Claiming My Joy

As I look back over this past year, a lesson I’ve learned keeps reappearing. This mantra will be what guides me as I enter 2022. It is a sobering realization. It is also a commitment that has helped me move forward with gratitude and a full heart. It is the acknowledgement that I will always have difficult things to handle in my life. Rather than making me feel depressed, this frees me up to live my life. Knowing that it’s useless to wait for a time that is troubles-free, enables me to wholeheartedly appreciate, celebrate, and enjoy everything NOW that is going right, without fearing that the other shoe is about to drop. Because of course it’s going to drop. Why should that stop me from claiming my joy?

About a decade ago, when I was in my early 40s, I would sit in awe as my friends shared things they did for their own personal growth and delight. They all were parents of similarly-aged children to mine, and we had a lot in common. However, their ability to engage in activities for their own enjoyment set us apart. Many friends enjoyed hiking, biking, or swimming. Some did yoga and even became yoga teachers; others got massages regularly. Some worked out daily in their basement, others exercised at gyms, a few had personal trainers, and then there were those who worked out with lovers. I had friends who ran marathons or triathlons, and enjoyed extreme mud-obstacle courses. Quite a few knitted and/or baked and a couple of them turned those passions into businesses. More than one started a charity. I would soak in every detail as friends regaled me with stories from concerts they attended, parties they enjoyed, and world-wide travels they took with other friends.

For the life of me, I couldn’t understand how they physically could do any of these things. How did they carve out the time? How could they leave their children for an hour, an evening, a few nights, or sometimes longer, to pursue their own passions? How and why didn’t they feel guilty? And how did their children not seem any worse for wear? I truly couldn’t imagine having the ability to do one thing for myself, outside the home, when my children were around. Working in my kids’ school didn’t count, as we shared the same schedule.

I found myself wondering what was so different about me. I vacillated at times between judgment and envy; most of all, though, I felt inspired and had a lot of ‘One Day’ thoughts. ‘One Day, when my family is in a stable place, I will make time for something for me.’ I spent the greater part of my 40s living in the ‘One Day’ mindset. And it did not get me very far.

To be fair, I had a few objectively difficult situations that I was handling. I was living with, and then divorcing and living without, a husband who battled addictions. I was a full-time single mother of 3 teenagers, living in a new home, learning new skills, and faking many others. I was parenting children who were going through their own challenges and transformations that included gender identity, mental health and physical issues, typical experimentation, and serious self-medication challenges. I was helping them get into and out of colleges and sometimes therapeutic programs. I insisted to myself, and anyone else who bothered to ask, that there was no way that I could leave them now to do something for myself. I would wait for everything to be right in their lives, and then I would find a passion to pursue.

I did arrive at a dream of what I would do once everyone was in a good place. It took two more years for my ground to become stable enough for me to try leaping onto a passing cloud of hope but as soon as it did, I quickly seized the opportunity and jumped. That one leap of faith, to become certified as a professional life coach, allowed me to completely change my own fulfillment and purpose in life, even as the details of my life remained pretty much the same.

I learned to choose the response that serves me best, no matter what is going on around me. I learned how to focus on what is going right and to set intentions for what I want to experience and how I want to feel. I can look for the opportunities in every experience – even if it at minimum the lesson of what not to do again. And I know now that I not only deserve to feel happiness and fulfillment, but that I am better able to support others if I am coming from a place of joy and stability.

Realizing that I’m doing no one harm, but actually the opposite, by rejoicing every chance I get, has been a game-changer for me. It allowed me to fall head-over-heels in love and to get remarried during a pandemic. It allowed me to feel grateful for my parents’ garden as our wedding venue so that my mother was able to host us and toast us, and my father, who has lived with Alzheimers for over 10 years, could be by my side. It allowed me to feel grateful for livestream weddings so that all of our friends and family could be there with us, especially when one of my children was unable to attend in person. The hole in my heart for my missing child was present, and it also did not diminish my powerful feelings of love and elation on that day.

Having permission to think about my own needs, even as I worry about the needs of others, empowers me to try new adventures and to make new friends. It allows me to make the decision to greet each day with a smile, expecting that as I do, I will be receiving much more to smile about. And it allows me to hold onto every second that is going right, knowing that it will not last forever. I don’t allow the fear of disappointment to usurp my right to feel as much appreciation and elation as I can. Because this is my life and this is my now. I’m not waiting and I’m not feeling guilty.

As I enter the new year, I look forward to unapologetically holding onto the good times. I assume that I will be staring down that black hole of “I can’t take it anymore” again. But now I can choose to turn around and instead of falling deeper into that well of despair, I will look up into the light of day, seeing the outstretched arms of those who love me. Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. I will feel my heart begin to heal as I choose to focus on what will ease my pain, and I will allow myself to be distracted by things that make me happy.

All of that is setting me up for the future, however. Because at this moment in time, the only moment we have, all is well. Everyone I love is thriving and I am going to sing my song of gratitude, dance my happy dance, bask in the joy of relief, and claim my joy, as I enter this new year.

I am wishing you a new year filled with choices, joy, fulfillment, and purpose.

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