What does it mean to be truly happy? I know that we all have moments of joy and excitement but is it possible to be genuinely happy and content without validation and materialistic things even when we’re faced with the inevitable trials and tribulations of everyday life. I’ve spent the better part of 29 years searching for happiness and contentment. What is the point of this existence if we aren’t experiencing inner peace and happiness?
For as long as I can remember, I felt like I was missing the secret ingredient to happiness. Even as a child, I felt awkward and anxious. I don’t know the reason for this and I’m not sure that it is my job to find out. What I do know is that I’ve begun to grasp the difference between feeling joy and actually being happy, joyous, and free in every moment. I’m not here to claim that I have all the answers.
I’m just here to share my own experience of constantly seeking fulfillment. There is nothing wrong with seeking fulfillment but it wasn’t until recently that I came to the realization that I was looking in all the wrong places despite having the answer all along.
The first time I remember being convinced I had found what I was looking for was the first time I got drunk. I took a few sips of Vodka and felt a smooth but pleasurable burn that made my entire body warm. I suddenly felt safe, like a child wrapped in a warm fuzzy blanket. I was temporarily relieved of my thoughts. I was carefree and confident in my own skin.
The best way to describe this feeling is that I was able to just BE.
This feeling matched the happiness definition to me, so I chased it! I chased that initial feeling until it quit working the same. When it quit working, I found more substances to re-create the feeling of happiness. No substances were off-limits. Some worked better than others did so I kept chasing until I met my match with heroin.
All happiness, joy, laughter, freedom, compassion, and kindness were long gone.
Heroin turned me into a person that I didn’t recognize. I was no longer a little girl seeking happiness and pleasure, but a broken girl seeking only survival. My life existed only to get the next high. I would go to any lengths and hurt anyone who got in my way, including myself.
After years of rehabs, jails, overdoses, and dope sickness I finally found myself strung out for the last time.
I will never forget the day my life changed.
For whatever reason, I was brave enough to look in the mirror that day. When I saw the sunken brown eyes and bag of skin and bones staring back at me, I felt so disconnected from myself. I had no idea who I was and I felt a true and deep nearly indescribable soul sickness. I knew that death was at my door.
I didn’t want to die but I couldn’t survive many more days the way I was living. That night, as I laid in bed something inside me, told me to ask for help. I cried out to a God I didn’t understand and begged for help. I had finally surrendered and found myself in a detox facility a week or so later.
Fast forward to the pink cloud of early sobriety.
I started working the 12 steps and leaning on other people for help. In doing so, I became a better human. I started to feel good about myself and began working out regularly. Working out helped me sweat out all the junk and obviously created endorphins, aka happiness. Being the happiness seeker that I am, I decided to exercise and exercise as much as possible.
I was finally addicted to something good.
I was working through past trauma, writing my wrongs and rebuilding my life. I thought I had it all figured out. Looking back, I realize that the exercise took the same path as drugs. I kept chasing that endorphin release, the natural high and when one thing quit working, I moved on.
I started exercising at home because I couldn’t afford a gym membership. My home exercise routine led me to CrossFit. CrossFit felt great but as I started to gain not only muscle but also body-fat, my happiness was stunted. I liked the feeling but the results weren’t making me happy.
So what did I do?
I hired a coach and signed up for a bodybuilding competition. If I got into the best shape of my life and got this awesome six pack life would be good.
I would be worthy and I would be loved.
Through pure will stemming from my body insecurities, I punished myself through diet and exercise. Starving myself to compete left me in a constant brain fog, and I even lost my period. However, I was 7% body fat and had that six-pack which was everything I wanted. I even managed to win quite a few trophies. This created a sense of accomplishment and even joy. There were moments where I felt happy, because I had finally accomplished something that made me worthy in my own eyes, but eventually the competition season ended and I fell off my high horse.
After more than a year of eating at an extreme calorie deficit, I no longer had a reason to diet, so I indulged. When I say I indulged I mean that I ate everything in sight because I was hungry. This hunger wasn’t “I missed lunch” hunger but extreme, “I need nourishment now!” hunger that only people who have willingly or unwillingly faced starvation can understand.
Eating everything in sight on top of an extremely damaged metabolism led to serious weight gain. Within one month of my last competition, I had gained 40 pounds. I weighed 89 pounds on stage so I nearly doubled my body weight. This was devastating at the time. I had worked so hard for happiness -aka the perfect body and overnight it was gone. I didn’t know what to do so I resorted to my most natural reaction.
I couldn’t stop eating; I had literally lost control, so I decided to punish myself more by becoming bulimic.
I struggled for months and even found myself in eating disorder rehab. All along, I just wanted to be happy. Sobriety, my friends, my family, they all created moments of joy but it was incomplete. After all, of this you think I would realize that every method I was trying to deem myself worthy so I would be happy just wasn’t working. I wasn’t quite to that realization but I started to get closer.
I began healing my relationship with food by stopping the starve binge diet cycle and learning how to eat more intuitively. My relationship with food drastically improved but I still had a very punishing attitude towards myself and continued to beat myself up in the gym. I quickly began feeling lost, as I wasn’t doing anything spectacular with my life at the moment.
