sunshine comes to all who feel rain.―r.m. drake
It is a cool Sunday evening; dusk has just settled over the skies. I am in my bedroom, indulging in my newfound love for Frank Sinatra. In this moment, I cannot help but notice how I am bubbling over with so much joy; a consistent kind of joy, I might add. More remarkably, I marvel at how the possibility of that joy being taken away from me is not present, as I quickly recollect the ‘old me’ who used to be so terrified of happiness. The old me who deeply believed that happiness was a mockery because sadness is what I’ve consistently known. The old me who believed that joy and happiness are feelings that one should never fully lean into because “happiness never lasts anyway”.
Building Life Around Trauma
At that time, I did not realize how I had built my life and identity around pain and unhappiness. Deep down, I did not believe that I was worthy of good things and so, true to my prophecies, happiness indeed became a fleeting experience in my life. If happiness did not leave by itself, I was certainly sure to drive it out myself with my self-sabotaging tactics. I was what Tuchy Palmieri would describe as a cherophobe, who they explain to be individuals who are:
…actually afraid of being too happy because they think something tragic is going to happen soon.
I always felt more peace when I was hurting or playing out unhappy scripts in the story of my life because that’s the only thing that has ever made sense. Pain seemed like the most consistent thing in my life. And anything that rocked up in my life that seemed to contradict that narrative? I became greatly anxious and restless because happiness was a very threatening thing in my world because of the unfamiliarity of it. So, on the arrival of happiness, I always made countdowns to when it would leave.
When you are someone who grew up in hostile environments that forced you to grow up quickly, the trauma can have such a powerful hold on you because, as articulated by one of my favourite poets, Ijeoma Umebinyuo:
…a child given darkness as a gift cannot comprehend how to let the sun in without thinking it would take from her again.
Healing the Fear
Childhood trauma can make pain and suffering become so normalized in one’s life, that to experience the contrary triggers fear responses in our deeply scarred brains that keep us on guard, expecting to be let down by life again. When pain has been a consistent theme of your life and when happiness finally finds you, the sinister voices awaken, asking you, “How dare you be happy?” in mockery.
The inner healing work, then, entails us getting to a deep knowing and belief that the pain of our traumas is not our birthright and we need not continue replaying and re-enacting the scenes of our traumas in our day-to-day interactions and choices. We can and have the power to write a new and different script for ourselves. When happy and joyful moments arrive, we do not have to rush to the part where we are hurt and disappointed because that is not how it will always be.
And I think this is what my healing currently looks like:
I am becoming comfortable in happiness. I see myself as worthy of every good thing that this world has to offer. And more and more I am becoming bold in abandoning myself to joy.
Letting the Happiness In on the Other Side of Trauma
We can be happy because I am learning that there will always be life after death, there will always be light to be found on the other side of the darkness. As childhood trauma survivors, we can find a healthy balance with courageously processing our pain (because there will always be triggers) and not letting that pain define us or dictate the direction that our lives take.
I mean, for all the hard suffering that we have come to intimately know, I think it is about time we learn what happiness’ soft embrace feels like.
And I hope you’ll join me on this journey of fearlessly falling in love with life again. Happiness is our portion, beloved. And may we always have the courage to let all of life’s joys in when they come knocking on our doors.
Because pain is not the only emotion worthy of our being.―Ijeoma Umebinyuo