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October 16, 2014

I Choose to Be Happy

This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences on their own path to recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, or symptom use. Please use your own discretion. And speak with your therapist when needed.

By Tiffany Hammer, Outreach Specialist at The Emily Program

Recently I encountered a discussion about a group that a provider facilitated where they tried to talk about the reflection topic “I choose to be happy”. The provider mentioned that it was a difficult topic to elicit group participation. Hearing this, I wasn’t surprised. That affirmation can be intimidating. Yet it taught me the power of choice and who I want to be.

Four years ago, I realized I had a problem. I was depressed, negative self-talk plagued every waking moment, and my relationship with food kept me in a prison of unhappiness. I started making changes, but no matter what I did despite my positive intentionality, that voice inside my head would not shut up. I waxed in isolation and secret shame, taking advantage of the alone times in my apartment to appease and console myself through food. This cycle continued, never feeling worthy enough.

One evening in 2012, as I was falling asleep, the street light filtered through the tree outside my window, and with my cat purring and curled up in the most inconvenient way, I said aloud: “I am so grateful for this comfortable bed and the roof I get to sleep under.” This overwhelming sense of gratitude overcame me. It felt like the feeling of warm towels out of the dryer, and at that moment, I forgot everything else.

Gratitude reminds us of our own vulnerability. It was that evening I realized just how unhappy I was. I was great at hiding how miserable I was, so the radical wake-up call in this moment of gratitude was how was I treating myself? I was suffocating under the pressure of my self-afflicted actions and the never-ending sadness they caused. I asked myself: when was the last time I was really, truly happy? Talk about feeling vulnerable! The answer was stark: I couldn’t remember.

Over the next week or so, this idea that I wasn’t happy was unshakable. I started noticing all the ways I wasn’t able to be happy, and I thought: “I am exhausted and I can’t do this anymore.”

I make birthday resolutions instead at New Year’s. Call me a Leo, but a birthday is a new year for you. That birthday, I made a choice. I was tired of feeling never good enough. Never embracing positive intentions of myself or others. I was exhausted at the stagnancy in my life. I felt angry at how much I hated myself. On August 16th, 2012, I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “I choose to be happy.” I didn’t believe it then, but I made myself a promise that I would try and repeat this no matter how silly it felt or my disbelief. Since I had conditioning with my negative apathy, I decided that this one positive phrase was given a chance to survive.

In the beginning, it was a whisper of a belief that this was going to make a difference. Over the next couple of months, I noticed myself doodling “I choose to be happy” in ledgers of meeting notes. I wrote it on my wall calendar at work. I started saying it when that angry voice crept in. It wasn’t quite resounding, but each day, the voice of “I choose to be happy” got louder, and I grew more confident.

February 2013, I was at brunch with a friend. I hadn’t seen her in six months so we immediately start going through the roll call of the important topics of our lives. She asked me what I had been up to. I was honest. Really, vulnerably honest. I owned the fact the past year was particularly dark and tough, how isolated and lonely I felt through using demeaning behaviors to cope. I told her about my resolution and that I say “I choose to be happy” every day, and have for the past six months. Then, I started crying.

Yes, in the middle of brunch, I cried. It was a release of the anger I held onto through my negative indulgences. I cried about how silly I felt listening to this whisper of an affirmation just six months ago. In the midst of that thought, I wiped my face, looked at my teary-eyed friend, and said “It worked.”

At that moment, I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I had heard the shaming internal monologue and how I didn’t even have a sliver of discomfort when I sat down and ordered. I still remember that reassurance of somewhere along those six months when I believed in being happy more than those detrimental, lonely habits. My friend said: “I want to feel that way too.”

We continued talking as I began to unpack all the positive shifts that happened since this resolution. I set healthy boundaries with people who were burning/bumming me out. I acknowledged my feelings instead of hiding or supplementing them with the comfort of the refrigerator. I could actually say I love life. That was another “WHOA” moment because that was the first time I meant it.

My friend shared her own story. I confidently told her, “You can feel this way too. It takes a little faith to try something new because what we’re currently doing hasn’t made us feel any better. So, why not try?”

It is terrifying to confess a deeply rooted emotion, especially when it’s linked to behavior that makes us feel ashamed, belittled, or incredibly sad. What releases us from those emotions is confessing to ourselves the impact of those very emotions. Are you honest with yourself? Are you happy?

What this affirmation challenges us to do is take inventory of how our emotions and feelings withhold happiness. Once we acknowledge those feelings, we release the sadness and the negative voices, empowering the whisper to roar, “I am happy.”

Get help. Find hope.