As often happens on this site, some themes keep coming up, for me and for others here. At the same time, I often notice and read things that directly relate to these themes. I think it means that there’s something to learn, something new to try, something to rumble with, or something to let go.
I woke up with a teensy-weensy anxiety attack today. It’s cold. It’s winter and it’s the worst of the times I can recall post D-Day. The week of my body in full PTSD meltdown, heart racing, feeling like I might be dying, my world erased, nuclear blast style. If, at two years out and having to heal largely on my own, I am having a tough day and my body is saying “hey, remember this BS?”, I think I get a pass. I’m awake, vertical, breathing and writing. Sometimes I think it must be that snow or the smell of cold is a trigger for me.
And this brings me to my first recurring theme: triggers. In our post-infidelity world, triggers abound. The smallest, seemingly inconsequential thing can set off a cascade of difficult emotions: pain, anger, fear, loathing, grief (so, so much grief). The smell of cold and I’m back in that terrible shocked, numb week after just finding out. I take my daughter back to college, also my alma mater and where I met my ex and I am (sometimes, not every time) hit in the gut with memories of the beginning of my relationship. Sadness, regret, remembering adventures and hustling so hard to be worthy. So much grief and a feeling of not knowing how to reconcile my old stories just yet. A TV show about romance: blech, anger, bitterness. Doing my budget, which requires planning and thinking about my future can set of a wave of worry and anxiety and fears that after the alimony runs out, I will not be able to provide for myself; that things will be hard. My ex himself, who still seems to think he can access me for emotional support, dump his load and then leave me reeling because “he’s already spent enough time in that space today and needs a break.” What a dick. It’s a very accurate replay of our past dynamics. He takes what he needs and leaves me to deal with the rest.
I’m sure you all have your own triggers: memories, places, vehicles, words or phrases, smells, foods, people and of course the holidays. So many of us have had a challenging time the last few weeks (and thank goodness that’s over). And we’ve all got our coping strategies and we deal and survive and get through. I’ve got to be honest though, it’s getting old. I’m tired of having to sit with my sadness and grief and revisit and recycle. I prefer the places and times when it's all not so heavy and I am more in the now.
Then rather magically, in my inbox appears an article about happiness triggers. This gets my attention immediately. What if the same mechanism that triggers the negative emotional response can be used or trained to help us trigger a happiness (or peace or comfort) response? That would be pretty great, right? Our brains get trained by trauma to respond a certain way pretty quickly. This was functional for much of our early biological history. We might need to train our brains to recognize happiness when it is happening. What might this look like?
We might need to slow down and become more mindful of the present (this is a recurring theme here at BWC). Can we take the time to notice what is happening right now while we are feeling happy? What does it feel like in our bodies? What are we doing? What thoughts are in our heads? Do we generally feel happier when we have a smile on our lips? Was I enjoying having a laugh with a friend? The feel of the sun on my face? How might I conjure that feeling in the future?
Often, when we are going through a tough time, we will analyze our choices and “mistakes” in an effort to avoid unhappiness and to “do better” or improve. What if, instead, we examined our happiness? What if we pursued and nurtured it, so we could conjure it up when we are feeling blue? This might be a whole new level of self-care. Can I sit and recall a time when I felt peaceful? Breathe. Get a soft smile on my face and imagine the feel of the sun. Pause in a hectic day and spend a few minutes just savoring a cup of tea.
I found an article that outlines 13 happiness triggers. You’ll be surprised by none of them, as they come up so often here when we talk about self-care and how to go about finding yourself after his affair:
Anticipation. This one makes total sense. I enjoy anticipating my vacations or going to visit my girl at school almost as much as the event itself. You can learn to intentionally savor this too.
Smile! I know it can seem fake when you are feeling low but I learned this from meditating. My teacher often begins by telling us to bring a soft smile to our lips. Studies show it can change your mood even if it starts as fake. I also love smiling at people when I am out. Human connection is a big deal.
Service. I get more out of the volunteer work than I put into it and I am totally okay with that. I love the people I volunteer with and whom I serve. I’ve learned from this that it is as okay to receive as it is to give.
