An Expression of Joy

I told a joke to my kids the other day. They were sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast, and I was making their school lunches. They take vitamins that are shaped like animals and they love to guess which animal the other child has. There are only four choices and it is spooky how often they are correct. My son has developed some decision-making logic that is incredibly accurate. But this morning, my daughter guessed wrong. And when my son said he had a lion, she looked at me to verify it. And I said, “He’s not lyin’. He has a lion. Get it. Lyin’. Lion.” They looked at me in shock. After the shock wore off, they started to genuinely laugh (and they are old enough to fake it).

But it was the shock that lingered with me. I knew where it came from. I don’t make a lot of jokes. I don’t “goof off” much. I don’t play much. I will dance with them sometimes. I will sing with them. I do love music. But I am not one to let loose and be silly. I think their shock came from the feeling that it was out of place. The kind of shock that left them wondering, “What did you do with our mother?”

Beneath the Surface

To be fair to myself, I come by it honestly. When I was growing up, there were many emotions that were discouraged. It was not safe to cry because it was too vulnerable. It was not safe to be angry because it would provoke the anger of the abusers. But positive emotions were forbidden too. While fake happiness was demanded to uphold the mask of familial perfection, real joy was not allowed.

Joy was a sign that the abusers were not doing their job. Joy was a sign of hopefulness and confidence. If I ever indicated that I was joyful, it let them know that I may have a plan to escape my despair. I may have found a way out. Maybe I was plotting something. Maybe I had told someone who might help me. Or maybe something outside of the family was fulfilling me in some way. No matter what the reason, the vultures would descend to uncover and unravel whatever I thought was going right.

I learned to keep my joy to myself. I learned that if anyone got a sense that I was really happy, it was not going to end well. So as an adult, even when I have felt good, it has always been muted by my inner voices. There was an inner feeling that I had to keep my joy to myself. Any external joy would be met with a heavy hand.

While I never discourage my children from expressing their joy (believe me, they do), I have always had a sense that I could not join in. I have felt like a supervisor over the joy, a spectator in the sport of life. Those beautiful feelings were not available to me. They weren’t allowed. It isn’t that I have never experienced fun things. Despite my trauma, I have had a full life. I have traveled extensively. I have been on many adventures and met many incredible people. But I haven’t allowed myself to be happy about these experiences.

As I work through these old beliefs, I notice myself shifting. I can see my inner child daring to be happy. I can sense my desire to participate in the fun part of life. It is a good feeling, but there are still those lingering questions. Is this safe? Will it be ripped out from under me? Will the other shoe drop?

So I will keep exploring. I will keep venturing outside of my comfort zone to experience life in a different way. After all, this is the essence of recovery. I must dare to see and live life differently. It is scary. It feels unsafe at first. It even feels death-defying sometimes. But I have found that courage is often rewarded with many positive inner experiences like confidence, gratefulness and most importantly, joy.


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