Behind the Filters and Smiles

For over 40ish years now, I’ve just assumed I wasn’t a happy person. I didn’t know how to be happy. I wasn’t meant to do more than plaster on a fake smile and pretend that I was okay.

I got pretty damn good at it, too. I smiled. I laughed. I joked. I slapped on a brave face and hoped no one saw the gritted teeth.

I didn’t have any excuse to not be happy. Sure there were things in my childhood that sucked – the loss of a parent, divorce, emotional abuse – but nothing that I’d ever consider trauma. I didn’t have it worse than anyone else. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, I had nothing to complain about.

Yet, I was in pain. I was sad. I felt lost. Unloved. Unloveable. Unworthy. Unacceptable.

In trying to bury these big feelings and emotions, I slipped into various coping mechanisms. I found comfort in food and then in severe restriction. For years, I bounced between limiting to 300 calories a day and then binging far too many to count. I lost weight. I gained weight. I added more and more layers between my heart and the real world.

Rather than addressing any of these feelings, I self-medicated with food and tried to self-analyze my problems. I listened to self-help books. I believed the toxic positivity and again decided the issue was my own aversion to happiness. I was the problem. Maybe I was just wired all wrong. I’d been born into quicksand and there wasn’t anything to balance my weight against.

I tried religion. I tried applying more layers. I leaned into the little things that made me happy for a moment (new shoes! new nails! new makeup! books!) but nothing worked. I overanalyzed again and again.

Maybe … just maybe … this new thing was the cure.

New obsession after new obsession … nothing changed.

I still wasn’t happy. Did I even want to be happy?

In 2020 and 2021, the bottom dropped out. The world crumbled. We isolated. I became angry and stressed. My marriage suffered. My kids suffered. I suffered. A job I once loved became toxic. I experienced gaslighting as an adult and was able to recognize it. I saw what it did to me. I saw how it made me react. I nearly lost myself in trying to put out the flames. But then I took charge. I took a risk that was so far out of character it made me nauseous. I quit the job and walked away. I put myself first. I let the fear of becoming someone I didn’t want to be win. (Sometimes, it’s okay to let fear win.)

Something inside me rattled loose. Memories I’d buried. Feelings I’d ignored. Truths I’d refused to accept. It all flooded out.

I realized it was more than I could handle alone.

I turned 40 and realized I was tired of living like this. I was tired of masking and pretending everything was rosy.

I researched therapy and started talking to someone. Then, something magical happened.

My trauma was acknowledged and validated. I was reminded that while my traumas might not be the BIG traumas I compared myself to, they were still painful and they left a lingering impact.

I felt seen and understood in a way I never had before. It was liberating.

I still have a lot of work to do, but I am learning more and more about myself every day. I’m learning to find new ways to process and feel these emotions I’ve ignored for far too long. I’m trying to set a better example for my kids, and I’m finding more patience every day—both with myself and with those around me.

I’m also learning that it’s okay to let the mask slip off. I don’t have to pretend to be perfect or even okay. It’s not easy to let go of that control, but it feels good.

I don’t know what this year will bring nor do I know if I’ll find that magical light at the end of the tunnel, but I can feel the change.

There is happiness ahead.

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