I’ve been thinking a lot lately about journeys and joy. Having just come home from a retreat about the Inner Journey, I ended up telling this story in pockets with others and felt like it needed to be shared here as well.
Many don’t know this, but I was very suicidal as a kid. I think the first time I felt this I was 12 years old. The thought scared me so much, I was scared to tell anyone. I think at the time, I told one person. In the years since I still haven’t told very many.
I felt like I wasn’t important. Like I was a burden more than anything else. I wasn’t talented or beautiful or funny or anything at all. I felt like a shell. There was no real purpose for me.
I would read about all these adventures in the many books I consumed as a child and realized I had no story of my own. And very little I enjoyed outside of reading. (Mostly because of intense perfectionism and knowing I wasn’t good at much else. But that’s another story for another day.)
The thing that saved me? Fear. I had a very intense fear of pain and of punishment. I was scared of the pain it would take to commit suicide, and believing in life after death, feared some kind of punishment in the world to come.
So don’t you ever tell me that fear can’t be a good thing.
Fear has a purpose and serves its function. It doesn’t need to be a 24/7 companion, but don’t think you have to be fearless. Fear has literally saved my life. That is the point. But again, another story for another day.
And since I concluded that I would have to live as a result of that fear, I decided to do something about it. I wanted nothing more than to be happy but didn’t know what that was or how to get it.
But I made a choice to be happy. People say such terrible things about this phrase. Happiness is a choice. Because every journey has to start somewhere. That first step is always a choice.
Choices do not guarantee instant results.
Just because I choose joy does not mean pushing down and suppressing all other emotions. It means I am starting a journey. The journey involves figuring out what that means to me, what it would even look like, and what it would take to get there.
There were fun times in high school, but I always carried fear and sorrow and feelings of worthlessness. My friends were simply putting up with me because they were kind. I didn’t think I added any real value to the group. They didn’t need me. But I sure loved them. Still do. Wonderful, wonderful people.
The first time I felt joy, I was in my third year of college. And it was so overwhelming, I almost cried. It was the first time I had felt happy without anything pushing me down.
And while it was enjoyed in the company of others that I loved, and while I still didn’t think they needed me, it wasn’t the people that brought me joy. They made me happy, without a doubt, but there was also something so small it seems silly that I enjoyed all on my own.
Wanna know what it was? I was in a singing group, we were practicing on risers and I had no shoes on. As we sang, the vibration of sound tickled my feet. It made me giggle.
I love music (singing was probably the first thing I had ever received a compliment about, so I felt good at something), I loved the people I was around (regardless of how they felt about me, I was in the presence of good people), and I felt this joyful sensation, reminding me I was alive to experience it.
It might have been the first time I was truly grateful to be alive.
Slowly, this group helped me find a little bit more self-worth. I never stopped being surprised when they called me to hang out with them outside of practice.
But I started to understand being happy. And I liked it. I cried.
Some might say here, “Yay! I did it! I achieved happiness!”
I had achieved a sense of belonging. But that was just the beginning.
Because then I served a mission for my church, where I found a sense of purpose. I was asked to do things that served others. I was asked to take on more responsibility because I was trusted to do a good job.
This was invaluable to me. I achieved a sense of purpose. And again, I cried.
But there was still more. When I returned to Hawaii to finish my college education, I found a group of friends that gave me something I was missing. I found a group that for the first time, sought my opinion in personal struggles, a group that felt incomplete if all of us weren’t there.
I found connection. I cried nearly every day from gratitude and joy.
Shortly after this (at least it felt short, it went by so fast), I finally graduated from college after 6 years of study and 8 years after graduating from high school.
I felt accomplishment. There were more tears.
Along the way, I discovered validation, praise, wisdom, knowledge, fun, and so many other tools that have led to me feeling the joy I feel so consistently now.
Are you seeing a pattern here? That was 10 years ago. And life has only become more joyful, more meaningful. I have found new depths to the meaning of purpose, belonging, and connection.
I see more. I feel more. I have become more.
I chose joy. And I have found it, time and time again. Each time I think that it just couldn’t get better, it somehow does.
At 12 years old, I decided to chase something that seemed impossible. I chose the hard road, the adventure, the quest. I continue to choose this path, for it is far from over.
That 12-year-old girl, who struggled to stay alive, carrying a burden alone that she didn’t have to is one of the bravest and strongest people I know.
I am that 12-year-old girl. But I no longer do it alone. I am so grateful for so many. I am so blessed to have not just access to, but a real connection with others who inspire me. We fight the same battles, and we fight together. And we have fun doing it.
Today I celebrate. I celebrate me. I celebrate being alive. I celebrate all I have achieved. I celebrate choice.
I hope I can continue to make that 12-year-old little one proud.
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