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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: Toward the Pain or Living the Life I Have Always Wanted to Live

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Toward the Pain or Living the Life I Have Always Wanted to Live

The most exhausting thing in life is being insincere
~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I recently had the (good?) fortune to run into an old friend. We got to chatting, caught up on where life has taken us these last few years, and where we would like to be. She told me that finally she feels happy, joyous and free. That she is living the life she has always wanted to live. Her kids are growing up, requiring less of her than they used to. No diapers to change or baths to give. Meals run themselves pretty much and the sports schedule is at a minimum.

She is working for herself now, consulting and freelancing, with plenty of time to write, her passion, as it turns out, and take long walks with her husband. For about 39 seconds (okay, 2 minutes and 23 seconds) I was rip roaringly, unabashedly, wholly and completely jealous.

What does this mean, I am wondering. "Living the life I have always wanted to live." I wanted to know. Does this mean she is happy, like, all the time? I, who, am in the business of understanding people, helping them understand themselves, their desires and wishes, hurts and fears, and unpack what it is they want in life, from life, was baffled. (As well as momentarily green.) Does this mean that she has very few obligations, or financial worries? Or that she does not mind the ones she does have? Does it mean that she does not struggle with any bad feelings, have any difficult relationships, or questions yet unanswered about herself that keep her up at night?

Does she get along well with everyone in her life? Is she no longer burdened by other people's pain or the troubles of the country or the world. Is she not worried about the two journalists who are trapped in North Korea or Gilad Shalit? Is she free from addiction? Has she accepted her vices and made peace with her limitations? Does she no longer look at herself in the mirror with a critical eye, or lament that she may soon be going grey? Are her current accomplishments satisfying enough, and future ones only icing on an already rich cake? Did she have a gratifying and satisfying sex life? And a spiritual fitness that meets her own ideas of connectedness with the Gd of her understanding?

Or is it all false evidence appearing real? Am I comparing my insides (and almost everyone else's I know) to her outsides? After all, its not often someone tells you that they are feeling so well, overall, and specifically. Its not often I meet up with someone who seems so, well, determinedly content.

I did not get the idea she was being casual or conversational. Or boastful. I really thought she meant it, deeply. So I asked, and she explained.

She said that she has always had a difficult default setting in her brain. Her thoughts, feelings, ideas, always seem to go toward the pain, toward the fear, toward the not. It was wasn't so much a glass half empty problem, or an issue of not enough gratitude. Nor did she feel she had a block against focusing on the solution rather than the problem. It was, she explained, an historic comfort, a familialiarity with sitting psychically in some sort of deprivation, loneliness and sense of being misunderstood and unsupported. Perhaps because of biology, even. If not also family history.

She said that she has become aware of this, and of her own resistance to letting go of what does not work in her life, and going toward what does. She said that she became willing to take a good look at what her motivations in life were, and what she was really aiming for, and in small ways, she said that she has become a lot easier on herself and those around her. And that she gave herself permission to figure out what she wanted to be doing with her time, and makes sure that she does at least some of those things each week.

I know, it sounds a bit self-helpy. But I felt better after hearing it. I had started to think she found the golden ticket, and that it was the only one.

I think that when you are hurting it can look like the whole world is living the life they want to live, and you are stuck in the dense fog of pain and hopelessness. But I think we can spin our stories to end better. We parted in good spirits, my old friend and I, after a somewhat heavy street corner conversation. But I was glad she was feeling good about her life. I know she did not always have it so easy. And that there is something to be said for finding yourself and gracing yourself and saying so.


Shen said...

It seems there are so many people who are determined that they are not or never will be happy, and very few who are able to live at the other end of that spectrum.

I have come across a couple people in CoDA who seem to be really content with their lives, without being preachy or perceiving themselves as "better than". My sponsor is one, and my therapist (also a coda member) is another. There is a peacefulness about them that I want and aim for.

I know there is a "fake it till you make it" group, as well, and I refuse to do that. If I am going to find that peace I feel I need to be completely honest with myself and others about how I feel.

I can see progress. I am much less reactive than I used to be, and much more able to reel myself in when things start spinning out of control.

Melissa Groman, LCSW said...


Yes, peacefulness is something I too see in many 12 step folks who really work a program. Its a worthy aim.

I like the idea of being less reactive, and, to add, more reflective...glad to have your thoughts.

Lisa Marie said...

Wow, it seems that you have impeccable timing with the main things I am struggling with. Kudos.

While it's not that I am not giving myself permission to be happy, I am definitely standing in my own way.. afraid to change things toward an unfamiliar road or afraid to admit I have flaws that also need some change. Either way, I have to go about making the same decisions your friend did in order to make myself happy. It may not be the same happy that she has, but it will be my own personal brand of happy.

Great post.

sarah said...

Hi. I agreee we can spin our stories better but I wonder too about those I saw in the psych ward. One woman set herself on fire, others killed themselves overwhelmed with pain. I don't understand but I want to live my life in such a way it gives people hope and freedom in theirs. For me, I'm just so grateful to be alive. Sarah

Melissa Groman, LCSW said...

Hi Sarah,

I never underestimate the power of emotional pain. We need a lot help to endure, survive and thrive...and sometimes, great pain takes great patience....Living in a way that gives others hope and freedom, as you write, is, I think, one of the best things we can do for ourselves and those in pain...I see from your blogs that you are a writer...I like your voice, and wish you success with your work!

sarah said...

Thanks Melissa, Writing is a way for me to have my voice, - finally. Could never talk - never tell. Something happened. A boy raped by the rapist who raped me committed suicide. I need to tell. For him. For me. For those who are on the edge. Maybe, just maybe - my voice can make a difference. Sarah

jss said...

Perhaps living the life we want involves knowing we can make our own choices and having the courage to do so. I suspect it also has something to do with accepting that there is good and bad and figuring out a way to roll with the punches.
I like your blog. It is honest, informative and sensitive. Rather nice I would say. Thank you.

Melissa Groman, LCSW said...

Jss...Absolutely! and well stated! Thanks for your good words and for stopping by.