Financial savvy. This is one of those security have-your-exit-plan-lined-up kind of things. Know what is going on with your money. Know that you can earn money and support yourself. Get a budgeting tool. Plan for retirement. Just get moving on it. You will feel better. I promise. As someone who constantly struggles with the false belief that I can’t provide for myself or that I am “bad” with money, I have gotten really good ad budgeting, planning and saving. My ex can stick that in his pipe and smoke it.
Gratitude. This one is so, so important and so simple. No matter what happens in your day there is something to be grateful for (even though it can be hard to see after D-Day). I am up and breathing. I have a roof over my head. I have people who care about me and love me. I have my health. When you focus on what you have, on what’s good, you don’t think about what’s lost quite so much.
Connection. This is necessary for human survival. Take time to be with friends or family who can hear and see you. Come here where people understand. Snuggle with kids, pets, and anyone else you feel like its appropriate to snuggle with. Have a vulnerable conversation with someone. Hear someone else’s story. Don’t isolate yourself. Find ways to be with people and engage with them.
Flow. Oooh, I like this one. This is when you are really good at something and while you are doing it you get lost in doing the thing and cease to be self-conscious. It’s when you are deep in your own mastery of something. And before you say it, everyone is a master at something good. I experience flow sometimes when running, when writing, when the lightbulb goes off while I’m doing design work.
Play. Have fun. Stop being a grown up or taking things so seriously for just a second. I’m not talking about Candy Crush Saga on your phone (but that’s okay too). Play a board game with your family. Toss a baseball around. Play tag. Have a tickle fight. Play eye spy or a word game in the car ride. Find ways to inject more fun into your day.
Relaxation. Um, yes please. Put your feet up. Drink tea. Close your eyes. Take a nap in the hammock. Stop moving and rushing and doing for a minute and sit quietly. Put everything down and do a body scan. See what might like to loosen up. Watch a dumb TV show. Have a casual conversation over coffee. Slow down and breathe.
Winning words. This I take to mean the words we use when we talk to ourselves. Thanks to Ann and Fragments of Hope for new methods of recognizing and debunking the lies I tell myself. Speak to yourself like you would a friend. Be less critical of yourself and more compassionate.
May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe. May I be at peace.
I am enough. I am loveable.
I am doing my best right now.
Movement. Use your body. Get some exercise. It is so good for a broken heart. Find the movement that works for you. You don’t need to be a fitness model to start moving. Run, walk, swim, swing, skip, dance, lift, do yoga, do something but get moving. You will always feel better. I can be having the “worst day ever” and feel a thousand times better by the time I hit mile 2 of a run.
Savoring. This ties to gratitude for me and relaxation. Slow down and appreciate what you’ve got. Take the time to taste all the flavors and feel the textures of your meal. Watch a sunrise. Enjoy the changing colors in the sky. Winter sucks in so many ways but it’s a great time to savor a sunrise because its not too early and the colors are usually amazing. Do you have young children? Enjoy the warmth of them sitting on your lap or the smell of their clean hair after a bath. Do you have pets? Enjoy their unconditional admiration of you. Honestly no one will ever love me or think I’m as amazingly amazing as my dog does. I try to remember that when all 75 lbs of him wants to sit on my lap.
Purpose. I believe every one of us has a reason for being. We’re here to learn and love and take care of each other. There are things we are meant to do and work or relationships that give our lives meaning. For myself, after D-Days and a divorce, I’m not really clear on what that is so my purpose right now is to take care of myself while I figure the rest out. I have this nebulous idea of moving softly through the world and making everyone’s day just a little better because I’ve been in it. That would be plenty of purpose for me right now. A life lived with purpose is a life of happiness.
I’ve committed, after weeks of being triggered and feeling so dark and so tired, to nurturing happiness. Recognizing all the while that it is not a destination, not an end game, it can be something I aspire to while I’m here figuring things out. And the next time I’m sitting in the sunshine, I’ll pay attention and enjoy the happiness that’s been triggered.