldn’t do it though.

I always used the excuse that I didn’t want to break my grandfather’s already weak heart; but the truth is I was too scared. I wanted to be dead, but I was terrified of the process of dying.

So yeah. I survived my teenage years thanks to my fear of dying.

And then I went off to college. And I was reborn. I was giddy, in love with life and my absolute independence. I could be anything I wanted to be.

I have never been as euphoric, drunk with joy, as I was that year.

And my cousin reached out to me with her pain. And I truly didn’t recognize how serious she was. I underestimated her courage. My experience with being suicidal was that though I wanted to die every day when I was living at home, I couldn’t go through with actually DOING it.

I just assumed that Amy was the same way as me.

And, truth be told, I didn’t WANT to do anything. I wanted to stay being in love with my life. I was SO happy, and I didn’t want anything, including my cousin, to bring me down.

She died a few days after I was home for the summer.

And at the time, I believed that I was at least in PART responsible for her death. I’ve talked about this before. And yes. I KNOW now, as an adult, that it wasn’t my fault. It really wasn’t. Maybe I could have helped, a little. But likely I couldn’t have done ANYTHING.

But yesterday, I realized something more about her death, the part that makes her death still so hard to process through. And which affects me every day, even still.

I believed that Amy’s death was punishment for my happiness.

Seriously. I spent most of my life feeling that I wasn’t good enough, didn’t work hard enough, didn’t care enough, was an awful kid/teenager.

I told myself for YEARS that I just needed to wait it out, get out from under my parents’ rules, and THEN I’d be happy. I’d be able to create the life I wanted then. I just had to endure.

And then I go off on my own, and I am happy, and ignore my responsibility to my cousin… and suffer the worst kind of punishment there could be – the death of the girl who was as close to me as my own sister.

It was my fault, you see. Therefore I needed to be punished.

And when I went back to college, I floundered. I wasn’t the same anymore. And so, I decided to be different. I took on all that external criticism of me as my own. I BELIEVED it. I wasn’t good enough unless I was someone else.

And so I went about creating someone else. That person who is the me today.

And shockingly, I was GOOD at it. I am an incredibly capable woman. I discovered I could get happiness from BEING capable; doing things that people didn’t expect from me. Over the years I’ve gotten a charge out of doing something outside the realm of other people’s (and my own) expectations. I’ve had short term happiness from a new endeavor, of learning, of getting better.

The problem with that sort of thing is that it’s never enough. The happiness I get from doing something new only lasts a short time before I need to attack another challenge.

And even worse? I have a serious distrust of the time when I’m happy, when I really feel good. I don’t allow myself to be JOYFUL anymore because I am always steeling myself for my inevitable punishment.

I knew my cousin’s death affected me very deeply. But until yesterday, I really didn’t know just how much it really screwed me up.

It’s like I found the missing puzzle piece.

It’s why I can’t sit still, or be okay with just good enough.

It’s why I am SO protective of Lucky’s esteem, why I negotiate with him, why I make sure he knows I’m listening to him, why I tell him all the time how much I love him.

It’s why I pick and criticize Charlie Brown when I’m feeling not good enough. Because I am afraid of loving him fully; because if I do, he might die. And it’s why I worry endlessly over what I believe to be his sleep deprivation, his high blood pressure, his focus on tasks instead of taking care of himself.

It’s why I fight losing battles, run marathons, focus my love on my friends, make sure we meet family responsibilities.

It’s why I was terrified every moment I was pregnant with Lucky.

And it’s why, I realize, I can never be happy. Because I won’t ALLOW myself real joy in the fear that I’ll be punished for it.

The only thing I CAN allow are those small moments of happiness where I break through my own expectations.

God, I have been my own worst enemy for so many years now.

And I asked my therapist at the end of my session yesterday, So now what?

Her answer was that I’m doing everything right; thinking about it, talking about it, processing through it.

I am sort of amazed at how much BETTER I feel just having discovered this. It’s like everything I’ve done in the past 17 years MAKES SENSE now. And I recognize my motivations, and understand why I do things.

And it gives me hope that I can actually CHANGE it.

