Back in the fall, an article on personal happiness popped up in my Facebook news feed that struck home. I didn’t actually read the article in question, because the headline and accompanying blurb were already powerful enough that I felt a bit wretched. I can’t remember the exact words, but essentially the paraphrase is: “Self-care is not about bubble baths and wine. It’s about creating a life that you don’t constantly need to escape.” Having spent my fair number of nights escaping into bubble baths or wine, this kinda hit me right in the heart and gut.
The thing is, I once had a life that I didn’t constantly feel the need to escape from. When I did need escape – often in the evenings after Jason got home from work, since my job as a stay at home mom is 24/7 – it wasn’t an escape from life but a retreat to some alone time for my own sanity. While I’ve never been particularly fond of the SAHM job, it’s important to me, and so I keep it up and make the best of the situation. I figured out ways to be in the world through book clubs, writing groups, NaNoWriMo, book blogs, a bit of travel, and eventually in my health and fitness journey. At home, I exercised and wrote and blogged and read books and took care of the house and my kids. There were good times and bad times, of course, but essentially life felt right.
That rightness started to crack in July 2013, but I managed to keep cultivating good things until May 2014 when life kicked me into the gutter so hard that I’m just barely starting to fully recover. Everything in my life fell apart. It was at this point that I started to attempt to escape my world rather than self-care. I stress-ate, drank too much, exercised so hard that I’d be crippled for days. I dove into a series of mindless books that distracted me but that I didn’t even record reading. I binge-watched TV shows that I’d already seen, watching over and over just to keep my brain off the wretchedness of my world. Therapy and medication could only help a tiny bit, because the source of all the wretchedness was ever-present and unending. For the first time since my boys were infants/toddlers, I began taking vacations alone purely to get away from home. Then I’d get home after the vacation, during which I’d been happy, and just cry.
Four cross-country moves and a lot of therapy later, I’ve gotten a lot better about many of these things. I’ve started to find things that I enjoy again, rather than mindless escapes. This is a slow process and I’m not always the best at it. That particular article headline/blurb hit me so hard last fall because I realized that despite everything, I still wasn’t happy with my life. So many things were still frail and fractured and painful. It’s hard to know how to build a life you love when so many of the things you cherish were taken from you and can never return. I just had to keep trying.
In November, when I read Oathbringer, I was struck by a quote: “The trick to happiness wasn’t in freezing every momentary pleasure and clinging to each one, but in ensuring one’s life would produce many future moments to anticipate.” In a way, this isn’t much different from what that article stated. The real difference is that one points out a fallacy, and one suggests an action point. For me, one focused on the things I had once and lost, the other focuses on what I need to do to build again. That tiny shift in mindset makes all the difference. I chose the world Cultivate as my one-word in 2018 particularly for this purpose: to cultivate a life of happiness, to cultivate a life I love, to cultivate a life I don’t constantly need to escape from.
And I think I’m making progress. Earlier this week, I watched as Jason and my youngest son did yoga together in the evening. Laurence as usual was fussing and complaining the whole time, yelling at Adriene for asking him to do “impossible” things, while simultaneously listening to rap on his headphones. In one pose, he started dancing instead of paying attention, and I asked him if he was listening to music instead of to Adriene. He looked at me and said, “Yeah, of course!” Then he pointed to the video, while Adriene did a couple finger-snaps for whatever reason, and said, “See? She’s listening to rap, too! That was perfectly on the beat!” Then he went back to the yoga, and I had a moment of involuntary thought: Man I love my life. It was the first time in nearly four years that I’ve thought anything close to that.
I don’t expect everything to be perfect or for the rest of this cultivation to be easy. Most days, however, I spend more time working on the things I want to do and less time escaping my life and environment, and that seems a step in the right direction.