I’ve had a wonderful evening. Currently I’m writing while listening to reruns of The Signal on CBC Radio 2. Which I only would have discovered because of my wonderful evening and then having to drive home from it. I heard it on the drive and then immediately had to come home to search for it online, listen to the end of it and then find replays because it’s that good. Laurie Brown just makes me want to be her friend. Her show is beautifully done.
I’m a huge fan of CBC Radio, I’ve grown up listening to it and it joins me on the car rides, but have I been living under a rock for so long that I’ve never listened to The Signal?
Who has time for radio and wonderful evenings?
Ok enough plugging CBC.
I’m really here because the music made me. It’s inspired me to share some words with you that only someone at 1AM could do.
It has to do with: Gratitude.
It’s that annoying word that comes with phrases like:
I say annoying because if you aren’t ready to hear things like this and you don’t really understand what this means, it sounds like a bunch of hippy dippy stuff that you feel like rolling your eyes at, forever ignoring it and in spite of it, do the opposite. Maybe it might make you want to punch something.
If I’m the only one that’s ever felt this way, well fuck. No wonder I spend a lot of time alone.
If you know what I mean, high five. You’re normal. Yes I, no garbage girl who likes to self-loathe from time to time, am telling you it’s normal.
When you’re depressed, way down the dark hole, the last thing you want to hear is (insert weird voice here) “Well, all you have to do is think positively. You know. Just practice gratitude. Be thankful and you know, life will just get better. It’s all about the right frame of mind.”
When people tell you this, ask them if they’ve ever known the feeling. The kind of feeling where nothing matters. No matter how hard you try. No matter how much you force yourself to get up. No matter how much you can’t get up. Ask those people about their experiences and have a discussion about it. Because chances are no one wants to talk about it. At least not willingly.
No one wants to be that person. Who wants to be considered an Eeyore? No, people like us stay quiet. We pretend things are good. We hide scars on our bodies. We hide tears in the darkness of the night. We cry into pillows shaped like squares with arms, legs and eyes that are affectionately labelled Mike with an orange marker.
Ok, so maybe that was just me when I was little.
The reality is there are millions of us. All ages. All races. We’re humans with a wide range of emotions, experiences, traumas, baggage, desires, hopes and dreams.
Some of us choose to hide their feelings and bury them. Others create with it, much like I do (writing is a huge part of it) and others, the feelings consume them and they take over their whole soul, sucking the life literally right out of them.
I know this because I live it. I did all of the above. Including trying to end it all so I’d never have to feel it again.
The big difference between then and now, is that now not only do I live it but I’ve somehow managed to be one of those that work towards not changing those feelings, but simply accepting them. Because healing from trauma and abuse isn’t something that just happens one day. You don’t just snap your fingers and say YA! I’m good. Life’s good! And it stays that way.
It’s a lifelong process. It requires practice in every moment you can practice it. You can make the decision, which is the first step, but that process of change is a different process and a different time frame for everyone. Every day looks and feels different.
I, somehow with the help of art, learned this. I’m one of the lucky ones that got out alive and have fortunately found the space within myself for self-love and the found the strength to practice the mental tools that I’ve worked hard to acquire.
I remember the day that I decided I wanted to change. I was 19.
While it did feel like I sort of just woke up – it wasn’t in the literal sense that I woke up out of bed. I had had a fight with my Mom on the phone about what, I have no clue, but it ended miserably with me hanging up on her. Normally something like this would have just been ignored and then we’d end up having tense, silent treatment moments for months if we saw each other in person.
At that moment I remember thinking and reflecting:
“I’m so angry. All of the time. I’m angry with what she did to me. I’m angry with her. I’m angry with myself. I’m just angry all of the time. At everything. At Life. And she probably doesn’t even know and doesn’t even care. I’m spending all of this time and energy being so angry at her, it’s reflecting in my life, I’m not happy, I’m angry and for what? My unhappiness or anger is not affecting her Life one bit. It’s affecting mine. Do I really want to be unhappy and angry all of the time?”
And then at that moment I remembered what I wrote when I was a little girl in one of (what seems like hundreds) of my diaries.
I JUST WANT TO BE HAPPY.
And just like that. That little girl inside me woke up. I returned back to the present moment, picked up the phone and called my Mom and just said:
“I’m sorry. I don’t want to fight. I’m sorry.”
I won’t get into the details of my relationship with my Mom because it’s long enough to be it’s own novel and is complicated, but that moment was incredibly significant and marked the beginning of what would be my lifelong, uphill climb to self-love, forgiveness, healing and happiness.
That was almost 12 years ago.
I’m putting in the work.