Like, for example. Remember how I said I wanted to break 2 hours in a half marathon? And my workout on Saturday was going to tell me if it was possible?

Well, on Friday, I was completely obsessed with the idea. I was on the verge of anxiety about the “right” sort of training run. And I put it out there to my dailymile friends and asked what they thought.

EVERYONE told me to go out and do my long run to feel, not to be so focused on the numbers, just get out there and do it.

And I started to see that I was falling into my pattern of pushing myself needlessly. So I decided to let it go.

And I went out, and had a very humbling run, and cut 10 miles to 9, and came home sore and tired and thirsty.

The old me would have been snappish and angry with Charlie Brown. But on Saturday? When Charlie asked me about the run, I shrugged and told him that it was humbling. And that I decided that on race day, it was more important for me to enjoy the run instead of breaking a time goal, so maybe I thought I should stop obsessing about it.

I think the key to my happiness is two things.

First, I need to break the cycle of perfectionism I’ve made – the pushing myself to do more, more, MORE and the happiness I get when I succeed and/or the self-flagellation when I do something that didn’t meet my expectations. Loosening up the expectations is key to that. That I knew, that’s been something I’ve been working on for a while now.

But what I realized yesterday, too, is this. When I AM happy, I need to allow myself to BE happy. To be supportive of the worry that I’m to be punished for my happiness by acknowledging it and then letting it go, instead of talking myself out of happiness because I’m afraid.

I need to stop picking at the things that are not Perfect because I’m afraid of being happy.

It’s so crazy. For the first time in my life, I feel like I really understand me.

And even better, I feel like I have a chance at real happiness.



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  1. I’m so excited for you!

  2. I’m excited for you, too, what a big step you’ve taken in the direction of your own happiness.

  3. WOW. That is a really fantastic breakthrough.

  4. Wow. That is a huge breakthrough, and is humbling to read. I’m really excited for you.

  5. What you’re saying makes a lot of sense. It does make the pieces fit together better. I think I’ve said this before, but I am so impressed with all the progress you’ve been able to make during therapy! I’ve never had a really successful experience with a therapist, and this shows just how much a good therapist can do. And I am so happy to read that you think you have a chance at real happiness. You have so much good in your life, and so many good qualities yourself, it is so frustrating to see you unable to appreciate all that. So yay!

  6. Wow. This is really amazing, and I feel privileged to read it.

    I have had such a hard time being happy in my life, too. Always trying something new. Always adding something to my plate. And sometimes, as a result, spending time in some very, very dark places. You’ve made me start to wonder why, whether there is a key, and whether I can use that key to unlock a better way for myself to be in the world …

  7. So people have said this already, but I think it bears repeating…WOW! What an incredible realization! And this is not just a big breakthrough, it’s huge! And it brought tears to my eyes.

  8. Wow! This is huge!!!!! Congratulations! My husband has a constant feeling that the other shoe is going to drop and his happiness will be taken away. I try telling him I’ve been his good luck charm for 20 years now, so nothing is going to happen. I think his comes from his dad and his mom both almost dying when he was 17 years old. His mom had breast cancer and his dad had an aortic aneurism and they both survived to this day.

    I’m so happy for you!!!!

  9. You will have to consciously remind yourself to enjoy happiness. Many roads lead us to where we are and some of them are so engrained in our memory that it actually takes work to step back for a second and allow yourself to feel differently than you have been wired to think for so long.
    Awesome progress Serenity 🙂

  10. You are quite the onion (I don’t say that sarcastically)…so figuring yourself out…figuring out why you do things the way you do is hard…but worth the work. They say that emotional intelligence–understanding our emotions and the emotions of others–is the biggest predictor of success in life and relationships. I’m glad you have such an awesome therapist to help you figure all this stuff out.

    Oh, and as for the running, you are fully cooked (in terms of training). No amount of worrying or stressing or pushing on race day is going to change the result. You have trained as much and as hard as you can and now you just gotta hope that you have a good race day. I always found peace in knowing that the race is out of my hands. That I did my work and now whatever will be will be.

  11. Amazing breakthrough. I love fitting such pieces together — nothing is more life changing. Onward!

  12. This is huge! I hope you continue building on it!

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