I wasn’t winning any competitions, or going to extreme measures to get validation to prove my worthiness, so I signed up for another competition except this time it was powerlifting.
In my mind, this was a completely healthy choice because there was no diet involved. It was better but it was still a search for happiness and validation outside of myself. I competed, was actually very strong, won some medals, and boom. The bouts of happiness and joy weren’t enough to carry me.
It was around this time that a casting director had come across my Instagram account and thought I would be a good candidate for The Titan Games. Ummm, “Hell yes!” I’m going to meet The Rock, I have such a powerful story, and this is it! What could make me happier than competing on TV and sharing my story as a face of addiction? I think my heart was in the right place but it just wasn’t meant to be.
Validation from a bigger audience wouldn’t solve my problems.
Within the same month of submitting my casting tape, I started getting horrible headaches, and becoming overly forgetful. I ignored my symptoms until I looked in the mirror and realized one of my eyes was drooping. I called some people and it was collectively decided I should go to the hospital. I spent a month in and out of the hospital getting spinal taps with no explanation of symptoms other than high spinal pressure. Things kept getting worse and after a third hospital stent, I was referred to a neuro-ophthalmologist.
This doctor, who I believe to be my saving grace ran a few tests and realized I was losing my vision. He got me into another hospital that day where the doctors put a drain in my spine and set me up for surgery to figure out what was going on in my head-literally. The surgery revealed that there was a blood clot in the left ventricle of my brain and my CSF (cerebral spinal fluid) pressure was extremely high.
To make a long story shorter I had some surgeries, a stent placement, and I was out of the hospital with a long road of recovery and anticoagulation therapy ahead of me.
I was unable to work out and completely devastated after the doctors told me that I would probably never be able to power-lift again. As I write this, I’m almost in tears as a random illness that made no sense to doctors is beginning to come full circle. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. So how do I explain a rare brain disorder at 27 despite otherwise being perfectly healthy?
My Higher Power, source, the universe, God whatever you want to call it, did for me what I couldn’t do for myself. He/she intervened and slowed my ass down and I mean way down. I was given time to be forced to find happiness and fulfillment without exercise. Despite the now obvious intervention, it wasn’t obvious at the time and I continued to hurry through life.
Within two weeks of stent placement, I had gone back to work full time, working harder than ever to be the best employee.
Within a month, I had packed up and moved into my own place and within 6 months, I decided to become a full-time student on top of my full-time job.
I was still searching to find fulfillment based on validation of outside accomplishments.
Even though I didn’t see it right away, not being able to be in the gym gave me the time that I needed.
I was living in an apartment by myself for the first time ever. Living alone was one of the most amazing things I had ever done for myself. I realized what a self-sufficient badass I really was.
I never had anyone around to seek approval from which was strange for an extrovert that only felt comfortable surrounded by people. I finally started to get to know myself. As I started to get to know myself, the craziest thing happened. I realized that I actually enjoyed being alone. I was comfortable and content with myself. I genuinely cherished my time with just me. This wasn’t always a linear process. I had my bouts of fear, especially about being 29 and not married or even in a serious relationship.
I slowly began not to be in too much of a hurry and quit looking for romance. I knew I would meet someone when the time was right. I soon came to find out that I wasn’t wrong. When I was ready, the perfect person came into my life.
The universe was waiting for me to love myself so that I could find a healthy relationship and truly love another person.
The process of loving myself has been a daily work in progress.
I had to slow down, but the most important piece of self-love was learning to have compassion for myself. Forgiveness is an incredible tool. I was taught the importance of forgiving others but never took the time to forgive myself. The process of forgiveness started with compassion.
I worked to slowly let go of perfectionism, and change my thinking. I began to pay attention to how I talked to myself. When the negative, “you’re not good enough” self-talk came up I switched my thoughts immediately to a thought of love. I began witnessing my mistakes and then moving on.
I very slowly let go of perfectionism and gave myself permission to not submit the perfect assignment etc.
Learning to love myself was the answer all along.
It wasn’t exercise, winning, drugs, alcohol, romantic partners, school, work, etc. My happiness had to come from within and I’m filled with gratitude that I finally see that it was there all along. To keep things simple I remember two specific emotions that guide my thoughts, decisions, and actions.
These two emotions are fear and love. In thinking about what I’m doing, I must ask myself if I’m coming from a place of fear or a place of love. Looking through my past actions and failures it’s clear to see that I had always been acting on fear.
Drug and alcohol abuse was a coping mechanism to run and numb out my fear of not being good enough. Getting a six-pack and winning medals were actions taken out of the fear of not being loved and accepted in my body exactly as it was.
Today I choose to turn to love in all of my thoughts and actions.
This includes how I treat, speak to, and think of others. I’m not even close to perfect at always being kind and non-judgmental. I slip up all the time but what matters is I have the awareness and I can choose to act and think differently.
Publishing this blog is an act of love. By sharing my story with others, I can help them see where they’ve looked to the wrong placed to find happiness by acting on fear. By publishing this blog, I am actively choosing to not act on fear.
Please know that you are worthy and always enough just as you are.
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