When I Caught Myself Smiling

Sitting on the couch while savoring my morning coffee, I caught myself smiling.  At first I didn’t notice, but soon the mindful recognition of my upturned lips sent a shiver of joy towards my toes. And in that instant, I remembered what it was like to be happy.

It didn’t have to do with any one event.  It didn’t have to do with any one person.  In fact, I’m not sure that anything really sparked it.  But that was the absolute beauty of it.  To be in a natural state of happiness felt like a long-awaited gift, symbolizing an awakening of a girl I thought was lost to this world.

Life unfairly delivers personal tragedy, but is always equitable in its distribution of trauma.   Certainly my loss will never be comparable to the loss that others in this world have endured, but trauma’s very nature is relative to each of us.   Trauma finds its roots in the moments representing the deepest pain we have uniquely experienced — a variable indicator represented by the lowest point of the peaks and troughs of the events which make up the timeline of our lives.

And for me, recovery from that lowest point was an arduous process with many relapses along the way.  Because in my search for contentment, I sought the highest highs in an attempt to prove that I could still conquer the world — to prove to others my world hadn’t imploded, to prove to myself I was still worthy and deserving of a full life. Still, no matter what I did, those highs were fleeting.  In the wake of trauma, I felt myself wondering if happiness was just a temporary state of relief from a life that would always seem arduous.

I began to accept that once you have experienced shame and loss, maybe life would always be arduous, with little moments of happiness to sustain your desire to move forward. That’s why that simple moment of unattributable happiness mattered so much this morning.  It was the hope that maybe there was more light in the world than I’ve been willing to see.

To be mindful in a world of distraction is in itself a journey.  Distraction in all of its forms is an addictive force, because it promises to help us avoid our pain by focusing on something external to us.  But that’s the thing about distraction — it’s nothing more than avoidance.  Mindfulness is an investment in recovery.  Mindfulness forces us to be alone with our thoughts and, by osmosis, the demons that inhabit them.  With practice, the act of being alone with ourselves is a sword that helps us vanquish those demons.  The act of being alone with ourselves helps us address our trauma rather than avoiding it.

I caught myself smiling this morning over a cup of coffee in my first waking moments — smiling for no reason other than just being alive.  And in that smile, I realized that the girl who found joy in life, the girl I thought was lost to that deepest trough in life’s timeline, was in fact just waiting for me to welcome her back into the light.

Renegotiating Happy After A Quarter-Life Crisis

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