I can’t describe the feeling of what happened exactly to make that shift inside of me but I’m so thankful it did. Which brings me to the that annoying word I mentioned: Gratitude.
It’s been my crutch on the uphill (and downhill) journey but it is one of my main rules I follow in Life.
I learned this when I picked up painting. I can go back through some of my paintings and pinpoint exactly which ones marked significant moments of change in my mind. I painted like a mad person. To find inspiration for paintings and to help myself heal, I’d scour the internet and search words like:
“how to forgive”
“how to be thankful”
“impacts of child abuse”
I found writers like Eckharte Tolle. Dr. Wayne Dyer. Don Miguel Ruiz. I studied Buddhism, read Free Will Astrology, learned about energies, chakras, the pain body and became inspired. I painted. When I painted I focused on only the task at hand. I breathed deeply. I had no thought and every thought. I found peace in the moment.
I submersed myself in all of the ways I could think of for me to become better. I’d read quotes and write them down. I did whatever I could do to become a happier person. I kept painting. I practiced what I learned every day and I’d do things like tell myself:
OK. For every shitty thought, you have to say two things that you are grateful for.
I hate work.
I am thankful for the fact that I can work.
I am thankful for the money that I am able to earn to pay rent, food and bills.
My painting sucks.
I am thankful for the fact that I can look at something and paint it.
I am thankful for the fact that I have money to buy paint and that I can just paint.
And the more I did this. The more it became habit. Every shitty thought came two good ones. Eventually there were more than two. I’d write them down where I could. I have a Gratitude jar that I wrote on a piece of paper something that I was thankful for every day for the last two years. Now that I’m zero waste, I’m trying to keep it all in one journal. I write what I am thankful for either in the morning or before bed. I don’t limit it to just one or two things, if I’m on a roll, I’ll keep going.
Why do I do this?
Because it’s the easiest way for me to do that one thing. Take that one step. Even if I don’t believe it at the time. I’ll write it anyway. I’ll say something out loud that I am so happy for. I do it because I believe that your thoughts dictate your world. I was taught that in every self-help book I’ve read.
And you know what? It does work.
I’m not going to preach about all the ways that is has improved my Self, my outlook on life, the Love that I have in my life, the ways it has helped me be better as a parent and just overall, my life in general. That won’t help anyone who isn’t ready to hear it. And it sounds like I’m being all braggy brag.
All I want to say is that I am proof (at least to myself) that when you put in the work to change your thoughts, you can actually change your life. It does work. But you have to put in the work. It won’t work if you don’t.
Just the same way that you won’t win the jackpot if you don’t buy a lottery ticket.
This doesn’t mean the feelings will disappear.
I told you I’ve been working on it for 12 years.
And clearly they haven’t – you’ve read some of the deepest rawest things I’ve shared on the interwebs. Happiness is not something that you can obtain and keep. It’s not easy. Not for souls like us. Not like it was for Charlie (RIP). I’m just saying, the dark feelings are easier to manage when you can get into the habit of seeing good things.
Just like shopping zero waste is easier when you get into the habit of bringing your bags and jars.
The dark days are easier to go through when you accept the darkness. When you accept that all of dark is just part of the healing.
Like the lotus that grows in the mud.
The feelings are there. They come and go, ebb and flow like the tides in the ocean.
It makes me think of the the Cherokee story of the wolves. It goes something like this:
One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “my son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is good. It is joy, peace love, hope serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”
The grandson though about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “the one that you feed.”
But there was another version of this that I found somewhere (I think it was in The Women Who Run With the Wolves) that actually mentioned you should be feeding both sides.
Because one does not exist without the other. And if you ignore the negative feelings, they can never complete their cycle. They get cut off and have no place to go. So you must pay attention to the dark side and nurture it, accept it and also send the darkest parts of you love. That side, after all, is still a part of you. To ignore a part of you is to ignore all of you.
Which is why when I have a negative thought, I listen to it. I let it play out. It’s been heard. It’s been felt. And then after it’s good and done, I move on to a positive one.
I look ugly.
I am thankful that I have eyes to see my face.
I am thankful that someone I love thinks I look beautiful.
It’s hard work. And this, what I’ve shared is only one part of the rest of the hard, daily work I put in to being a better version of me. It is only one aspect of what I do to fulfilling that little girl’s wish in her diary:
I JUST WANT TO BE HAPPY.
Just remember it’s been 12 years of this for me. And counting.
If you know what I’m talking about in this blog and you haven’t started, start now. Do the work every day. I’m here with you along with hundreds of thousands of others.
Take your journey to happiness, zero waste style: in small steps, one situation at a time, one day at a time and give yourself the room to make mistakes and learn from them.