11. Choosing Joy
I have a friend who is in the middle of a very bitter divorce. He is resentful of the alimony laws which took thousands upon thousands of dollars from him and gave it to an incredibly abusive narcissist. His anger at his soon to be ex-wife is palpable and he rages to me regularly.
I understand his feelings. I have stood in his shoes. While my friend lost money--a lot of money--I also lost when I divorced my former husband--I lost my feelings of safety, of family, of identity, of what family is and how they are supposed to treat each other.
I do things like ask him what he’s grateful for. I point out that he now lives in a beautiful space with wide windows that let in sunshine, surrounded by birds flitting in trees, and turtles sunning themselves on rocks in ponds. I tell him that he’s an incredible father. I remind him that he is just so loved.
And he isn’t having any of it. “You don’t understand,” he snapped at me recently. “She completely cleaned me out. I have nothing. Try walking in my shoes for once.”
I remember those days. During that time in my process, I had a girlfriend who used to call me every single day on the way to work to make sure I got there. I would bitterly cry and talk smack about my ex and his girlfriend as she reminded me that I had a gorgeous son, a great job, a home to return to. I had a guy friend who texted me something uplifting every evening. I would roll my eyes at his kind, deep words of wisdom. They both often reminded me that my bed had soft blankets--and dogs-- on it, that the sun still shone, that I was just so loved. They reminded me that my present life was pretty great, actually--even with my pain.
I could not hear them. I would regularly tell close friends that I couldn’t wait to dance on my ex’s grave. That I would request in my will that he be a pallbearer at my funeral so that he could let me down, one last time.
For years I could only see the desolate landscape that my life had become. He whom I most adored, the man I had chosen as my life mate, my best friend, the person I trusted more than anyone else in the world had left, and not in an above-board, kind way. My trust was broken, my faith in family gone. He had behaved in a manner so horrific that I did not know which way was up.
I’m not there anymore. Now I notice by myself how luxurious my blankets are. When my dog snuggles her head on my shoulder, I take an extra moment to enjoy it. I am present to what is good in my life, and I put my focus there. It has taken me years, but I feel gratitude for what I have every single day.
Personally, I have found that focusing on what is good in my life and in the world has been the most healing for me. It keeps me grounded. I started this practice by adding 10 things I’m grateful for to my morning meditation each morning. It was super hard at first because I would list things like my house and then feel so bitter because my ex-husband and I had agreed to stick with our family before I bought it--I’d told him I was not going to buy it if he was going to leave again, and he agreed!--and he didn’t even stay a year after we moved in, and then my brain would go off on how untrustworthy he is and how he is a liar instead of coming up with nine more things to be grateful for.
Slowly, so slowly, I was able to add things, even though they felt so basic. Food in the house. The heat turned on. I paid my phone bill. I woke up that morning.
Now, I actively look for things to enjoy all day long. A family of birds return to nest in my backyard each spring and I love to hear them sing in the morning. There is a palm tree outside my classroom window who has vibrant green leaves. My best friend never fails to respond to my texts, even when I just say hello. Noticing what brings me joy and peace has helped my healing immensely.
We all have struggle. One person’s pain is not more or less than another’s--and all pain is valid and, well, painful.
Life can be a celebration if you actively choose it to be, and you can celebrate by focusing on the good. I invite you to choose joy, focus on the good, and be grateful for what you have--even when it doesn’t seem like much. If you’re like my friend and the world is knocking you flat right now, remember that choosing joy can make your journey through this lifetime better. It really, really can. And if you can’t make that choice right now, that’s ok. You can choose not-sad. You can even continue to choose sad. Or angry. Or whatever it is that you’re feeling. But just know that when you’re ready to feel better, you have that option, too. When you hit rock bottom and have had it with the sad, you have a choice. Someday you’ll realize you can choose joy.